Running pace isn’t given—it’s earned. Learning how to pace yourself when running isn’t just for beginners—it’s what set the hobbyists from the pros.
Whether or not we want to admit it, we’ve all been there before. The adrenaline builds. You hear the gun go off. Your legs start moving. Your race pace kicks in too early. Soon, you’re out of gas on the first mile with no finish line in sight.
Learning how to pace yourself is a challenge for many runners. It doesn’t matter if you’re new or experienced—tt takes time to find an optimal running pace without using all your effort levels in the first half-mile.
Want to learn how to pace yourself better and crush your next race (from start to finish)? You’ve come to the right place. Finding the right pace for running different lengths of races is an art—and it’s one we’re here to teach you.
In this article, we’ll show you how you can figure out your goal pace and run at speed that works well for your fitness level.
Running pace is finding the right sustainable speed to run at. It’s dialing in the right speed to finish your race at the fastest speed without emptying your tank too early.
But that speed isn’t always the same.
Your running pace for a half-marathon is going to be different than your running pace for a 5K. And your pace for running uphill won’t be the same as your pace when going downhill.
There are a lot of variables to consider, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. We can’t tell you an ideal pace—we can just give you the tips, best practices, and considerations for you to learn how to pace yourself while running.
One of the most common tips given to new runners in their training plans is to run at a target pace. Different styles of runs will require different paces, so it’s important for runners to know how much energy they need to exert.
But why is running the right mile pace so important?
Well, pacing yourself helps manage how much energy you have throughout the duration of the run. If you start running too fast during your warm-up, your heart rate will increase, you’ll feel out of breath and you may be unable to finish the race.
However, if you manage the amount of energy you exert at different points throughout the run, you will be able to conserve energy and keep a consistent pace throughout the entire race.
Running at different paces during your training cycles can help you prepare for maintaining a consistent pace during your runs. The length and style of the run will greatly determine your pace. You might find that you have a 5K pace, 10K pace, marathon pace and more.
However, the way in which you manage them will ultimately come down to how much you’ve practiced assessing and controlling your exertion levels during your runs and strength training.
To understand your run pace, check your rate of perceived effort. The rate of perceived effort takes into account how you’re feeling during the run and what actions you can take at that level of exertion without being completely out of breath.
Let’s take a look at three different types of runs and showcase the ways you can assess your rate of perceived effort and figure out if you’re running at the right pace.
For each workout and run, runners should make sure they are performing at their optimal pace. But how should you assess your pace without a pace calculator or GPS watch?
We’ll take a look at the best ways to figure out which pace is right for you while you’re completing your long runs, interval runs and tempo runs.
If you’re a marathoner reviewing your marathon training plan, chances are there will be many long runs in your future. Long runs are classified as any run that typically takes you more than 45 minutes to complete. They are great training exercises to build stamina, manage your pace and improve your breathing over long periods of exertion.
Long runs should be run at your slowest pace. Runners should exert in between 20-40% of their energy during long runs. This may seem like an easy pace for you for the first few miles, but the goal is to hold that pace for the duration of the run. To understand if you are running your long runs at the right pace, try a talk test or a nose breathing test to gauge your energy levels.
The talk test is a simple, but effective way to assess your long run pace. It is exactly what it sounds like. During your run, find a stride to hold while you are talking. If you start puffing for air while attempting to talk, you’re going too fast. Instead, find a consistent pace that you can hold while chatting with a friend and last to the second half of your long run.
Similar to the talk test, the nose test is an excellent way to assess your pace. (If you’re alone, it’ll look less weird too if you don’t have anyone to talk to during a talk test!) The nose breathing test examines how efficient you are at sustaining your breathing.
During the beginning of your run, try to inhale (and exhale, if possible) only through your nose. If you can manage this, you are running at the right pace. However, if you start to struggle, adjust your pace accordingly by slowing down. Throughout both of these tests, your heart rate may still increase, but you should be able to control it all the way through.
Tempo runs are your mid-race pace runs, wedged between your long run and interval paces. You should exert in between 40-60% of your energy on these runs. By increasing your pace, you’re able to improve your stamina and prepare for an upcoming race.
To make sure your tempo run pace isn’t too fast, see how many words you can say while running. Don’t worry about saying full sentences like during your long runs. Instead, focus on saying a few words, while staying on top of your breathing.
If you can’t get any words out, you’re going too fast. If you’re talking easily, maybe consider speeding up. This test will help you understand how you’re managing your pace and whether or not you need to speed up or slow down.
Interval runs are the fastest workouts you will likely do during your training. These should be done at the right pace to maximize your fitness gains as well as ensure an injury-free workout.
During your interval runs, you’re typically maxed out on your energy levels—usually at an 80-100% energy capacity. Interval runs are typically your shortest runs, focusing on brief spurts of all-out exertion ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This type of training is designed to get you to your race pace goal.
The best way to assess your pace during these runs is to ask yourself, “Can I go for that thirty seconds and not have anything left to give?” The goal of interval training is to run your fastest, leaving everything on the table.
While you’re running, think about that question. If you can give more, you’re not running fast enough.
Your running pace will vary depending on your goals and workout. If you’re just looking to build your aerobic base and enter the sport (without injury), you’ll want to run at a slow pace that you can maintain. It’s better to run 15 minutes at a consistent pace rather than go out to hard and have to walk after 2-3 minutes.
There is no “good beginner running pace.” It’s all very specific and unique to each runner. A brand-new runner might be pushing themself running a 12:00 pace, while another might find it easy to run a 8:30 pace.
It’ll depend on your genetics, talent, hobbies, lifestyle, diet, sleep, and life stressors. Give your body time to adapt. Your beginner running pace today will likely look very different in a month (and very different in a year). Be patient with yourself.
First, you need a goal to pace yourself consistently. What are you trying to accomplish with your run? Building up your aerobic base is going to look a lot different than trying to win a race or setting a new PR.
You learn how to pace yourself by experimenting and seeing what your body can do. What pace can you hold comfortably for a 5K? When you run your first 10K, do you think you can hold that same pace and push yourself a bit?
These are the kinds of questions you should be asking when learning how to pace yourself. Ask the questions, experiment on your training runs, and adjust your training and goals accordingly.
Finding the right running pace can be a challenge. However, once you assess your paces during different training runs, these exercises will become a habit.
All runners should mix up the tests performed throughout the week to check their rate of perceived exertion. In addition, runners should routinely check and update their baseline pace for each individual run over time.
You won’t learn how to pace yourself from reading this article alone—you have to lace up your shoes, head to the trail, and start assessing your running pace.