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Are You Running Too Fast? How to Use the Correct Running Pace

Running too fast is rarely a concern for runners, regardless of whether they’re just getting started or are a seasoned competitor. Just about every runner dreams of getting faster and achieving new PRs. However, doing so doesn’t involve completing every training run and workout at a faster speed.

A common mistake that runners make is running too fast. Most assume that the faster, the better – after all, if that’s what you’re trying to achieve on race day, it makes sense. But running too fast, especially when it occurs frequently, can actually cause you to slow down and perform at a lower level.

How do you know if you’re running too fast?

One of the biggest signs that you are running too fast is a plateau in progress or consistent feeling of fatigue. Running too fast too often reduces your body’s ability to recover, leaving you with that constant feeling of heavy-ness. Easy runs, tempo runs, long runs and speed workouts all begin to feel like they require a herculean effort to complete.

What happens if you run too fast?

It’s one thing to accidentally find yourself running too fast during a long run and then adjust. However, if you’re constantly completing easy runs, long runs and key workouts at a speed that is faster than prescribed, it is bound to catch up to you.

Usually, consistently running too fast during training results in slower paces with harder efforts. You might notice a higher heart rate during runs or continued feeling of soreness or tiredness in your legs.

Signs You Are Running Too Fast

Most athletes assume that faster is better. And when it comes to competition, faster certainly wins. But during training, mixing up the pace and running slower actually has the potential to set you up for faster speeds on race day. Here are some common signs that you are running too fast, too often.

  • You are consistently getting injured
  • Your legs feel sore or tired during easy efforts
  • Recovery intervals feel too short or too hard
  • You notice a higher heart rate during easy efforts
  • You feel tired or fatigued at the beginning of runs
  • Your workouts and race times are slower than anticipated
Running too fast can actually lead to slower race times and poor performance. Here's how to know if you're running the correct pace in training.

6 Reasons to Avoid Running Too Fast

The signs of running too fast are a pretty clear indicator that you’ll want to avoid it during training. However, even with knowing this, many runners find themselves tempted to push the pace more often than not.

Here are some reasons that running too fast during speed workouts, long runs and easy runs can be detrimental to your training.

Prevents the body from clearing lactate

Many speed workouts are designed to push the body to the lactate threshold pace. The purpose of this is to train the body to clear lactate more efficiently, thus increasing your speed and power.

Running faster than your lactate threshold pace can actually have the opposite effect, as the body is pushed to the point of fatigue, but never improves.

Increases likelihood of injury

Running too fast, too often means that your muscles have less time to repair damage and fully recover. Running on sore, tired, or overly fatigued muscles means that they are weaker and more susceptible to new damage. Eventually, this can lead to a variety of different chronic injuries.

Prevents the body from fully recovering

Slow and easy runs are present in every training plan for a reason. Not only does varying the pace help prevent overtraining, but the easy pace can actually aid in recovery. Failing to incorporate these easy runs reduces the time the body has to recover, until every run is eventually started in a fatigued state.

Creates more muscle tears

During a run, especially a speed workout or hard effort, tiny tears develop in the muscles. When the body has a chance to recover, the tears are fixed and muscle is rebuilt. When you are running too fast, you prevent the body from being able to rebuild muscle, and start a new run with muscles that are still not fully recovered.

Decreases overall running performance

It might sound counterintuitive at first – that running slower will actually help you run faster – but when you understand what all is going on inside the body after a hard workout, it makes sense.

Running too fast all of the time will almost always cause a decrease in your running performance over time. After multiple weeks with all runs completed at a hard or even moderate effort, the pace will likely start to feel more challenging. Before long, it’ll feel like your legs are always heavy, heart rate is always high, and hitting those paces requires more effort than ever before.

Limits the aerobic adaptions that can occur

Overall, running too fast prevents the body from its natural recovery process. This, in turn, leads to a variety of issues that all stem from the lack of aerobic adaptions that are occurring.

Less recovery, lower lactate threshold, higher heart rates, and fatigued muscles will all begin to prevent your progress.

The Purpose of Different Workouts

Most runners understand that tempo runs, interval workouts and speed sessions all have a definitive purpose: to increase your fitness and boost speed over time. Although this is true, each type of workout benefits your body in different ways, leading to well-rounded improvements in less time.

Easy and recovery runs also have a very specific purpose – and actually help you run faster too. Understanding the purpose of each type of run on your training plan will make you more likely to stick with the designated paces and avoid the temptation to push things harder even when you’re feeling good.

Speed Workouts (VO2 Max)

  • Designed to help increase the maximum oxygen the body uses during exercise
  • Helps increase muscle strength and power
  • A great opportunity to gain mental strength as well
  • Shorter intervals at higher speeds push the body to the limits without doing so for too long

Tempo Runs (Lactate Threshold)

  • Designed to help improve lactate threshold, teaching the body to clear lactate more efficiently
  • Pace is slightly slower but still challenging – this makes it easier to maintain for slightly longer periods of time
  • Another opportunity to work on mental strength

Recovery Runs

  • Help expedite recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles
  • Provides time to clear out waste in the muscles after hard workouts and deliver fresh oxygen
  • Can help improve endurance by adding mileage without intensity

Easy Runs

  • Great way to increase endurance without running the risk of overtraining or injury
  • Increases overall mileage when training for a long distance race
  • Provides more opportunity for the body to recovery and recycle nutrients

Long Runs

  • Designed to provide practice running longer mileage at slower speeds
  • Gradually helps improve endurance for long distance races over time
  • Great opportunity to develop mental strength and slow twitch muscle fibers

How to Structure Training to Avoid Running Too Fast

Despite knowing the purpose of each type of run, it can be difficult to set up a successful training plan for yourself. Regardless of whether you’re training for a 5k PR or a full marathon, you’ll want to include as much variety as possible.

Changing things up, completing different workouts, and prioritizing easy days will set you up for success on race day. Here are a few general rules that most running coaches use when creating training plans for any different type of goal.

  • Keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy
  • Aim to complete 75 – 80% of training at an easy effort, and 20 – 25% at a hard effort
  • Avoid that “gray zone” – not easy, but not hard
  • Easy efforts should all be completed at a conversational pace
  • Prioritize one long run, one recovery run, and one speed workout – and then add easy runs for the rest
  • Listen to your body
  • Remember that pace will fluctuate depending on conditions such as the weather, elevation, overall health, etc.

Running too fast might sound like it’s not possible. If you want to run faster on race day, why wouldn’t you? But it’s important to remind yourself of the purpose of easier paces. Changing our mindset to prioritize all different speeds and workouts will round out your training and set you up for success on race day.

If all else fails, remind yourself that it’s always better to go into race day slightly undertrained than overtrained. The body knows how to heal itself and get stronger, but only if you allow it the opportunity to do so.

More tips to avoid running too fast:

  • Run Slow to Run Fast
  • Long Slow Distance Run
  • Heart Rate Zones