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

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