Although pace is a four-letter word, figuring out the most efficient speeds at which to run shouldn’t bring to mind other, more bracing four-letter words. Here are a few strategies to find a perfect pace:
Speak, runner, speak.
If you couldn’t read this sentence out loud while you’re just doing an average run, you’re running too hard. Yes, there’s beauty in pushing yourself, but those huffing and puffing runs are the ones that are more likely to cause injury, burnout, frustration. Meanwhile, those chatty, sometimes leisurely runs are the ones that give you a strong, wide base to your cardiovascular pyramid. The bigger the base, the higher the pyramid can eventually rise—and the faster you can go.
Get magical and calculated.
Sadly, wishes don’t come true, at least when it comes to pace. (“I’ve been training at 11:00-minute miles, but think I can nail 8:30′s in the race!”) The best predictions of pace are your current level of fitness. (Note: we said current. Not 3 or 7 years ago or when your AC/DC was all the rage. Smack dab right now.) Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile is a one-mile time trial that lets you see where you are, fitness-wise, and gives you pace windows for training. Another great option is the McMillan Running Calculator where you can put in any recent race result (or educated guess), and it will spit out predicted race results and, more helpfully, training paces.
Practice pace, Part I.
When you’re ready to turn it up and train at harder paces, look at your GPS often to make sure your digits are where you want them to be. But in between sneak-peaks at your wrist, notice how hard (and fast) you’re breathing and how much effort you’re pouring into your legs. Really focus on it: Is your chest bubbly? Are your legs a little hot? Driving your arms harder? After a few runs of intense focus, be bold and try to get to that effort without the aid of the GPS on your wrist—and gain confidence in your inner GPS.
Practice Pace, Part II.
Although they may not be as sleek as a BMW, your legs do have gears. Practice shifting them with this 6-mile workout (which does require frequent glances at a GPS). Start at an easy, base pace. Then go 15 seconds faster/mile for mile 2; 15 seconds is not a huge jump, so don’t fire up your jets. Fifteen-ish more seconds mile 3, and again for mile 4. One more drop-down for mile 5; you’re now running a minute faster than you usually do. Soak this feeling up so you can remember what it feels like—you’re going to want to access it in the second half of races—then finish with an easy mile.
It feels easier to say, solve the current crisis in Ukraine, than to clock even—or better yet, negative—splits during a race. Instead of constantly eagle-eying your GPS and going all herky-jerky, ask yourself for the first half of a race: Am I going slow enough? Is this a controlled, comfortable pace? Can I talk? In any race 10K or longer, you want to arrive at the halfway point feeling relatively fresh and very capable. For the second half, ask yourself with each mile: Can I go a little faster? Can my legs, lungs, and heart give me a smidge more? Next mile: a bit more? The spirit of those 15-second drop-downs come in handy here, but 15 seconds could be too aggressive; instead, aim for a 5-7 seconds a mile so that, when you can taste the finish line, you can access that (well-practiced) feeling of running hard.