-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training — How fast do you run?

running-advice-bugHere’s a question that shouldn’t stump you: how fast d o you run? But, in fact, this question results in puzzling answers from the vast majority of runners. If you’re thinking to yourself something along the lines of “well, in my last marathon I averaged about X pace” then you’re an example of what I’m going to talk about today.

Every workout should have a purpose and in getting to that purpose, you really need to know how fast you’re running. Not “sort of know” or “kind of know” or an “average pace” but exactly how fast you’re running. In order to train to run a particular goal pace, as well as to figure out what paces will get the most of your training, you need to start with an understanding of your pace at any given time.

Running Fast on the Track

Before I get in to some easy ways and tips to keep track of pace, let me first explain the problem in a little more detail. I was out running with someone a couple of weeks ago and she said the darndest thing: “I don’t think I ran enough miles in my last training cycle, that’s why I didn’t meet my goal pace.” The error here is that there is little that the amount of miles tells you about your training, especially above a certain number of miles per week. What does tell you about how well you’re prepared to run any particular goal pace is: 1) how much of your training was actually done at goal pace and 2) how much of your training was done faster than goal pace. In an ideal setting most of your mileage will be done at goal pace or faster and only those few recovery efforts will be done more slowly. (To read more about different types of pace runs and the amount of each during a particular week, read our Running Terminology Series.)

Too many runners spend the bulk of their time running slower than goal pace and then they don’t understand why goal pace isn’t achieved on race day. Runners with goal pace expectations need to log the time at goal pace to learn that pace and to spend the time running faster than goal pace so that goal pace feels easy on race day.

So with that in mind then we come to how fast you are running at any given time. As I’ve said, if you’re trying to run the bulk of your miles at or faster than goal pace, then you need a way to measure that pace. You can look to averages or “sort of” ideas, you need to actually keep track of you’re doing mile per mile and try to hit that pace. This is the only way to learn your goal pace and then repeat it on race day.

Here are some tips for tracking your pace and making sure that you know your pace all of the time:
– Start with creating an environment in which pace is easily measured without the influence of factors outside of your running effort. For example, pick courses that are flat when you’re trying to achieve a particular pace so that hills are creating huge variations in pace. Also, running on good surfaces such as roads, multi-use trails and running tracks are going to be easier to maintain specific paces on rather than off-road courses, beaches or single-track trails. (Keep in mind that if training for hilly or off-road courses, then you’ll want to spend some of your time training in those environments, but pacing exercises will be easier when on flatter, straighter courses.)
– Get yourself a pace monitoring device such as a Garmin Forerunner that uses GPS technology to track your pace. (You can buy some of these through our on-line store at Amazon by clicking here.) These monitors offer the best “real-time” feedback, meaning that you can look down at the watch at any moment and see how fast you’re traveling. This allows you to fine-tune your pace by reacting to points in your run when your pace slows down or speeds up.
– You don’t need the most complicated timing device on the market. I currently use the Garmin Forerunner 210, which was made specifically for running. It really only keeps track of pace and distance. Other watches may offer more features, such as the ability to switch between running and cycling modes, but if you’re just running, then the Garmin 210 is a great way to go.
– Set your monitoring device to automatically split every mile. This plays two purposes, first allow you to review each mile split later to see how close you came to pace in each mile and second to give you a reminder every mile to check your pace. Keeping your mind focused on your pace is the name of the game when it comes to repeating goal pace every mile and an audible reminder is a nice help in that effort.
– If you don’t have pacing device, you can still keep track of your pace by running on a track, measured course on a jogging trail or park or even on the treadmill. When running on a track or otherwise measured courses, you can use a standard stop-watch and the “lap” feature to capture a lap split every mile. You won’t know your pace from moment to moment within a mile, but you can check your pace each mile as you pass mile markers or at the end of every fourth lap on a standard 400 meter track. Treadmills aren’t great for pacing, because they feel so different from the road, but you can certainly set them to your running pace and you’ll have to maintain that pace on the mill or you’ll fall off — that’s a good incentive to keep on it. Make sure to set the incline to 1.5 to 2.0% to simulate the resistance that you’d experience outside.
– Run with other people that are trying to run the same pace in workouts and use pacers in marathons when possible. Sticking together will help with the going gets tough out there.

The bottom-line is that once you’ve made a commitment to running a specific marathon pace then you’ll need to spend plenty of time running that pace or faster in your workouts. Setting yourself up for success means having the means to know your pace and capture that pace data to learn from every mile you run.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


One response so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. BD April 12th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the advice, and I feel the same way. However, I’ve also read contradictory advice from other articles over the years. Some coaches think excessive training at goal pace or faster is a recipe for injuries and that we should only do speed training on short runs or the last mile of a long run. I wonder what your thoughts are on this. Perhaps, a lot of us aim for an unrealistically “high” goal that our bodies can’t handle?


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