Learning how to properly pace yourself while running is crucial.
In fact, if you’re serious about reaching your running best, getting the hang of proper pacing is key to efficient and injury-free training.
And here comes the tricky part.
Mastering the art of pacing while running is no easy feat. It requires time, patience, and practice—like a lot of practice.
That said, fret no more.
Here is your complete guide to proper pacing while running.
What’s The Pace?
So, what is running pace anyway?
In essence, running pace refers to the amount of time it takes to cover a specific distance, such as a kilometer or mile.
Running pace is typically expressed based on the type of run: “5K pace,” “ long run pace,” “marathon pace,” etc. Figure out these adjustments with this simple training tool.
And it’s completely relative to your personal ability and current fitness levels.
Said otherwise, pacing is all about you.
So, what’s proper pacing?
Proper pacing refers to the subtle art and practice of settling into the ideal speed for a specific distance, then holding it throughout.
The Trouble With Pacing
Few runners are aware of their pace, and most do not realize its importance.
In fact, research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology revealed that recreational runners miscalculated their pacing effort by roughly 40 seconds per mile compared to more experienced runners.
Not only that, runners—especially beginners— assume that unless they are training for a specific serious race, running pace is an afterthought.
That said, proper running pacing is paramount—regardless of your training goals and fitness skill.
The good news is, proper pacing can be learned. Just like any other skill, it’s something you cultivate with practice and consistency.
The Importance of Proper Running Pacing
Proper pacing while is running is key because of the following two reasons.
First of all, it helps you avoid overtraining.
If you run too fast, you may risk not being fully recovered for your next workout. This is common not only among recreational runners, but also elite marathon runners.
However, once you can keep up proper pace, you’d reduce the risks of injury and overtraining—especially when training for long distances.
Secondly, proper pacing is critical to successful racing.
Pacing techniques help you get used to how your goal pace feels like before race day.
So, for instance, if you start too slow, you may end up missing your goal time, whereas holding nothing back is the recipe for and premature fatigue, and, possibly, an early exit.
I can go on and on about the importance of training, but I think you get the picture.
How to Pace Yourself While Running – The Tools You Need
Here are the training tools and guidelines you need to stay on pace for any given distance.
Take It Slow—Build your Base
Beginners, Be Careful
If pacing is a new concept for you, then first establish your base running pace.
In other words, start with where you’re, instead of where you want to be.
As a beginner, you shouldn’t worry about weekly mileage nor speed.
Just focus on increasing time spent on your feet, not distance covered. That way you’ll ensure that you’re not doing too much too soon.
Enter The Walk/Run Method
If you’re a complete beginner, start off with the walking program or the walk/run method.
This method involves mixing low-intensity jogging intervals of 30 seconds with two to three minutes of brisk walking.
Here is the full guide to the walk/run method.
Train By Feel
Becoming attuned to your body ’s signals while running is crucial to pacing.
In fact, paying attention to your body is one of the quickest ways to gauge and regulate your pace, intensity, and effort of training.
So, as you run, ask yourself whether you’re training at the most appropriate intensity to make it to the finish.
More specifically, pay attention to your ability to talk, breathing rhythm, your leg turnover, and overall feeling.
When these change, your pace has changed.
Enter The Talk Test
This is a handy way to measure relative intensity. In essence, the harder the exercise, the harder it is to talk.
So, for instance, during easy runs, you should be able to hold a conversation and be able to stick to the same speed for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
But, during intense exercise, you shouldn’t be able to utter more than a few words without gasping for breath.
Heart Rate Training
Of course, a heart rate monitor is not a must-have item for recreational runners, but it’s something you should consider using.
Here is why.
The device can be a valuable training tool as it provides an objective measurement of your effort level.
As a result, running with a heart rate monitor can help keep your pace under control, whether it’s going off too fast—or too slow.
Establish Your Zones
To nail heart rate training, first establish your heart rate zones for specific running distances.
These zones should be based on your maximum heart rate.
For example, on easy training days, you should exercise within 60 t0 70 percent of maximum heart rate.
Note: For more advice on how to train with heart rate monitor, read my article on heart rate training.
It Ain’t Perfect
Just keep in mind that a heart rate monitor is not the ultimate answer to all of your running prayers.
This tool, just like any other, has its limitation. Factors such as nutrition, weather, hydration, stress, fatigue, and form can all affect heart rate.
Therefore, you’d need to pair heart rate training with “body awareness” or to give you the whole picture.
Practice Race Pace Workouts
Serious about joining the racing world?
Then do the following:
Invest a few weeks practicing your pace goal over and over again with the intent of understanding how fast can you go without pushing yourself too far.
Just like any skill—let alone running—practice paves the way to success.
The more time you practice your pace goal, the better you’ll get used it, and the higher your chances of a successful race.
Here is how to practice:
During the mid to later portions of your training cycle, start adding a few race pace portions to your runs.
As a rule, try to run your goal pace once a week roughly half to three-quarters of a mile—depending on your race goal, of course.
Then, each week, gradually run a little farther at your goal pace until you’re covering at least one third to one-half of your race distance.
I understand this may not apply to everyone, but these rough guidelines should prove enough to put you on the right track.
Here are general paces for other distances—based on being able to run one mile in 10 minutes.
At 5K pace, you can only blurt out a few words.
This is a pretty intense pace, so keep your running distances short— between 800 and 1200 meters.
94 to 99 % of maximum heart rate. Hard effort.
Perform four to six intervals of 1000m at your target pace. Take 1:1 recovery time.
At ideal 10K pace, you should be able to only say short, broken sentences.
This is a demanding pace but not as challenging as the 5K’s. Therefore, feel free to lengthen it a bit, aiming for working distances for up to a max of two miles.
80 to 93 %. Of maximum heart rate. Comfortably hard effort.
Perform at least three to four intervals of one mile at your goal pace, again 1:1 recovery time.
Distance—13.1 miles (half-marathon)
At half-marathon pace, you can talk, but it’s a challenge.
75 to 85 % of maximum heart rate.
On your next long run, run the last three to four miles at a tempo pace.
Distance—26.2 miles (marathon)
At marathon pace, you should be able to talk in full sentences with little trouble.
Stick to 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Perform 800-meter repeats on a track in the same amount of time as your marathon goal time in hours and minutes.
So if your goal is to finish the marathon in four hours, you complete the 800s in four minutes.
Start with four reps, then build on that.