How to pace your training runs and races to ensure the best results.
When you first start running, pacing probably isn’t something that’s on your mind. You simply step out the door or onto the treadmill and run, hoping to finish not feeling like you need to hurl.
However, even in these early stages pacing is important, mainly because not going faster than your body can handle will lessen the likelihood of losing your lunch. And once you’re a little more experienced – starting to sign up for races or taking part in your local parkrun regularly – proper pacing becomes absolutely crucial to a controlled, successful run. For more info on why pacing is so important, we spoke to middle distance runner Tom Marshall.
What is pacing?
• Pacing is one of the essential parts of your training. Determining how fast to run every day can make a huge difference to your training and racing. It’s hugely important to determine how fast your recovery runs should be, and likewise, at what pace you can run your harder sessions. Each run adds an integral element to your week’s training and, when done right, can have serious benefits for your racing.
Running recovery sessions too hard can have a negative impact on your session the next day. It’s likely to lead to a higher level of fatigue, which means you can’t perform as well. Likewise, going out too hard can leave you posting positive splits (where you get progressively slower through the session), negating the benefits of the session.
Why is pacing better than going as fast as you can?
There is zero benefit going out as fast as you can and trying to hold on, with the possible exception of 400m races and below! You’ll end up filling
Take a four-lap race. If you go out in a 60-second lap, then you’ll probably be full of lactic acid within 30 seconds, which has a hugely detrimental effect on your running style and pace. It’s likely that each lap will get slower, and you could end up following that 60-second first lap with 70, 80, 90, resulting in a painful five-minute run.
But if you aimed for 72-second laps, you could maintain that pace and run four minutes and 48 seconds, feeling a lot better in doing so. The same applies to all distances.
How do you get better at pacing?
There are two elements to this: listening to your body and getting used to the pace. This applies for both harder sessions and easy runs. If you’re on a recovery run and you finish that run in pain and gasping for air, you’ve run too hard. You should be finishing feeling like you could go out for another few kays, no problem. Listen to your body, find out what’s a comfortable pace for those easy runs and practise at that pace.
Find out what your body can handle and run to that pace.
The same goes for faster sessions. Find out what your body can handle and run to that pace. You’ll naturally progress the more sessions you do, so don’t panic if it’s not as quick as you’d like. Find the pace that you can finish a session at and train to that pace. Again, you should be finishing knowing that you could do another rep or two.
This pace will be different for different kinds of sessions – 30-second hill sprints will be a different pace to a 16km tempo run, for example – so it’s important to determine your pace across different energy systems and varying session lengths. You can build on these over time.
Is pacing more important in longer races?
The longer the race, the longer there is to hold on when you’re hurting. If you go out too hard in a one-mile
(1.6km) race, the reality is that you’ll feel OK for around 400m, but you’ve then only got 1200m or so to go, so you can get through that in a few minutes without too much stress to the body. It’ll hurt, but it won’t be a prolonged pain.
If you go out too hard in a marathon, you could have a long way to go when it starts to really hurt – it could be hours. This will do damage to the body, and will be an extremely unpleasant and painful race.
So, while it’s hugely important to judge your pace to gain the best race times over every distance, it is a lot harder to finish the longer distances when you do get it wrong.
What’s a good way to judge your easy run pace?
There are two common ways. One is to listen to your body, and the other is to use your heart rate. I favour the first. I’ll head out for an easy recovery run with zero intentions of running any specific pace. When it comes to heart rate, there are guides online that can give an indication of what your heart rate should be during different types of run. My training partner uses his heart rate. If he goes above 160bpm on an easy run, he will normally take it down a notch. ■