How To Learn Your Running Pace
How To Learn Your Running Pace
Regardless of whether you are training for a 5K or a fully-fledged marathon, any runner is going to be concerned with their running pace. Which, in theory, seems like a pretty simple thing. Your pace is merely the speed at which you complete a run. That’s it. But, when you’re actually out there running, maintaining a steady pace can be a pretty tricky thing.
And deviating from that pace can have pretty severe consequences for your performance. Of course, you could just be going slower than you planned. But you might also start off way too fast, exhausting your energy too early on in your run. Really, then, pace is about balancing your energy (and capability) with your running goals.
So, how do you do it? How can you learn your proper running pace?
Understanding The Vocabulary
We need to clear up a little bit of confusion that sometimes surrounds discussions of running pace. The problem is that “pace” is often used to refer to different things depending on the context.
The vague changes in speed covered by the terms “walk,” “jog” and “run” all describe different paces. But, since everyone walks, jogs and runs at different speeds, that doesn’t really tell use anything. Then, things get even more complicated when we start talking about races.
Experienced competitive runners will have their 5K pace, their 10K pace, their half marathon pace and their marathon pace. Each of these paces details the speed at which the runner wants to complete the event – or segments of it.
Now, running pace is generally expressed as minutes per mile. So, if you’re running at a 10 minute/mile pace, you’ll likely complete a 5K in 31:04. And this same pattern can be stretched out over greater and greater distances to help you set realistic goals and judge how fast you should be running to reach those goals.
Now, as mentioned at the outset, none of that matters if you can’t maintain a pace. But more on that later.
Find Your Ideal Running Pace
Here’s something to think about: Each human being on the planet comes fully equipped with their own ideal running pace. Of course, that pace changes throughout our lives based on fitness level, age, health and a host of other factors. But the point is that your body has a comfort zone.
In fact, you’ve probably felt this – even if it was by accident. You’re out for a run and just sort of settle into a speed that just feels right. Likely runs at this pace are some of the most enjoyable you’ve ever experienced.
Research has found that this ideal running pace is more than just a speed at which you’re comfortable, though. This is actually the pace at which your metabolism is working most efficiently – in the same way that the engine on your car runs best within a certain range.
So, how does one find their ideal running pace? Go to a nearby running track and get yourself warmed up by walking one easy lap. Now it’s time to run. Do a mile – four laps – at a fast run. You’re not trying to all out sprint here, but push yourself. Record your time.
That running pace, set during that mile trial, represents your current running level. Retest every two weeks or so to account for any improvements in your ability.
Keeping The Pace
So, you know what pace is and you know what your ideal running pace is over a mile. But, how do you actually maintain it? Here are some tips.
There are tons of different apps and wearables that exist for the sole purpose of coaching you through the difficult task of maintaining a specific running pace. Some of them even talk to you in a jarring mechanical voice that’s somehow motivational (probably through fear) to let you know when you need to speed up or slow down.
And while these can be excellent tools, they have their downsides. First, you have to buy them. Many of the apps are free but come with limited features unless you invest. The apps also tend to work much better and offer more information if paired with a wearable tracker. But those don’t come free.
The exact cost will depend on what features you’re looking for in your wearable. A plain old pedometer – which does little more than count steps and distance – can be pretty cheap. But they’re also fairly inaccurate. Most trustworthy devices, which use other sensors including GPS-tracking will logically cost significantly more. We did a roundup of some of the most popular fitness trackers here.
It’s really not all that surprising that music is a powerful training tool. Interestingly, though, well-selected music can literally set your running pace for you. In fact, it’s possible to convert your pace to beats per minute (BPM), a measurement of musical rhythm. You can then select music that fits that BPM and simple follow along. You can actually do this in Spotify, if you have it.
When it comes to building your playlist, it could be a challenge if it wasn’t for OTHER runners who fortunately have already done it (saving you time!), which gets the job done for you. Several programs and websites exist to help you find the BPM for music you already own. From there you can select the perfect songs for your running pace.
Or, if you just don’t want to do the work, there are plenty of podcasts and services willing to do it for you. For example, the podcast Podrunner creates hour-long mixes of electronic music set to specific BPMs. Often, these mixes include several different BPMs for interval training.
Granted, this sounds pretty awesome. But, it too presents some problems. Namely: You need to know your BPM. And, irritatingly, BPM doesn’t always correlate directly to the same pace for everyone. Some people just naturally have a longer or shorter stride then others. Plus, that stride is going to get longer the fast you go, leading to fewer BPM than you might expect. The solution? Count.
Yes, to truly find your ideal BPM, you’re going to need to run at a specific pace – like your perfect mile discussed above – and count how many steps you take per minute. Or, if that sounds like the worst thing possible and you aren’t concerned with accuracy, this chart can give you a basic idea of where your BPM might fall for a given pace.
A Word on Treadmills
There is another tool that many people use to help train them on a specific running pace: The treadmill. I cannot, however, recommend this.
Nothing against treadmills, they have their value. However, they also have the ability to negatively affect your stride. Specifically, people tend to run with a shorter stride and are more likely to land on their heels when running on a treadmill. These changes have quite a few effects on your overall performance and aren’t useful when we are trying to establish your running pace.
If treadmills force you to take on a shorter stride, your pace is going to be different when you get off the treadmill. Those numbers simply won’t translate. So, using a treadmill to train yourself at a certain pace is going to put you at a disadvantage when you get outside.