How To Pace Yourself When Running: 9 Ways To Step Up Your Game

Updated: March 25, 2024

March 25, 2024 in Training guides

Have you found yourself thinking how easy a run feels in the first 10 minutes, only to see your mile splits get progressively slower? Or have you felt ready to run a personal record but come up short? Pacing is absolutely key in endurance sports.

Pacing yourself can be done in several ways, including effort, heart rate zones, power, Mile time, and Average time. It's important to know these metrics and how to pace yourself when running.

In this article, I will discuss a number of tips, hacks, and steps for dialing in your pacing so you can run with confidence and belief in your next race.

Why Poor Pacing Can Ruin Any Race

Pacing is so important in both training and racing this is because if done badly the following can occur:

Build up of lactic in the muscles- If you start running too quickly, you will build up lactic acid in the muscles rapidly and eventually be forced to slow down.

Motivation decreases - Seeing splits get slower on your watch can be hugely demoralizing.

Affect Placing - People passing you in a race who have paced it better can also negatively affect your mindset.

Limited work at range of intensities - It's good to work different energy systems by running at various paces and intensities; you will ensure this is done.

Recovery - We can't run at our maximum effort all the time, as we will risk injury and illness, so it's crucial to run easily to recover.

Lactic build up in runners


3 Ways To Pace A Race

Slower start > Faster finish: Often called a negative split run. This way of pacing is one of the best ways, statistically, for the best result possible. You can gradually increase the pace so that by the end of the race, you are running at your fastest pace. This strategy is often seen in most elite-level track races. 

Maintain an Average running pace: This is when your pace stays consistent throughout the run. For example, your first mile resembles your middle and last miles.

This was the technique I used very well with my 10k best time.

Faster start > Slower finish: Racing like this is harder, but a small differential can still work well. For example, in a faster, shorter race such as a 5k, you may want to go faster in the first 400 meters to get in a good position and settle in a group. However, it's essential not to keep the faster initial pace for too long, or you may struggle toward the finish.

How To Start Pacing Yourself More Effectively

If you want to start pacing yourself more effectively, read each of these top tips.

Tip 1 - GPS Running Watch

GPS-running watches have been around for many years. They can be extremely useful, particularly for beginners. Most elite runners also use them; it is great to reflect on your improvements. Most will synch with a running app to record your training.

Tip 2 - Set Mile Splits On Your Watch

If you prefer, you may want to set up km splits, particularly as most of the key distances, 5km, and 10km, will have km markers on the course. By setting up a split, the watch will display your predicted time for the mile or km you are on, giving you an idea of your pacing. Do remember, though, that terrain and course progress can significantly impact this, and don't rely on your watch 100%. In large races, the GPS may be affected by high-rise buildings or the fact that many runners use the same technology.

Setting Splits on Your Watch


Tip 3 - Run At A Variety Of Paces

This is beneficial for your training runs, as you will work a range of zones and it will also allow you to feel what different paces feel like. Often, elite runners become metronomic at their goal pace. There are multiple reasons for running different paces, both physically and mentally. By taking your easy runs easy and hard runs hard, you will have a good chance for improvement.

FUN challenge: See if you can hit your goal 5k pace on the track for 400m without a watch or clock.

TIP 4 - Run With More Experienced Runners

This can help you again learn what a certain pace may feel like. Even elite runners have pacers. It's important to realize that while your pacing will improve over time, it's easy to make a mistake with pacing, and sometimes, you may have to put mistakes like starting off too quickly as a learning curve.

Tip 5 - A Heart Rate Monitor

 Many watches now have optical heart rate sensors on the back of the watch face. However, the accuracy is not always as high with these, so if you use heart rate as a metric, it is worth getting an additional sensor (often chest strap or arm).

Tip 6 - Remember Effort Levels Are Key

If you use a metric such as pace, remember to use it carefully on a course with hills. You don't want to avoid hills entirely while you're running, so it's important to reduce effort on hills or look at another metric, such as power or heart rate.

Tip 7 - Race Day Affect

The race day effect is important to realize. You may have "tapered" or reduced your training runs leading up to the event, so you may feel fresher and start off too fast off the start line. Additionally, crowds can lead you to go faster rather than at the correct running pace for you.

Top Tip: GPS watches can go astray, particularly in big cities. The benefit of big races is that they will often have Km markers, so it's important to know your time splits.

How to pace yourself: Race day


Tip 8 - Practice Your Goal Race Pace

It's really important to do a session at your goal race pace. Check out the sessions in the following section for an idea what to try.

Tip 9 - Remember Progression

Running and fitness levels are so important when it comes to running. Factors such as feeling tired, increased training, and improper fueling can all affect your running pace. It's important you realize this as a new runner.

Some key Workouts To Do To Improve Pacing

You can do some workouts to improve your pacing.

Some helpful terms to be aware of:

Pace: The pace at which you run the interval. (can be km or miles)

Repetition: How many intervals you will do

Recovery: How long do you have between each rep to recover

Interval Session

Interval training involves making an effort for a set distance, such as 1km, or for a length of time, such as 5 minutes; you then take a set recovery time, such as 3 minutes, before repeating the process as many times as you like.

This is useful for pacing as often these workouts are done at around goal pace or a bit faster, so you can get used to how it feels to run at the pace.

Keep in mind the course. However, if it is relatively flat, pacing is much easier than an undulating course or an off-road trail event.

Progression Run

A progression run is excellent for improving pacing as the idea is to get progressively faster throughout the workout, so your last km or mile is the fastest. Ideally, you want to progress each mile of the run. 

Fartlek

It is slightly different from interval training, as here, you will still run the recoveries but at a slower pace or effort. Therefore, you don't want to run your intervals so fast that you can't recover for the next one or that you end up having to stop completely; the fartlek is a continuous run but is also termed speed play as you are running at various paces.

Pyramid Session

A Pyramid session involves intervals of different lengths in distance or time. For example, the session may be

1km

800 metres

400 metres

200 metres

Each has a minute and a half of rest, but the pace you run the interval may change. For example, you might run the 1km at 5min per km, but having worked down to the 200 meters, you might decide to run that at 3.50 per km.

How To Use Pace Effectively In A Training Block

It's important to remember that how you pace yourself and also structure workouts can depend on a few factors

  • What you are training for, e.g., A marathon runner would have more aerobic runs than perhaps someone looking to run an 800-metre race. It's important to set a goal race pace as soon as possible, although this may change.
  • The terrain you are running on - If you run on a trail, sand, mud, or grass, it's going to be harder to run at the required pace; however, it's still very much worth it as these surfaces can be more forgiving on the legs and increase strength.
  • Your experience - How long have you been running? For example, someone who has never run before or has had a lengthy time out of the sport would need more base-building and easier runs before jumping into using the pace and intense runs.
  • The development in the training cycle - This is often something you would allow a coach to develop for you. However, you would have some of your fastest and most intense training sessions in the middle of the training block. Before this, you may want to build up a base of endurance with easier running.

Remember This Before You Start Working On Pacing

It's important to know how different paces feel and what a comfortable and optimal pace are for you and your running goals. Over time, you will learn how to pace on all kinds of runs. The perfect running pace will always be specific to you, the run, and the conditions.

However, even experienced runners do not always keep a consistent pace. Do not be too engrossed in the data and target pace on every run. Make sure you are still enjoying the training, and particularly on easy-paced days, you don't have to rely on data or watch as you learn how the body feels.

Finally, don't get caught up on what is considered a good running pace, as many factors are involved. It's essential to keep training at the correct level for you so that we can see consistent improvement.

Wrapping Up

Although pacing yourself is hugely important when running, there are other ways to get faster, such as training, mental preparation, recovery, kit, and nutrition. These are all elements to consider when preparing for a race or event or just trying to be the best athlete you can be.

Personally, I needed to work on slowing down runs. This allowed me to complete my training more efficiently and increased enjoyment. Remember you want to save your best runs for race day rather than in training. By ensuring you are adequately recovered going into your faster sessions, you will also be able to maximize the gain you get from them.

FAQ

How Do I Know My 5k Pace?

If you have never run a 5k before and it is your first one, then in training, it is worth doing some intervals at a race-specific pace for preparation to ensure on the day, you will be able to complete the 5k, for example, 5 x 1k with 1 minutes recovery. The pace you can average for this session in training should be close to what you can do on race day.

What Pace Should A Beginner Jog At?

Pace is a very specific metric for an individual. If you are a beginner, keeping your jogging pace very easy and relaxed is essential. Rather than pace, explore using heart rate or checking your breathing and whether you can still comfortably speak some sentences. 

How Do I Keep My Pace When Running?

Training is what will eventually allow you to keep your pace when running. However, a few things may help, such as running with experienced runners, practicing interval training, using a GPS watch, and running on the treadmill.

About the author 

James

James is an elite distance runner and has also raced triathlon for a number of years. He has a certification in swimming coaching, and a passion to help all athletes succeed in finding a balance within sport and life.