The Basics of Running: Finding Your Perfect Pace

For a beginning runner, training can be hard, confusing and boring.  My husband learned this recently when he began to train for his first race ever — the Sham Rock n’ Roll 10k that we ran together last weekend.  Neither one of us are fans of the winter months here in Michigan — the bitter cold, inches of snow, freezing cold winds, ice!  It really isn’t our cup of tea.  So throughout the winter months we are forced inside to train on the dreaded treadmill.

As a new runner it was extremely hard for Mark to find his pace.  Every day he would hop on the treadmill and run at a pace which was comfortable for him which is 5.2 to 5.5 mph.  As he continued to train we would constantly talk about how runners are supposed to run slower, much slower, during their training runs than they do on race day.  Race day is exactly that — the day you leave everything you have on the course.  He never could quite understand what I was talking about until this past weekend.

Week after week he would say his goal was to finish the 10k in under 1 hour 20 minutes, which meant he had to run at least 12:52 minute miles.  Watching how well he was doing with his training and knowing how much faster you run on race day, I knew he was going to crush his time.  And boy did he — finishing in 1:01 doing 9:49 minute miles!

So that got me thinking…. how do you explain to a new runner what is the best way for them to find their training and then their race pace?  Knowing how fast, or how slow, to go makes every runner a better runner.

When you run within your limits, your workouts will be easier and you should feel more comfortable.  But running even just a few seconds per mile too fast, and watch out — misery awaits you with fatigue, loss of motivation, or even injury.  Avoiding injury and fatigue  is why it is so important for you to know what pace is right for you!

Lucky for you, by doing a simple “magic mile” time trial you can easily figure out the best speed for your runs, which will help you set realistic goals  — both for training runs and for race day!

Run One Mile Hard — It is easiest if you can find a local high school, college, or gym which has a track you can run on for your time trial.  Start off by jogging one or two laps at a nice easy pace as a warmup.  Walk for three to four minutes.  Then time yourself running four laps, which is about one mile.  Do not run all out, but you should push yourself a little faster than you normally do.  Record your time.  By running on the track — which is flat and provides a pretty accurate measurement of the distance — you will get a solid indication of what your top speed is.  You will be able to use this as a benchmark to determine what pace is appropriate for your current fitness levels on your daily training runs.  (You should do the “magic mile” time trail about once a month so you can track your progress.)

Slow Down When Training — On your daily training runs, you should aim to run two or three minutes slower per mile than your “magic mile” time.  Example: If you do your magic mile in 10 minutes you should aim to keep your training runs around 12 to 13 minutes per mile.  At the perfect pace you should feel comfortable and relaxed — you should be able to finish a sentence without really having to catch your breath.  If you are huffing and puffing, ease back a little bit.  Do not worry about going too slow.

Set Your Race Goals — This can be the hardest thing for a new runner.  How do you figure out what a realistic race pace is for yourself.  You should use your magic mile time trial to help you set a realistic goal for any race you want to run.  You should add 33 seconds to your mile time to determine your race pace for a 5k; and you should multiply your mile time by 1.15 for a 10k, 1.2 for a half-marathon and 1.3 to predict your marathon potential.  (See the chart below for a “Time Trial-Goal Race Pace example.)

Get Used To It — At a race you will get the best results if you try to maintain a steady pace from the starting line to the finish line.  A GPS watch unit can really help you keep track of your pace and help check yourself, but here is how you practice:  Once a week you should try to run your race goal pace for a half to three-quarters of a mile.  Each quarter mile, check your pace and slow down or speed up if you need to.  Each proceeding week, run a little farther at your goal pace until you are running one-third to one-half of the race distance.

Time Trail-Goal Race Pace Example
If you can run one mile in 10 minutes here is your race goal pace for other distances:

Distance: 5k
Pace per Mile: 10:33

Distance: 10k
Pace per Mile: 11:30

Distance: Half-Marathon
Pace per Mile: 12:00

Distance: Marathon
Pace per Mile: 13:00


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