One of the tell tale signs of a newbie runner is the battle to find a proper training pace. Unless you’ve been at it for a while, finding your ideal race pace can be a challenge. Start out too fast and you’ll burn out before the finish line. Start out too slow and you might miss your goal time. Finding a comfortable training pace can not only help you improve your time goals, but it can also help you improve your long term endurance goals, too.
“Your aerobic capacity accounts for over 85 percent of the energy needed to run a 5K or longer,” explains Aaptiv trainer Jennifer Giamo. “It’s essential to build this aerobic capacity in order to conserve energy and to improve your overall endurance,” she adds.
So, whether you’re newer to racing or are looking to take your 5K legs to that half marathon level, it’s important to understand how to find your find your perfect training pace to help you meet your goals. To do just that, we chatted with some of Aaptiv’s running coaches to get their best tips for how you can stay on pace all the way to the finish.
Do the Talk Test
If you’re still new to pacing, you need to establish your base training pace. “Find a pace where you can maintain a conversation,” explains Giamo. “The ‘talk test’ allows you to find a pace where you are not breathless and helps to develop your aerobic threshold,” she says.
Try grabbing a buddy for your next run and see how fast you can go while still maintaining a steady, consistent conversation. Although you should be able to chat while running, it should still feel comfortably hard, says Giamo. Don’t let yourself slack!
Hit Up the Track
Another great trick for figuring out your base training pace is to hit the track. Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois suggests finding a track or a flat surface and running just one mile hard—not your max effort, just hard—and seeing what your time is. “This will help you determine what pace is good for your fitness level,” she says. From there, you can try to increase your speed every few weeks and do time trials to test if you’re improving, but ultimately this test will give you a solid understanding of your capabilities and where you can look to improve.
Slow It Down
Once you find your base pace either with the talk test or track test, you can use that to calculate what you can expect when you increase your mileage. First thing to note is that it’s totally normal for your pace to decrease as your miles increase.
“All distances are combination of speed, endurance, and strength, but the longer the race, the more the focus becomes about endurance,” explains Giamo. She adds that your body simply cannot sustain the same speed during a half marathon as it does in a 5K. And that’s OK! In fact, runners can add as little as 20 seconds to as much as two whole minutes (depending on the race!) to their pace per mile while training for a race.
For example, Moncourtois explains if you’re doing a 5K and your pace is 8:30 minutes per mile, you can decrease by 20 seconds for a 10K pace of 8:50 per mile. Whereas for a half marathon, your pace would be 9:10 per mile and 9:30 per mile for a marathon, she explains.
Once you feel like you have a comfortable mile-based pace, you can always use an online pace calculator to see what your projected race outcome will be. But eventually, you’ll be able to get a feel for your pace when you run and tell just by feel if you’re going too fast or too slow.
Lastly, as any runner knows, the mental battle is half the game. Before heading into any race environment, get yourself mentally prepared for that finish line. Moncourtois suggests setting some race goals based on your timed trial mile to help you find a realistic goal to set. It will also help you perform better on your training days leading up to the race by knowing that you have a goal time to look forward to.
“Your brain dictates your pace, so make sure you are in the right mindset and be aware of starting out too fast or too slow,” adds Giamo. “Try to identify early on where you are falling short and make adjustments as quickly as possible.”
In addition, before the race, don’t just focus on speed work, be sure to add in some slow runs, too. “Running slow some days will help prevent you from becoming burnt out and over training,” explains Moncourtois. It will also help you increase your pace in the long run, she adds.
When it comes to race day, you can always look for a pace group to run with. Many half marathons and marathons have designated pacers that can help you maintain your goal pace throughout. Not only are pace groups a good way to help ensure you hit those splits, but having others around you chatting can be a welcome distraction when you feel those legs turning to jelly!
Lastly, get your cheer squad together. “Have friends or family along the course to cheer you on and know where they are going to be ahead of time so you can look forward to that boost of motivation,” says Giamo. Hey, never underestimate the power of a familiar face to help keep you on track to that finish line!