What is A Good Running Pace For Beginners

What is A Good Running Pace For Beginners
Young slim girl running in the park in winter. Portrait of attractive woman jogging on trail with copy space

Running pace is one of the most important metrics to keep track of as a runner, whether you just took up running, are training for your first race, or trying to break your personal best.

Knowing your pace can help you run and train better and much more efficiently.

Here’s the good news.

The formula for calculating running pace is easy. All you need to know is your time and your distance.

In today’s short article, I’ll explain what running pace is all about, how to measure it as well as how to make the most out of your training.

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

What Is Running Pace

First things first, what is pace and why it’s so important.

A pace is the equivalent of two natural steps.

Beginning with your right foot, the moment your left foot strikes the ground, you can count that one pace.

In the running world, it’s a useful metric that measures how long it takes to cover a defined distance.

More specifically, the term running pace refers to the speed at which you run—as in, how fast—or slow—you cover a certain distance.

It’s typically expressed in a minute-per-mile (or minute-per-kilometer) format, referring to the number of minutes it takes to run a mile—or a kilometer.

The longer it takes you to complete one mile, the slower your running pace. For example, when you hear a runner refer to their pace as 10 minutes per mile, it means that it takes them 10 minutes to cover one mile.

On a treadmill, the running pace is expressed in a miles-per-hour format, referring to how many miles you can run in one hour. For example, running at 9 Mph means covering nine miles in an hour, or 60 minutes.

To figure out your pace for a given distance, use a running app or calculate it post-run by dividing your distance—either in miles or kilometers—by the time it took to complete it.

Knowing your running pace can help you determine how long it will take to run a certain distance. Keeping track of this metric over time helps monitor your performance and see if your training efforts are paying off—or not.

Get it?

It’s really that simple.

Running pace is also expressed based on the type of run: “5K pace,” “ long-run pace,” “marathon pace,” etc.

Figure out these adjustments with this simple training tool.

Every run has a pace, whether or not you pay attention to it.

But, a mindful pacing plan based on your running goals, distance, and race conditions can help you make the most out of your runs and races.

Running pace is completely relative to your personal ability and current fitness levels.

It’s all about you.

The Trouble With Pacing

Proper running pacing is an elusive subject.

In fact, lots of runners, especially beginners, do not realize how important it is.

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.

What’s more?

Lots of runners—especially beginners— assume that unless they’re training for a specific serious race, running pace is an afterthought.

All they care about is running itself, not even the real technique.

Additional resource – How to use running pace charts

The Importance of Proper Running Pace

One of the hardest aspects of running, especially if you’re a beginner runner or are on unfamiliar terrains, is finding a pace that you can keep up over the distance.

Here’s the truth.

Proper pace is vital as it help save you up more energy and run efficiently without overtraining.

Start off too fast and you’ll overexert yourself a few miles in and you’ll be too tired and exhausted to keep up your performance.

Set off too slow, and you won’t be reaching your full potential neither.

Proper pacing also 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.

If you made up your mind on running a sub 40-minute 10K, but that’ not where your conditioning level is, you’re likely going to burn yourself out, or even worse, get injured.

BUT…

Once you understand what your body– muscles, lungs, and mind – can handle when it comes running intensity, you’ll find training more rewarding.

What’s more?

Different runs—and races—will require different paces.

Not only that, your running pace throughout your typical training days will be different than on race—and your pace will vary depending on the type and distance of the race you’re competing in.

Additional Resource- Here’s the full guide to RPE in running.

What Does Your Running Pace Depend on?

Many variables are important, but only a few factors directly impact your running pace.

Some of these include your:

  • Running ability
  • Fitness level
  • Genetics
  • Weight
  • Current weekly mileage
  • Previous racing history
  • Lifestyle
  • Age
  • Running—and racecourse
  • Weather conditions
  • Diet plan

Calculate Running Pace

To figure out the running pace, all you need is basic math skills and two important pieces of information:

  • Your timing in minutes—or how long it took you
  • Your distances in miles (or kilometers)—or how far you ran.

Once you figure these two things, the formula is straightforward.

Pace = Time / Distance

Let me break down each.

The Distance

You can figure out your distance by using various online tools, running apps, or mapping services where you input your starting point and your final destination. (check my article here for more about the subject).

You can also drive your car around your running route and get an estimate of how far your running route is.

Pace Calculator

Running pace is expressed either in minutes per mile or minutes per kilometer—it depends on which system you use.

Your pace result may not be a round number of minutes—that’s when you need to convert it to fractions of minutes to seconds.

running pace
Young slim girl running in the park in winter. Portrait of attractive woman jogging on trail with copy space

Using Apps And Fitness Devices

The easiest—and most convenient way—of calculating your pace is by using a GPS watch or distance and speed monitor.

The Global Position System consists of roughly 24 satellites orbiting at roughly 12,500 miles above earth almost every twelve hours in one of six different orbital planes.

But sometimes, these devices are not infallible.

For example, a GPS network can often be unreliable if you run in areas surrounded by big buildings, hills, or trees that hinder the satellite’s signal needed to measure your position.

What’s more?

GPS accuracy depends on many factors, such as the device you’re using and its operating system, cellular network, and battery life.

Proper Running Pacing By Feel

Although GPS technology is quite helpful, the best way to learn how to pace yourself while running is to listen to your body.

This strategy allows you to regulate your pace based on how you feel both physically and mentally.

More specifically, pay attention to your ability to talk, breathing rhythm, heartbeat, your leg turnover, and overall feeling.

When these change, your pace has changed.

If you start to pant for air and are unable to say a complete sentence, you’re going too fast.

Another thing you can do to practice pace by feel is training at different paces. Use your phone or GPS watch to track your pace, then analyze how your body feels at that pace.

Take It Slow—Build your Base

Remember to first build your running pace before you start playing around with your running pace.

In other words,  start with where you’re, instead of where you want to be.

During your first few months, don’t worry about distance or speed.

Instead, focus on spending more time on your feet.

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.

Worth for conditioning your cardio too.

Here is the full guide to the walk/run method.

How To Properly Pace Different Runs

Here are some of the best ways to determine which pace is proper during easy runs, interval workouts, tempo runs, and long runs.

Enjoy!

1. The Easy Pace run

As the name implies, easy runs pace should…feel…easy.

Run too fast, too hard, and too often, and your body’s ability to recover will be severely hindered.  Easy miles reside in the 60 to 70 percent of maximal oxygen consumption or VO2 Max—which is roughly 60 to 70 percent of maximal heart rate.

As for actual pace, these are typically 90 to 120 seconds per mile slower than your marathon pace.

Action Step

Easy pace consists of conversational, comfortable space and should make up the bulk of your training runs. This also includes the warm-ups and cool-down before and after harder runs and races.

How fast you go varies depending on your running experience and goals, but, as a rule of thumb, you should be able to carry a conversation with a friend or sing a few lines of your favorite song without panting for it.

If you can only say a few words at a time, you’re going too fast.

2. Lactate Threshold Pace

Or what’s known as tempo training, lactate threshold pace is wedged between speed work and long run pace.

Lactate threshold refers to the point at which the body makes more lactate than it can clear out. Training at this point increases your lactate threshold, which helps you run longer and faster before you fatigue.

When you run just below your lactate threshold point, your body will be able to process that by-product and cover it back into energy much more efficiently.

Run faster than this point, and you’ll, sooner than later, run out of gas. This results in breathlessness, heavy leg, and fatigue.

By sticking to a threshold training pace, you can increase the lactate threshold, which allows you to run faster and longer.

The Action Step

Technically, tempo pace is roughly your one-hour race pace, with a rate perceived exertion level in the range of 7 to 8 on the scale of 1 to 10.

An example of a typical tempo run would be a non-stop session for 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the total distance you run each week.

To practice lactate threshold pace, aim for a “comfortable hard” pace—which is a pace that you could hold on to for about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your fitness level.

To ensure you aren’t going too fast, check how many words you can say while logging the miles. You should be able to only say a few short sentences but shouldn’t feel as comfortable as when you’re sticking to a conversational pace.

Talking without any trouble? Then it’s time to speed up.

Can’t get any words out? You’re running too fast.

Tempo pace should make up no more than 10 to 20 percent of your runs.

3. Speedwork Pace

Interval training is the fastest session you’ll likely do—the zone in which you develop top-end speed.

This pace improves your aerobic ability by increasing your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can exploit during intense exercise.

VO2 max is, in essence, a combination of the blood volume your heart can pump and the amount of oxygen that your muscles can extract and then use.

The higher your VO2 max, the better your athletic performance and potential.

Interval should be performed at the right pace to make the most fitness gains and reduce the risk of injury and burnout. The purpose is to run fast—and as fast as you can for the given interval.

During interval training—think fast intervals on the track.

Don’t expect to be able to speak at all.  The pace is near maximum effort equal to your 5K race pace or faster.

Interval sessions are often your shortest runs, performing brief intervals at all-out-effort ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes. Typical interval runs include:

  • Track sprints—think 100m, 200m, and 400m repeats
  • Treadmill sprints
  • Hill sprints
  • Fartlek
  • Strides

Interval pace should only make up a tiny portion of your weekly load—no more than 10 percent of your running volume.

4. Long Run Pace

Training for a half-marathon or marathon in the near future? Then you’ll be devoting a large portion of your training to long runs.

Long runs often take more than an hour to complete. They have a lot to offer as long runs improve stamina, enhance technique, improve fat burning, and, of course, help you manage pace.

Most of your long runs—especially during the build-up phase—should be run at your easy, conversational pace—or even slower.

If you’re a beginner running, your long run will be the slowest session of things—think double-digit pace.

Action Step

To make sure you’re doing your long runs at the right pace, try the talk test. Stick to a consistent pace that you can maintain while talking with your friend, and you can sustain it throughout the second half of the session.

Starting to pant for air while trying to talk? You’re running too fast.

Looking for a PR, consider adding more challenge to your long runs by either doing:

  • A negative split—in which you run the second portion of the session faster than the first.
  • Random accelerations— a type of fartlek training in which you pikc up the pace at random points.
  • A fast finish in which you run the last few miles at your goal race pace.

5. Half Marathon & Marathon Pace

Half marathon or marathon pace is the speed you’re aiming to maintain over the entire race distance.

Determining this pace beforehand also helps with training as you can build your training plan around it so you can increase your chances of success.

On a perceived effort scale of 1 to 10, your half marathon and marathon pace should be somewhere around the 5 to 6 range.

The pace should feel sustainably uncomfortable. You should only be able to sneak out a few words here and there. It’s not as hard as threshold pace but not as comfortable as easy pace. Challenging, yes, but sustainable over hours.

Note – Training for your first half marathon? Then check my couch to half marathon training plan.

Action Step

In general, half marathon pace is roughly 15 to 30 seconds slower than your 10K pace or 15 to 30 seconds faster than your marathon pace.

For example, if your current 10K race pace is 7:20 per mile, then a rough estimate of your half marathon is 7:35 to 7:50 per mile—or somewhere in between.

Aiming to run a sub-4 hour marathon? Then devote some training to running roughly a 9-minute per mile pace.

Tips for Picking up Your Running pace

Now that you know the basics of running pace and why it’s such an important metric, let’s get more practical.

The following strategies should be enough to help improve your running pace, especially if you are not currently happy with your running performance and results.

Improve your running technique:

You can do this by keeping your posture upright, bending your arms, shooting for a 170-180 stride cadence, and developing a forefoot stride pattern. You can also use a tool, like STRYD, to accurately keep track of your pace and stride stats.

Vary Your workouts

Doing the same three-miler run around the neighborhood is the recipe for performance plateaus. Instead, try varying your running plan by doing plenty of interval workouts, fartlek, tempo runs, hill reps long runs, and recovery runs.

The more varied, the better.

Recover Well

You can have the best running coach in the world who is teaching how to master proper running technique as well as perform goal-oriented workouts for improving pace. But, if you don’t recover from your training, all of your efforts will be in vain.

In fact, proper recovery is as important as the training itself.

Check out my full guide to recovery for runners here.

Additional resource – Guide to pacing strategies for different races

Practice Race Pace

Now that you know what running pace is about and how to figure out your perfect pace, you might want to know how to practice different running paces for different distances and races.

First things first, what is race pace?

Race pace, in essence, is the real pace you can maintain for a specific race effort.

For your example, your 10K pace will be different from your marathon race as the distance is so much shorter.

Serious about joining the racing world?

Then do the following:

Good athletes aren’t made overnight.

Invest a few weeks practicing your pace goal over and over again with the intent of understanding how fast you can go without pushing yourself too far.

Just like any skill—let alone running—practice paves the way to success.

Practice and all is coming.

Here is how to practice:

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.

Here are general paces for other distances—based on being able to run one mile in 10 minutes.

Distance—5K

You can only blurt out a few words at a 5K pace.

During a 5K pace, your heart rate should shoot up to 85 to 90 percent of your max.

Sure, this isn’t a sprint, but the longer you sustain a 5K pace, the more it will feel ice a sprint.

Workout

Perform four to six intervals of 1000m at your target pace.

Take 1:1 recovery time.

Distance—10K

The typical 10Kpace is roughly 10 to 20 seconds slower than 5K pace.

It’s still an aggressive pace and definitely more challenging and testing the longer you keep it.

At an ideal 10K pace, you should be able to only say short, broken sentences.

80 to 93 %. Of maximum heart rate.

Comfortably hard effort.

Workout

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)

The ideal half marathon pace is basically a tempo effort, or roughly 20 to 30 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace.

You should be breathing hard, but still able to say a few words at a time without panting for air.

As for heart rate, shoot for 75 to 85 percent of your max.

Workout

On your next long run, run the last three to four miles at a tempo pace.

Distance—26.2 miles (marathon)

At a marathon pace, you should be able to talk in full sentences with little trouble.

Or what’s known as aerobic pace, marathon pace is anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

The pace is challenging, but smooth to the point where you’re definitely not huffing and puffing on every step.

Workout

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.

Start The Race Slow

Sure, it may feel good to pick up the pace early on but could cost you later.

When you start out too fast, you increase your heart rate and body temperature more quickly, which revs up your sweat rate and fatigues you more quickly.

Instead, start slower than you think you need to.

Shoot for 5 to 10 seconds per mile slower than your goal race pace for the first mile or so—depending on the race distance, of course.

This may feel slow, and you might be getting passed by other runners you want to beat, but don’t let your ego stand in the way.

Race Day Pace Tips

Make sure you make the most out of your race by implementing the following.

 

Listen to Your Breathing

Use your breathing to gauge your speed.

Once you lock onto your goal race pace, pay attention to your breathing, and monitor if you start to breathe faster or change your breathing rhythm.

Keep a pace at which you can breathe comfortably for the first few miles, and you’ll be able to rev it up down better towards the end.

If you’re huffing and puffing earlier in the race, you’re heading in the wrong direction.

What’s more?

Check-in your breathing rate while racing at different points.

It’s okay if that’s your last mile—or the final surge—of the race, but try to keep things under control.