Running is one of the most convenient of all sports—after all, all you’re doing is putting one foot in front of the other.
But once you’re serious about taking your training to the next level, you should start paying attention to your running pace.
In this article, I’ll explain the different training paces for various runs and workouts. By the end, you’ll know exactly how to pace every one of your runs.
What is Running Pace?
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.
The Importance of Proper Pacing
Determining your ideal running pace for every run can make your training more effective. Heck, it can help you make the most out of your workouts.
Proper pacing helps you preserve enough energy for your entire run, which is vitally important training, especially long distance running. By properly managing your “energy expenditure” at various points of your runs, you’ll be to able to maintain a constant pace.
Start too fast during your first mile, and your heart and breathing rates will be out of control. This might compromise your training and make you unable to finish the race. Fast starts are the making of DNFs.
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.
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
- Current weekly mileage
- Previous racing history
- Running—and racecourse
- Weather conditions
- Diet plan
Here are some of the best ways to determine which pace is proper during easy runs, interval workouts, tempo runs, and long runs.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once you get a feel of the different paces during different training, pacing will become second nature for you. You won’t even have to think about it anymore.
It’s, after all, a skill. Once you acquire the skill, you can move to the next.
Remember to use the guidelines shared here to show you the right way. The rest, as the saying goes, is just details.