The correct running pace is essential for meeting your targets and achieving the race results you want. Too fast out of the blocks and you won’t last the distance. Too slow and you will never break that personal best. So what is the key to finding the right running pace for you?
Joe Muldowney, a competitive runner and coach, shares his experience with us and gives us some of the ingredients for success.
Related: Running Workouts Guide
Keeping it in the Bottle
Weather conditions are perfect, your training has gone well, and you absolutely love the course. The race begins, and you take off. Glancing left and right, you find yourself ahead of competitors who usually leave you in their wake.
As you approach the mile mark, you look at the clock and you realize you have gone out nearly a minute faster than you normally run in a 5K race.
By mile two, your energy depletes, your breathing becomes difficult, and your legs are heavy.
The final mile feels like you are running with a piano on your back. Crossing the finish line, you are dejected when you realize you have actually run a minute SLOWER than your personal best 5K time.
Key Factors for Finding the Right Running Pace
Young or old, most runners struggle with proper race pacing. Let’s examine how we can properly pace ourselves and run our best races.
First, when racing, be optimistic, yet realistic. If you are training at a 6-minute per kilometer pace, it is unrealistic that you are going to race at a 4-minute running pace.
The key to proper pacing is proper preparation. No matter what your ability level or racing goals may be, I believe that every runner should turn in two essential weekly workouts: a long run and a speed workout.
The weekly long run should be relative to your racing distance. For example, if you are running primarily 5K races, your weekly long run should be about 10 kilometers. If you are training for a half marathon, long runs should range from 15 to 25 kilometers.
If you are running your long runs at a 6-minute a kilometer running pace, you can reasonably expect that a 5K effort can be run around a 5-minute 30 second average; and about a 6-minute pace for a half marathon. That, of course, is contingent upon your speed workouts. If you simply like to run, you probably don’t need speed workouts. But, if you want to race, speed workouts are critical to your success.
Your speed workouts should consist of repeat intervals: 400 meters, 800 meters, or 1600 meters, with a slow jog of half of the distance in between each hard repeat. For example, if you are running a set of 4 x 800 meters, you should jog (or fast walk) for 400 meters in between. By doing so, your heart rate remains high, thus simulating a race situation.
Again, pacing is the key. Always to run your last interval as fast, or faster than your first one. Your set of intervals should be FASTER than your race pace. Like a chemist, if you mix these important training ingredients together, you can create an ideal race pace.
Final Race Preparation
Look back at your training in the weeks before a race. If your long runs have averaged around a 6-minute kilometer running pace, and your speed workouts average around a 5-minute 30 second a kilometer pace, you then can reasonably expect to run your 5K race in the 6-minute a kilometer range.
Adrenaline, race conditions, and the crowd will often cause you to reach the first mile of a race 15 or so seconds faster than your projected finishing pace, but if you are faster than that, it is best to back off a bit to save your energy.
Proper race preparation and a conservative race strategy are the best ways to keep the genie in the bottle and achieve your personal best at any race distance.
About Joe Muldowney
Joe Muldowney is an accomplished runner who has been involved in competitive long distance running for 40 years. His vast experience has enabled him to coach several running teams and he now provides a one-on-one coaching service.
During his running career he has run 54 marathons, 51 of which have been under 3 hours. His best marathon time is 2:22:54, and, at age 57, he ran the 2010 Philadelphia Marathon in a time of 2:58:56. The Boston Marathon is a particular favourite – he has completed this an impressive 16 times. Marathons aside, he has run more than 1000 road races, and logged over 123,000 miles.
Joe is also the author of the book “Running Shorts: A Collection of Stories and Advice for Anyone Who Has Ever Laced Up a Pair of Running Shoes” and his latest book is, “Personal Best.”
To find out more about Joe Muldwoney, you can visit his blog.