Imagine lacing up your shoes and stepping outside on a beautiful DC morning to go for a run. Now imagine within the first half mile you are breathing way too hard and your heart feels like it’s going to explode out of your chest. Your thoughts of enjoying this run just decreased considerably. What just happened? Chances are you didn’t pace yourself correctly. When you pace your run correctly, you’ll find it more enjoyable. Starting even a few seconds per mile too fast will likely turn your run into a chore.
Knowing your pace will help you sustain throughout a run or a race and give you the ability to make adjustments along the way based on how you feel.
How to determine your pace:
Go to a track or treadmill and run a timed mile (4 laps on a track). Be sure to warm up for 5-10 minutes then time yourself for one mile. Don’t sprint this mile but run at a little faster than you normally would.
Running on a track or treadmill provides you with an accurate measurement of distance and can give you a good starting point. Repeat your time trial occasionally to keep an accurate measurement of your one-mile pace as your fitness improves.
Ideas to increase average pace:
Once you have recorded a one-mile pace then you’ll find it easier to incorporate other workouts into your schedule.
In a typical training schedule you will have one day/week to run a long, steady run. For many of us, we run way too fast during the long run because we have learned to go fast and we want to continue going faster. Slowing down seems contradictory. However, slowing down your long run is extremely important. (To learn more about the benefits of the long, steady run, read "The long steady distance run")
Let’s assume your one-mile time was 10:00. You want to make sure your long, steady run is at a pace of 12:00 – 13:00 per mile (in other words, 2-3 minutes per mile slower). You will feel like you are crawling rather than running. But, the rule of thumb is that you should be able to say 5-word sentences without heavy breathing.
When you have a solid base of about 20 miles per week, you may want to consider speed work. Speed work will add strain on your muscles and tissues, is not recommended immediately prior to a race, and should be limited to one or two sessions a week.
Interval Training: Use a measured space on the track or a treadmill at intervals of 400 meters (one lap around the track). After your warm up, alternate between running one interval at your 5k pace and one as a slow, easy recovery lap. Start with 2-3 repeats (with recovery lap in between) and try to work your way up to 5-6 repeats.
Tempo run: Tempo runs are a faster-than-normal pace. Tempos help develop your anaerobic threshold, which is critical for running faster. Start with a warm up then continue with 15-20 minutes of running about 10 seconds slower than a 10k pace and then cool down. Consider a 10k pace as one that feels “comfortably hard.”
Hill repeats: Build strength which translates to more speed, endurance, and mental strength & confidence. Look for a hill that is between 100-200 meters long. You’ll want an incline that will test you but not one that is so tough you won’t be able to maintain your running form. Run up a hill at your normal 5k training pace then jog or walk back down and repeat again. Concentrate on lifting your knees and pushing off hard on every step. Beginner runners should start with 2-3 repeats, adding one repeat each week for a maximum of 6-7 repeats. Advanced runners should start with 6 repeats adding one each week with a maximum of ten repeats. Hill training should not be done more than once/week.
Fartlek: Although this word gets a lot of laughs in the non-running world (and some in the running world as well), fartlek’s are an important part of a runner’s routine and are good for speed work newbies. Fartlek’s consist of interjecting short bursts of running into your daily workout. Running for 30 seconds between two street signs can help train your body to run faster.
Knowing your pace and training within your limits will help you increase your overall pace as well as go a long way to keeping you injury free.