Q+A: I only have one pace. How can I speed up?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2002
by Steve Smythe

Q I’ve completed a couple of 10Ks and half-marathons, but worry that I only seem to have one pace. I want to run faster so I’ve tried adding tempo runs to my schedule. But when I make a conscious effort to speed up during a run, I soon find I have to slow down again. How can I successfully add tempo runs to my training?

A The first thing to do is to work out your pace over your two race distances. Divide your time in minutes by the distance you ran, and you’ll have your minute-per-mile pace. You’re likely to find that your mile splits are anything from 15 to 45 seconds slower for the half marathon than for the 10K. But as you ran almost twice the distance, it will have felt just as hard.

If you’re still not convinced that you have more than one pace, invest in a heart-rate monitor. Wear it during races, and use it to compare your average rate over different distances. Most people hit around 85 per cent of their working rate during half-marathons. You should notice that you have a higher heart rate over shorter distances – which means you’re running faster.

But that doesn’t really answer your question. You say you’ve tried adding tempo (or threshold runs) runs to your schedule, but found them hard. That might simply be because you increased your pace too much.

During a tempo run you increase your speed in the middle of the session. For example, if you’re running for 40 minutes, begin at jogging pace, then about 10 minutes into the session, start to switch tempos and gradually accelerate to a quicker pace for 15-20 minutes before relaxing and finishing the run at a slower pace. And remember, the ‘tempo’ part of the run doesn’t need to be done flat out. Aim for your half-marathon pace, around 80 to 85 per cent of your working heart rate.

If you don’t have a heart-rate monitor, just run your session on a familiar measured loop. During the tempo section, try to hit your half-marathon mile splits.

Once you’ve mastered the tempo run, you’ll see that it’s a great way of improving your sustained speed over the distances you like to race. You will also increase your anaerobic, or lactate, threshold, which will allow you to hold your new found faster pace for longer.

Steve Smythe, RW Race Services Editor, coach and a runner for 30 years

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Discuss this article

I would really appreciate some tips on increasing my speed. I currently run pretty steady 8 - 8 1/2 minute miles over anything from 1 mile to 1/2 marathon (at least I can easily predict my finishing times in any race I enter!) How can I increase my speed and vary it between distances. I personally would have thought that if I could run a 1/2 marathon at 8 1/2 min miles then I should be able to run 1 mile in 7? Also, any tips on improving hill running. I currently find hills (however steep) a real challenge, my legs turn to cement pillars and my pace drops right off.

Posted: 07/12/2002 at 15:21

Louisa, there's no easy answer. The solution is to spend some time running faster and doing hill reps.

Running faster can be as simple as increasing your pace for 2 or 3 minutes at a time during your normal run.

Hill reps involve simply chosing a hill and running up and down it as many times as you can. This may be only 2 or 3 reps the 1st time you try.

If you do this for 6 weeks you should notice a difference.
Posted: 07/12/2002 at 20:16

With hills I find it useful to try and con myself! I never look at the top of it, focussing on a point just a few yards ahead, and deny to myself that I've got to do this all over again in a bit. Same sort of thing with speedwork, I hate it so i try to take each rep one at a time without thinking of having to do 4, 6, 8 or 10 or whatever. Also think about rewarding yourself after doing those horrible sessions.
Posted: 07/12/2002 at 21:26

louisa -

hill reps are hard for everyone, and probably the best way of making you turn your back on speed training if that's all you do.

there are lots of alternatives, including fartlek (the best introduction to speedwork), intervals, repetitions (intervals with full recoveries), tempo runs, strides, etc.

you can find articles on the RW website about all of these, so try them all and find out what works best for you, and above all don't stick to the same kind of speed training week in week out. variety is the key.

you can get a lot faster - and much quicker than you think.

BTW if you can do 8:30m/m for the 1/2M, you should currently be able to do 24:20 for 5K, 50:40 for 10K and 3:55 for the marathon.
Posted: 07/12/2002 at 22:36

I was a cyclist before I turned to running and found that the muscles used for cycling helped me enormously on the hills right from the start. So maybe some cross training might help.
Posted: 09/12/2002 at 14:33

Aaah - murtlebox - me too !! I wondered why I fly past people on the hills.

Anyone got details of a Half Marathon that goes entirely uphill please ?

Louisa - can you get to the local track and do some speed work there perhaps ? Intervals ?
Posted: 09/12/2002 at 17:32

hills are unavoidable where i live. my routes all take in at least 300 ft of vertical ascent and up to 1000ft on the longer routes. in a twisted sort of way i find it more enjoyable to running on the flat! it is definately a greater sense of achivement. but you can't expect to run at the same pace uphill, just slow down and don't look at the top - a few yards in front like Llama man says. I usually know how long each hill takes to overcome so I prepare in advance mentally for, say, a 10 or 15 minute intense effort. I also started off cycling and still do alot of hill training on my bike. It's funny, cos when I'm struggling up a hill on my bike i wish i was running but when i'm struggling up hill on a run i wish i was on my bike! perverse or what?
Posted: 09/12/2002 at 18:44

some tips for hills -

run with equal effort not at equal pace;

maintain stride rate but shorten your stride length;

concentrate on lifting the knees;

drive harder with the arms;

push harder off the back foot;

keep your head up by focusing on a point 20-30 yards ahead;

stay relaxed (!)

and finally, the more you do, the easier they get - but unfortunately you can quickly lose the benefits of hill training if you don't keep it up.

the reason cycling helps is probably because cycling hugely develops the quads which come into play much more for running hills than on the flat.
Posted: 09/12/2002 at 19:10

right, slower, but shorter steps, and cycling is great,
but you have to cycle for real, no static bikes!!! and in a stiff gear goin uphill. i find i make massive gains in strength just by cycling to school, because i muct carry 5-6 kilos of books, like weighted cycling,
really, i think it helps loads,
and don't think that tha will put on loads of unshiftable, and unuseful muscle weight, it doesn't, rather if you only train with a little more weight(but don't increase it incrementally) you develop muscle density rather than muscle bulk. ie, more fibers made recruitable for normal exerted effort, not simply more fibres made, full stop.

Posted: 14/12/2002 at 02:04

Whether the problem is running faster or funning uphills, I find the hardest part is to get my breathing right. For the first two to three miles I am virtually hyper-ventilating with my breathing and find it very difficult to keep any sort of pace until my breathing has settled. Once it has settled, then running at any pace is easier, then you can apply the splits or reps or whatever you like to call them, but only after the breathing is even. Any comments
Posted: 04/09/2003 at 20:41

I don't do hill reps as I have no choice where I live but to run on hills. All of my training routes involve at least two fairly strenuous ascents. When I first moved to where I live now from central London I couldn't make it up the hill I live at the top of as it always comes at the end of a run when I'm tired.

It has been really satisfying monitoring my progress over the past year. Most of the hills now feel really easy to me, and I've knocked 3 minutes off my 5K time since moving, so the hills definitely improve fitness.

To start with I just focused on slowing down when I started an ascent and concentrated on keeping a slow but steady pace. The goal was to get to the top without stopping. Gradually I've increased the pace as getting to the top has become easier. I don't always make it up every hill but I find them a lot easier than I used to. Just have to force myself to start doing some real speedwork next ... I'm always put off the idea of anything that's going to hurt!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 09:44

Just to be awkward, where Achilles mentions pushing off harder with the back foot, I find that focusing on picking up that foot OFF the ground quickly has the intended effect. I'd certainly agree with shortening your steps though. You could even increase the cadence but definitely don't let it drop.

Posted: 05/09/2003 at 09:55

Minkin - I'm with you. Where I live I have the choice of flattish runs or very hilly ones. As I'm an old git I run only 3 times a week to avoid injury so I always go for the hilly ones as I get more benefit from the same number of runs.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 11:15

OB, it's amazing how much better your running gets when you have no choice but to run on hills.

I don't have any flattish runs where I live, but I can run my routes in either direction to make more uphills than downhills or vice versa (guess which I usually choose!)
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 11:25

I was told by a coach when going uphill to lean backwards a bit and keep the head up so I'm looking 30-50 yards ahead or even at the peak of the hill, and not to look down. This is to maintain the body's perpendicularity to the surface as you go uphill.

Reverse applies to going downhill - lean forwards into it, instead of leaning back to brake.

Both of these bits of advice go against the instinctive action when going up or down a hill, but having tried them I found that they work.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 17:19


Did you get anywhere with the speed training?
Posted: 31/05/2006 at 18:06

I always include 1 hill session a week into my training schedule. This involves 12-15 hill repeats over a 400m incline hill which can be muddy. I do jog recoveries downhill and try to go as fast as possible.Need powerful arm movement and good high leg lifts also. Started wearing spikes in mud as it was getting too slippy.
Hard but worth it for sheer leg strength conditioning. also helps when tackling xc races.
Posted: 28/04/2007 at 00:10

I must be strange but I love hills. Living at the bottom of one which is long and culminates fairly steeply every run I do starts and runs around the same hill, the other side is a mile from top to bottom and is a dis heartener because it levels off part way up before rising steeply again.

This is a staple part of my run diet and I am now able to pass many a fit looking bloke on hills in the few competitions I have raced in recently (accordingly I AM VERY disheartening to watch from behind!). This I am sure is the key frequency and confidence - my legs literally take over.

My problem is not the ups, its the downs after ploughing past many runners on the up it pains me when they thunder past me on the downs. Being tiny I know gravity is on the 13 stone blokes side and having suffered from injured calfs in the past I am aware of trying not to injury myself but what can I do? I am sure you guys have loads of tips so throw them at me I am determined to beat the bald guy who pipped me on the downhill last sunday next time we meet!

Posted: 02/10/2007 at 12:28


Running down hill let go and let your legs tell decide how fast they can go.

was going to be a long post but ............meditate to locate adn remove tensions you didnt know you have and dont let your brain tell your legs to stop.


Posted: 05/10/2007 at 06:07

my nick name is freight train btw
Posted: 05/10/2007 at 06:09

Hi guys, this is an interesting thread.

I too live in a very hilly area and don't have the option of doing flat runs. I'm training for FLM next year and was wondering if training on undulating courses will make me faster on a flat course or will I miss the downhill parts?

At the moment all my runs consist of increased effort going up, followed by easy downhill bits where I recover. Obviously flat running will be the same effort all the way, it seems like it should be easier but will it actually be harder?

Posted: 05/10/2007 at 09:56

PP beware of runs which do not alow the ankle to do what it was designed for flexing in different directions. It will eventually  reue ankle mobility and when it (ankle) needs to rotate for uneven surface it will provide problems.
Posted: 05/10/2007 at 15:24

When I started my first training walking then jogging then running I hated going up hills. For weeks I ran up a hill near to home and probably after something like ten weeks wow it got easier. I now look maybe 20yds in front of me not up the hill I am climbing. Pump my arms and slow down taking shorter steps. I never thought I would say this but I now enjoy a hill when out running. I hate running all flat areas.
Posted: 21/11/2008 at 21:43

I did my first hill the other day, not a massive one but it was agony lol. Went out again today with my husband on a trail run which incorporated two hills. It was very slippy and windy which took my already struggling breath away. I had to walk the last bit which I was gutted about. Some good tips here which I will take on board. How do I get my breathing under control though?

Posted: 18/11/2015 at 14:30

Can hardly believe this.

When you post, check the date. 2008!!!


I was still at school when than was put up, and I'm now in my 50's.


Posted: 18/11/2015 at 14:36

Does it matter what the date is, I'm sure Technics's for running up hill are the same now as they were then. Only after some advice.

Posted: 18/11/2015 at 20:04

Doesn't really warrant a "ffs"

Posted: 18/11/2015 at 20:05

I wonder if 13 years later cou is still looking for that uphill half marathon?

sarah: find a hill a few hundred metres long and run up and down it, do it once a week, and spend and hour running up n down it using the downhills as recovery. 

Pif you cannot do the whole hill, just run up to a point and turn around and plod down and repeat, even if for the first few times your uphill actions are quite short. But keep going on the uphill sections.


Posted: 18/11/2015 at 20:16

Sunnysarah wrote (see)

Does it matter what the date is, I'm sure Technics's for running up hill are the same now as they were then. Only after some advice.

It takes a special kind of genius to spell it like that, and invent an apostrophe!

Just kidding, welcome to the forum, don't let the older boys put you off.

Bet this thread took some digging out!

Posted: 18/11/2015 at 20:23

Couldn't spell it and spell check came up with that, knew it wasn't right but couldn't be bothered trying to get itright . I'd googled tips on running up hills after my struggle today and this thread was at the top. I'm already a member of runners world so didn't take any notice of date.

Posted: 18/11/2015 at 21:38

Sarah. Yours is probably the gentlest introduction anyone has ever had on here.

Welcome aboard
Posted: 18/11/2015 at 22:31


Sorry about that Sarah.

Serves as a reminder for me to ask my Doctor to adjust my medication..

Posted: 19/11/2015 at 08:43

RicF wrote (see)


Serves as a reminder for me to ask my Doctor to adjust my medication..

I prescribe hills. Lots of hills.

Posted: 19/11/2015 at 09:58

PhilPub wrote (see)
RicF wrote (see)


Serves as a reminder for me to ask my Doctor to adjust my medication..

I prescribe hills. Lots of hills.


Can I only run up them please? or would that constitute not finishing the course of treatment?

Posted: 19/11/2015 at 12:05

I hear those Hobbits's have good Technics's when running up hills's. I think it must be their big feets's.


Posted: 19/11/2015 at 17:07

Because of the extreme age of this thread, the discussion is a bit anachronistic. Technics stopped making the SL1210 some time ago. It was always really hard to run up a hill without them skipping anyway- especially if you were lugging the mixer and wearing headphones too...



Posted: 19/11/2015 at 17:09

Three things that should help:

1. Shorter, more frequent strides. 'Moving down a gear' as some people call it.

2. Strengthening your legs. This can be done at the gym (lunges, squats, etc), but is probably easier to achieve just by running intervals up a steep hill, regularly.

3. Accept that running uphill is harder than running on the flat, and adjusting you pace / HR expectations accordingly.

Good luck.

Posted: 20/11/2015 at 00:57

Chris2304 wrote (see)

Three things that should help:

1. Shorter, more frequent strides. 'Moving down a gear' as some people call it.

2. Strengthening your legs. This can be done at the gym (lunges, squats, etc), but is probably easier to achieve just by running intervals up a steep hill, regularly.

3. Accept that running uphill is harder than running on the flat, and adjusting you pace / HR expectations accordingly.

Good luck.


Steady on. This is a thread about hill running.

Posted: 20/11/2015 at 13:52

RicF wrote (see)

Can I only run up them please? or would that constitute not finishing the course of treatment?

No that's fine. Find a bus route and don't forget your Oyster card.  

Posted: 20/11/2015 at 14:15

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