Reader to Reader: Running at different paces

How important is it to run at different paces? Here's what you thought


Posted: 14 August 2007
by Catherine Lee

Training to run continuously for longer periods of time is a great way to measure your progress, but if you’re running at the same speed day in and day out, you’re likely to see your improvements plateau. Unfortunately for this week’s questioner, the thought of running at different paces is proving troublesome – can you help him get more for his miles by lending a hand?

"I began running about six months ago, on a run-walk training routine and progressed to do my first 5K in 30:05. I have kept on running since and am really enjoying it. In the magazine, I’ve seen quite a few articles mention "race pace" - 5K pace, marathon pace, mile pace etc. What is this? How fast is it? How do you measure it? During my regular runs I tend to be out for around 40 minutes and do about four or five miles, although this morning I managed a PB of six miles in just under an hour, only walking for three minutes in the middle. Should I be thinking about running at different paces?" Scott Lawson

Your best answers

  • Better to be overcautious than overdo it
    After only six months of running and while you're still including walk-breaks in your runs, your priority should be to build up your mileage gradually while maintaining an easy aerobic pace. When you start to run, your muscles, tendons and joints have to do a huge amount of adaptation to cope with such a high-impact activity, and this process lags well behind the improvement in your aerobic fitness. There's no short-cut, and introducing hard sessions (in duration or intensity) too early is a recipe for injury. Keep those copies of RW aside with the speedwork articles bookmarked. If you're still running injury-free in another six to 12 months' time, get them out and read them again. – Velociraptor
  • Try setting distance (rather than time) goals first
    Use your first 5K race as a starting point for your race pace. If you fancy trying another race at a different distance, use this RW Calculator to give you a rough guide of what you're capable of. Remember though, a lot of people are more suited to either long- or short-distance running, so this table may be a few minutes out. It depends on what sort of racing, if any, you're thinking of doing as to whether you should be worrying about different types of paces. In preparation for my first marathon, all I did was set aside a day and run each distance as fast as I could. This then gave me a ball-park time to aim to beat. Only after two marathons and 12 months later, did I join a running club and start thinking about speedwork, and my minute-mile pace. The coach, along with many RW articles gave me lots of advice on what sort of things to aim at. – Little Lizard
  • Your range of paces will automatically increase with experience...
    The fact is, us slower runners don't have as wide a variety of paces to choose from as a faster runner. If the slowest anyone can run is say 12-minute miles, a runner who runs a 5K at 10-minute-mile pace won't have the same range of options as someone who can run five-minute miles (since they can run at any speed between 12-minute miles and five-minute miles). Therefore, a slower runner's 5K pace is much the same as his 10K pace. – Eva Midsole
  • ... but for the best results, you’ll need to work at it too
    If you always train at the same pace, you will not be able to step up a gear for racing. If you do want to improve your performance then you need to take yourself outside your comfort zone. If you do this regularly your comfort zone will change and you will be able to run faster for the same effort. If you always train at a slow pace, you will get used to running at an easy pace. It’s then more difficult to run hard in a race if you have not tried it in training. – Colin Watts
  • Fitting in the fast stuff is easier than you might think
    This question used to puzzle me too. My approach has been to aim for a particular 5K (or other distance) time and train at the paces that would allow me to achieve that distance. It is important to include bursts of speed in some of your runs, whether that is building from running quicker from one lamppost to the next and then recovering or running fast for a mile. Just run a bit quicker than your normal pace to start with and then it will get easier. – Rio Fair
  • The more miles you run, the easier it gets
    You can increase your pace very easily simply by running more miles at an easy pace. If you build up your easy miles to 70 -100 a week you can be confident of running very fast times. Have a look at the principles behind base training. – Johnny J
  • Varying your sessions will help you stay motivated
    For the average runner churning out 60+ miles per week all at the same pace would be pretty dull. By mixing the sessions - some faster and shorter, some slower and longer - you add variety and maintain interest. Also, by varying your pace you resist the urge to ‘race’ every training run. If you don't have a set pace for a given run and tend to cover the same route (as we all mainly do, especially early on) then your temptation will be to try and go faster than you did yesterday and be disappointed if you don't. The theory is you should follow hard with easy so by leaving your watch behind and just plodding along gently you negate that risk. One final word of warning - if you are still at the stage of taking walking breaks then I would be inclined to slow down your runs and simply try and finish a given distance without a break before starting to mix short/fast and slow/long. – amadeus
  • Strike a balance by following these basic training principles
    This is how I see it. You could run three times a week and run race distance as fast as you can. After a couple of weeks you'll start to get tired and find it difficult to replicate previous times. You'll also start beating yourself up because you're not improving. You could throw in a few more rest days and then repeat. This may do the trick and you could see some impressive lowering of your times for quite some time. It’s not a particularly pleasant way to train though, and you do risk injury. Alternatively you could just churn out steady miles, one or two minutes slower per mile than your race pace. You could be running almost every day and getting in some high mileage after several months. You will improve but not very quickly. However, you will find that you can recover from runs quickly - and that's very important for the long-term. A better (and more varied) approach is to structure your training as follows: one third steady runs, one third quicker than steady, one sixth slow recovery, and one sixth fast. For 30 miles per week for example, that would be 10 miles steady, 10 miles tempo, five miles fast and five miles slow. This has the advantage that you can get some steady miles in for general conditioning, you get practice at running near to race pace, and you get to do some running which is quicker than race pace. – JRM
  • Train with others to gauge (and improve) your capabilities
    I'm inclined to suggest that you try and concentrate on improving until you don't need the walk when you run for 60 minutes. You're probably running fast enough if you need to walk and it's important to build up time (an hour seems about right) before worrying too much about speed. It won't take too long to achieve it. I've always found gauging pace very difficult but found that a running club was the answer for me. You can find people who run at a similar pace to you and this will help you maintain it for a 45-minute run. If you want to run a bit faster, try and keep up with the ones at the front of the group. Some running clubs are really good with beginners and cater for all speeds, always doubling back to keep the group together. – Chilli Cat

Any questions?
Got a new poser or problem that you want RW members to answer? Spotted a great question on the forum? Email us!

Click here to find out more about Reader to Reader.


Previous article
RW Forum Upgrade
Next article
Half-Marathon Essential Q&As

pace, speed, training progress, training technical
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle

Discuss this article

Hi guys

I've chosen a question that was emailed to me over the weekend for this week's Reader to Reader. Here it is, and look forward to reading your responses!

"I began running about six months ago, on a run-walk training routine and progressed to do my first 5K in 30:05. I have kept on running since and am really enjoying it. In the magazine, I’ve seen quite a few articles mention "race pace" - 5K pace, marathon pace, mile pace etc. What is this? How fast is it? How do you measure it? During my regular runs I tend to be out for around 40 minutes and do about four or five miles, although this morning I managed a PB of six miles in just under an hour, only walking for three minutes in the middle. Should I be thinking about running at different paces?" Scott Lawson

Posted: 06/08/2007 at 12:14

There are a number of questions within this email

what is "race pace" 5k pace and so on, as you have only ran one race, a 5k in 30.05 then this is the only race pace you can go on. I use McmillanRunning.com to calculate different training pace from a recent race time.

my advise is to concentrate on building up your endurance first and build up to running an hour without the walking break and worry about different paces later.

You don't say how often you run or your weekly mileage but one thing you could think is adding a shorter 30 min run where you put in more of an effort and try to run faster in the middle 10 mins of it.

Are you training for any race or distance at the moment?


Posted: 06/08/2007 at 15:13

If you always train at the same pace you will not be able to step up a gear for racing, if in fact you are interested in racing.
If you do not want to increase your preformance then just run at the same pace.
If you do want to improve your performance then you need to take yourself outside your comfort zone, if you do this regularly then you comfort zone will change and you will be able to run faster for the same effort.
If you always train at a slow pace you will only ever run at a slow pace.

Colin


Posted: 06/08/2007 at 15:54

Colin
That's fine except that you can increase your pace very easily simply by running more miles at an easy pace. If you build up your easy miles to 70 -100 a week you can be confident of running very fast times.

Have you studied the principles behind base training.
JJ
Posted: 06/08/2007 at 20:19

JJ,

The point I was trying to make was that if you get used to running at an easy pace then it is more difficult to run hard if you have not tried it in training.
More of a mental difficulty than a physical one.

Colin

Posted: 07/08/2007 at 09:10

JJ - with all due respect to them I think that the question was aimed at someone at a signifigantly lower level than one who can run 70 - 100 miles per week.

I once asked (on here as it happens) what "junk miles" are and I was told that there is no such thing. It does however depend on your end plan. For the average runner churning out 60+ miles per week all at the same pace would be pretty dull. By mixing the sessions, some faster and shorter and some slower and longer you add variety and maintain interest.

Also by varying your pace you resist the urge to "race" every training run. If you don't have a set pace for a given run and tend to cover teh same route (as we all mainly do, especially early on) then your temptation will be to try and go faster than you did yesterday and be disapointed if you don't. The theory is you should follow hard with easy so by leaving your watch behind and just plodding along gently you negate that risk.

Final word of warning - if you are still at the stage of taking walking breaks then I would be inclined to slow the runs down and simply try and finish a given distance without a break before starting to mix short / fast and slow / long.
Posted: 07/08/2007 at 12:20


JRM
Ooh this running malarky is so bloomin complicated!

I like to keep things simple and this is how i see it...

You could run three times a week and run race distance as fast as you can. After a couple of weeks you'll start to get tired and find it difficult to replicate previous times. You'll also start beating yourself up because you're not improving. You could throw in a few more rest days and then repeat. This may do the trick and you could see some impressive lowering of your times, for quite some time. Its not a particularly pleasant way to train though, and you risk injury.

Alternatively you could just churn out steady miles (say about 1-2 min slower per mile than your race pace). You could be running almost every day and getting in some high mileage after a several months. You will improve but not very quickly. But you will find that you can recover from runs quickly - and that's very important for long term running. If you're mileage never gets beyond 40 or even 50 mpw then you probably won't be as fast as the three fast runs a week, but if you can build the mileage higher then you can turn in some very decent times in races. You could vary this type of training by running slightly less and increase the pace a little. This is probably what a lot of people do. As training goes its quite good.

The middle way..is to do something like: 1/6 slow recovery;
1/3 steady;
1/3 quicker than steady; and
1/6 fast.

So for 30mpw that would be 10 miles steady, 10 miles tempo; 5 miles fast; 5 miles slow.

This alternative has the advantage that you can get some steady miles in for general conditioning, you get practice at running near to race pace, and you get to do some running which is quicker than race pace. The latter is very important and is not something you can easily do on the three fast runs a week schedule.

Some runners respond differently to different types of training, so if you know that steady running barely brings about any returns or if you know that you just can't recover from speedwork, then you may want to vary the proportions a little..but not too much.

It may be a good idea, especially if you are injury prone to start out on the steady running programme and then after a few months start modifying your training so that it become closer to the 'middle way'.

I guess that all the top distance runners follow the latter. For all us mere mortals we should follow the same training but just scale it down. My own training is Bruce Tulloh's 10k training scaled down to 60-65 mpw. Not that I am saying his training is the best - just that it follow the general principles of training and reflects my abilities as a runner.
Posted: 07/08/2007 at 14:02

I'm inclined to agree with amadeus and try and concentrate at jogging until you don't need the walk when you run for 60mins. You're probably running fast enough if you need to walk as it's important to build up time (an hour seems about right) before worrying too much about speed. It won't take too long to achieve it.

I've always found gauging pace is very difficult and I find myself ambling along unless I concentrate. I'm ok with hill sessions and speed sessions as they require timed amounts of effort but if I try and run x distance at 10k pace forget it.

I found that a running club was the answer for me. You can find people who run at your sort of pace and help you maintain it for a 45 min run. If you want to run a bit faster, try and keep up with the ones at the front of the group. Some running clubs are really good with beginners and really do cater for all speeds, others are less good. They always double back to keep the group together but it's less fun if you're on your own. Check the websites and contact them to see how they can help you.
Posted: 07/08/2007 at 14:02

Firstly, well done on your first 5k Scott! I ran for around 18 months before I had the guts to enter a race, so good on you!

As for your race pace, you can use your first 5k race as a starting point for that distance. If you fancy trying another race at a different distance, try this link to help give a rough guide of what you're capable of.

Remember though, a lot of people are more suited to either long distance or short distance, so this table may be a few minutes out, it'll just give you a starting point.

It depends on what sort of racing, if any, you're thinking of doing if you want to start worrying about different types of paces.

To give you an example, after 3 years of running, I entered my first marathon. In the run up to my first one, I did 1 long slow run, 1x6 mile tempo run and 2x8 miler steady runs a week. All I did was to set aside a day and run each distance as fast as I could. This was then a ball-park figure for me to aim to beat, and to give me an idea of my predicted marathon pace, looking at the chart.

Only after 2 marathons and 12 months later, did I join a running club and start thinking about speedwork, min/mile pace etc. The coach, along with many RW articles gave me lots of advice on what sort of things to aim at. I'd recommend you do both to give you all the information you need.
Posted: 08/08/2007 at 18:21

It used to puzzle me too until I decided to use it as a target pace.
So I would aim for a 5k time (or other distance) that I would like to achieve and use the paces according to how long it would take me to achieve that distance.


But it is important to include bursts of speed in some of your runs. whether that is building from running quicker from one lamppost to the next and then recovering or running for a mile.

Just run a bit quicker than your normal pace to start with and then it will get easier.
Posted: 09/08/2007 at 12:33

Scott, I also think that at this stage, after only six months of running and while you're still including walk breaks in your runs, your priority should be to build up your mileage gradually while maintaining an easy aerobic pace.

When you start to run, your muscles, tendons and joints have to do a huge amount of adaptation to cope with such a high-impact activity, and this process lags well behind the improvement in your aerobic fitness. There's no short-cut, and introducing hard sessions (in duration or intensity) too early is a recipe for injury.

Keep those copies of RW aside with the speedwork articles bookmarked. If you're still running injury-free in another 6-12 months' time, get them out and read them again :o)
Posted: 09/08/2007 at 15:22

The fact is, us slower runners don't have a variety of paces to choose from that a faster runner has. If the slowest anyone can run is, say, 12 min/miles and our runner runs a 5k at about 10 min/miles they don't have the range of options that someone who can run 5 min/miles has (who can run anywhere between 12 m/M and 5 m/M). Therefore, the slower runner's 5K pace is much the same as his 10K pace.
Posted: 10/08/2007 at 14:29

That's a good point EV an out and out novice will probably have 2 speeds plod and walk. I didn't worry about different paces till I had got a good base in, then when I started running faster I got injured Doh!
Look at it like building an house get the foundations solid first.
But Someone will probably tell me I am talking rubbish again.
Posted: 10/08/2007 at 14:50

I'm just back to running after almost a year off to have my second little boy. I don't want to jump back into hard training as I don't want to risk injury so I am following a run/walk programme and will walk less and less as time goes on...

A basic idea of my week is...

1x 5miles at 12min miles
1x 4miles at 10min miles
1x long run at 13min miles.

now this can obviously be played with to fit the number of miles or pace you want to run for each session. I also have no set run/walk pattern and just see how i feel each day at a time. I can put some sprints in for short bursts if I feel like it or just run slow and steady for the whole session.
Posted: 11/08/2007 at 17:17

Wow! Thanks guys. Lots of info to help me on my way, This will help lots.

What I have started doing on my runs (I run every other day) is including a sprint in between a couple of lamp posts along my route. I find this hard some mornings but on the whole it gets easier. Some days i'll run a little slower, around 11-12 min mile and some i'll run quicker 6-8 m/m. I now know what my 5k race pace is (thanks Happy cat) and I am trying to find the mile markers on my run to enable me to measure the distances covered.

Another thing I try is splitting the run in two, turning around half way that is, and trying to run back quicker than than I ran out.

I am in the process of finding a local running club, which is proving harder than it sounds! But im hopeful.

Thanks once again and I look forward to speaking to you all again as I progress.
Posted: 12/08/2007 at 19:08

For my two penn'orth

my partner and I ran at pretty much a steady pace from Feb 2002 until October to prepare for the GNR. We had not run at all previously and just increased mileage steadily until we got to the run and completed 13 miles in 2h 13 we were really pleased with this.

Of course the target then became to improve upon that. 5 years on, we are still getting quicker and the recipe for success has been to mix up the training (as has been suggested) Even though we do low mileages compared to many, we are still improving thanks to a mixture of long runs at a 'conversational' pace, (anything over 10k) - mid length (4 or 5 mile) tempo runs - and regular speedwork, usually interval sessions of about 3.5 miles in total.

My PB for a half marathon is now 1:49 and I'm expecting to beat that this autumn. My training partner is hoping to break 2h for the first time this year.

Incidentally - I do 80% of my running with my partner at about 9 min/mile, but my 10k PB is better than 7:30 / mile
Posted: 12/08/2007 at 19:25

that is hugely useful as i reckon im the slowest slow runner from slowtown and that gives hope!
Posted: 15/12/2008 at 20:08

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.