Figuring out how to pace yourself when running is often a bit challenging. Many new runners struggle to find their running pace, and oftentimes settling on a pace that is either too fast or slow without knowing it.
Training with an incorrect running pace will not only hold you back from hitting your goals, but it will usually make running feel more difficult than it needs to.
Is it important to pace yourself when running?
Learning how to pace yourself when running is key to success at most races – from the 5k to the marathon and beyond. Pacing yourself will allow you to conserve energy for the end of the run, maintain a consistent effort, and avoid overtraining or injuries.
How to Pace Yourself When Running
Once you learn how to pace yourself when running, you’ll find that many new windows of opportunity open. Pacing yourself prevents burnout and hitting the wall later on in a run or race, and will help you truly settle into training and enjoy yourself. Here are some tips to pace yourself when running.
Run by feel before setting goals
In order to correctly pace yourself when running, you’ll first need to find your natural pace. Attempting to pace yourself by running significantly faster or slower than your body is capable of running will lead to splits that are all over the place.
To avoid this, spend the first portion of your training running solely based on feel – not by the clock or by your goals. Run at a pace where you feel most comfortable (an indicator of this is being able to hold a conversation). After a month or so, find the average pace.
Assess your conversational ability
The best way to assess whether or not you are running at an appropriate pace for your easy and long runs is by checking whether or not you’re able to hold a conversation. Check in frequently to help maintain your pace and stay consistent throughout the run. If you find yourself struggling to talk, slow down.
Be intentional with speedwork
One simple way to settle into your natural running pace is to be intentional with the paces you run during training. Rather than simply completing every single run without noticing the pace, be intentional about utilizing different paces for different purposes.
Save easy paces for those easy and long runs, and really pick up the pace for speed workouts. Tempo runs, race pace and intervals all should be completed significantly faster than the rest of training. Setting these runs apart and forcing your body to run faster will help it settle into a natural pace during the easy runs.
Check your heart rate
A great way for beginners to learn how to pace themselves when running is to use heart rate as their guide. Checking to make sure you are in the appropriate heart rate zone, and monitoring it throughout the run, will allow you to make necessary adjustments and discover the pace that is most natural for your body.
>> Learn more about heart rate zones here!
Use a treadmill
One of the most challenging things for beginner runners is not finding their pace, but rather, maintaining it. Staying consistent without speeding up or slowing down can be incredibly difficult when your body is new to running. The best way to combat this and teach your body what it feels like to stay consistent is to use a treadmill.
>> Download this free Treadmill Pace Chart!
Assess your cadence
Oftentimes, when we find ourselves slowing down while running, our cadence gets slower as well. Maintaining a healthy, quick cadence is a great way to prevent unintentional slow downs during a run. If you’re struggling to maintain a consistent running pace, check on your cadence. An optimal running cadence is faster that one might think – between 170 and 180 bpm.
Avoid running too fast
One of the biggest mistakes new runners make when trying to pace themselves while running is trying to run too fast. Starting out too fast or trying to maintain a pace that is too fast for their goals will only result in failure and disappointment. Start out slow and practice pacing yourself at an easy, slow pace before attempting to speed anything up.
Aim for negative splits
It’s nearly impossible to run the exact same pace for many miles at a time, so instead of aiming for something that’s unrealistic, set a goal for negative splits instead. To negative split a run, you’ll want to start out slightly slower than your goal and gradually speed up throughout the run. The increase in speed should not be significant – just 1-5 seconds faster per mile, but it’s enough to ensure you won’t slow down.
How do I know my running pace?
Before you can attempt to pace yourself when running, you’ll need to determine what the correct running pace actually is. Finding your running pace might sound pretty straightforward, but oftentimes aiming for an arbitrary goal is not the best way to do so.
One popular way to determine running pace is to use a training pace calculator. These are really helpful if you have a specific time goal you are aiming for at the next race – but if these goals don’t align with your current running abilities, you will be hard-pressed to accomplish them.
Running pace most often refers to your easy pace – the pace at which you run during most easy training runs. Intervals and speed workouts will be completed at a pace that is much faster.
If you’ve been running for a few weeks or more, you can get a general idea of your natural running pace by looking back on your past runs and finding the average pace. You’ll know it’s the right pace if you can comfortably sustain a conversation throughout the duration of the run.
5 Different Running Paces to Use in Training
- Easy pace: the pace at which you can comfortably sustain a conversation for the duration of the run; 60-90 seconds per mile slower than goal race pace – this is the pace you will use for 80+% of training
- Recovery pace: about 30-60 seconds per mile slower than easy pace
- Race pace: goal pace; about 60-90 seconds faster per mile than easy pace (depending on race length)
- Tempo pace: about 90 seconds per mile faster than your easy pace – the fastest possible pace you can sustain for the length of the run
- Interval pace: about 2 minutes faster than your easy or recovery pace – to be used only for short intervals of 800 meters or less
In most cases, at least 80% of your training (if not more) will be completed at an easy pace. Most new runners make the mistake of training at a pace that is significantly too fast. If you find yourself running most of your training runs at your goal pace, it is probably too fast (or your goal is not enough).
Learning how to pace yourself when running takes time. It’s a skill that is best acquired through experience and will begin to feel easier and more natural the more you do it. Simply put, pacing yourself running requires practice. The more you run, the faster you’ll learn how to pace yourself.
Running goals change and grow over time, but by learning how to pace yourself running early on, it’ll be easier than ever to adapt your training to accomplish even your wildest goals.