How to Find Your Perfect Running Pace

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Pacing is one of those skills that takes time to develop, at least for most of us. But getting it right is crucial for hitting new PRs. And even if you aren’t racing, it can be a valuable tool to prevent overtraining.

Learning how to find your perfect running pace is a bit of an art. Many different variables go into how fast you run at any given time. While it’s easy to figure out a number you have to hit to reach that new PR, it’s more complicated when you are actually outside running.

Things like distance, terrain, weather, your energy level, and how you fuel can all impact your pace.

Learning how to pace yourself properly involves all of these things and more… So let’s dive right into it!

runner at track at night about to run correct pace

What is Running Pace?

Simply put, running pace is the speed that you run. It’s often referred to as your minute-per-mile time—in other words, how many minutes it takes you to run a mile. This is an easier way to work out how fast you run than miles per hour, which most people associate with car speed.

Knowing your mile pace and your miles-per-hour pace can be useful because most treadmills measure pace in miles per hour. However, most training plans, races, and when talking to other runners, minutes-per-mile is what’s used when referring to pace.

When it comes to training, you’ll have different paces for different training runs. There is also race pace, which is the average pace of your race. This will also vary depending on the length of your race.

Why Does Pace Matter?

Knowing your pace is all about staying consistent throughout your run. If you are doing a long run, you should know what kind of pace to run to maintain that the entire time. It would be a very poor long run if you go so fast at the beginning you end up slowing way down halfway through.

In other cases, running at a slower pace than you’re capable of is an important training tool, like for recovery runs. This will ensure you don’t overdo it or push yourself too hard.

And when doing interval runs, you want to up the pace for shorter periods of time, which will build your anaerobic capacity.

What is a Good Run Pace?

Pace is highly individual, so it’s not simple to say what might be considered “good” for you. The key here is to focus on your improvement and NOT compare yourself to others.

Things like your age, fitness level, running experience, and even the altitude at which you run can impact your pace, so comparison isn’t always useful or necessary.

Also, runners tend to have different paces for different races and training runs, so you might be comparing your marathon pace to someone’s mile pace, just as an example.

That being said, to generalize, these are considered to be average paces for different types of runs.

  • 20 to 15 minutes per mile: walking pace.
  • 15 to 12 minutes per mile: light jogging pace.
  • 12 to 8 minutes per mile: easy or recovery run pace.
  • 10 to 7 minutes per mile: moderate, tempo pace.
  • 5 to 8 minutes per mile: speedwork pace.

How Do You Know If You’re Running at the Right Pace?

The “right” pace changes depending on the run you’re doing. For example, you might be able to run two miles at a steady pace of 8 minutes per mile. But if you had to run a marathon—26.2 miles—maintaining that pace over that distance and time is going to be a lot more difficult.

At the same time, an interval run and a recovery run serve vastly different purposes, so using different paces for each makes sense. The faster pace of an interval run is intended to build your anaerobic capacity. But try to maintain that same pace in your recovery run, and you’ll only tire yourself out.

But before we can figure out what kind of pace is right for the run you are doing, we first need to figure out the best way to calculate it.

How Do I Calculate My Pace?

There are a few ways to do it. The simplest is to divide your total distance in miles by your running time in minutes.

Just use a watch or your phone to time yourself and measure your run after. Plotaroute and other websites make this easy. Old school runners will tell you they used to drive their car along the route to measure.

But today, there are a few other ways to measure pace.

Use a GPS Watch

Your GPS running watch will be able to give you your pace per mile, often in real-time (although this isn’t always accurate in the moment). But when you finish, the watch will tell you your average pace.

Most watches will also auto-lap each mile, providing your average pace over the last mile.

Some GPS watches let you set “pace alerts.” This feature beeps or vibrates if you fall below or go above a set pace range. It helps keep you on track for an even pace throughout your run. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well in hilly terrain. But it’s great for running on a track.

Running App

A running app does a lot of the same things as a GPS watch, including calculating average and real-time pace.

But the GPS sensor in your phone is not as good as a watch – so it’s less accurate. Plus, you’ve got to carry your phone with you, which can be awkward sometimes.

Run on a track

The track is another way to calculate your pace. Each lap is 400 meters, roughly a ¼ mile. You can use this pre-set distance and watch to figure out your pace.

Either check your time after four laps to get your mile pace. Or multiply each lap by 4.

How To Find Your Perfect Pace

Now that we know how to calculate pace, we need to put it into practice to figure out what pace to run when you’re training. This is trickier than it sounds, and there are a few different ways to do it.

Our suggestion is to use these methods in the beginning. Then, when you have a general idea of how fast you can run for different workouts, figure out your pace and use that going forward.

Perceived Effort

This is otherwise known as “learning your pace by feel.” If you have no digital means of tracking your time and distance, you can use the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale to gauge your pace.

In this method, you simply pay attention to how you’re feeling throughout your run. It’s a simple but effective way of working out if you’re running fast enough, too fast, or too slowly. But you won’t get much usable data out of it, so it can be hard to progress based on this method alone.

Here’s how the scale goes:

Levels 2 and 3 are for easy runs that you can continue indefinitely. 9 and 10 are all-out effort, exhausting yourself in the process. 4 to 6 are the middle-of-the-range numbers, where you’re feeling challenged but can push on.

Based on this, recovery runs should be in the easy 1-2 range. Long runs around 3. Tempo runs at 6, maybe 7. And interval runs in 7-8. Your race pace should fall somewhere in the 4-8 range depending on the distance.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate zones are the most data-rich way of figuring out your pace. In most cases, the RPE and heart rate zones are closely linked.

You can find your heart rate zone information on most GPS watches, although a chest strap heart rate monitor will be more accurate.

If you’re using a device to calculate your HR zones, it may take a few weeks for the device to calibrate to your body and start providing the most accurate numbers. You can also work out your own heart rate zones if you don’t trust your watch.

For example, if you’re a 35-year-old runner, this is how your calculation will look.

  • 220 – 35 = 185 (maximum HR)
  • 64% of 185 = 118.4
  • 76% of 185 = 140.6

This means your optimal heart rate should stay between 118 and 140 for moderate activity—your regular pace. You can use this to figure out an easy pace or a vigorous pace, depending on what kind of run you’re doing, so it’s great for training runs.

Factors That Can Affect Your Running Pace

Once you know your pace, keep in mind that it will vary – sometimes daily – based on many factors. But also know it will improve if you are consistent with your training.

Your Fitness Level

The fitter you are, the faster you’ll be able to go and the longer you’ll be able to maintain it. As you train more and more, your fitness level should improve, ultimately improving your pace.

Terrain

Flat ground will benefit your pace. Hills and uneven, loose ground will slow you down. Every second counts with pace, so slowing down fractionally will cost you in the long run. Know that running in hilly areas will impact your pace.

Weather Conditions

You’re likely to be slower in hot weather. Your body needs to work harder to cool your core and it’s easier to dehydrate.

Strong winds or rain can also add extra resistance for your body to work against, slowing you down. Cool, clear weather is the best for upping the pace.

Altitude

The higher the altitude, the lower the O2 levels. This means your muscles will get less oxygen, so you’ll probably have to work harder to get the same results, reducing your pace.

Hydration and Nutrition

If you’re not properly hydrated and field before and during your run, you might fatigue earlier and slow down on your pace. Stay hydrated and fed to ensure that your energy levels are up.

Rest and Recovery

If you aren’t rested enough between runs, you’re likely to fatigue earlier. The more fatigued you are, the slower you’re going to end up running. You’ll also be more prone to injury if you aren’t well-recovered.

Running Form

If your form is off, you’ll be wasting energy on every step. This can lead to slower speeds as you’re throwing energy away!

Age and Genetics

Pace tends to decline as you age. It’s fairly subjective, but you can expect a slower pace the older you get.

Tips to Help You Find Your Running Pace

Ready to start using your pace to help you perform better? Here are our top tips to help you find your perfect running pace and use it.

Start Slow

Rather, start slow and work your way up. If you start too fast, you’re likely to push yourself too hard and be at risk of overtraining. Starting slow means you might take a little longer to reach your goals, but it’s a safer, more sustainable way.

Run to the Beat

Know what pace you need to maintain? Put together a playlist of songs at that pace, and play it as you run.

This can go a long way toward helping you maintain your pace throughout your run, and it’s also a good way to help you get used to how your particular pace feels.

Try not to get too lost in the music, though—rather, pay attention to how the pace feels so you can begin committing it to muscle memory.

Use a Metronome

A running metronome is another way of keeping up your pace. Technically, it helps you to stick to your cadence and not your pace, but if you can figure out the cadence associated with your goal pace, this could be a good idea.

Get a Running Buddy

Training with someone whose pace is equal to or slightly faster than yours can be a powerful motivator to help you reach new pace goals.

Run on a Treadmill

A treadmill isn’t the best option for figuring out your pace in the first place. But once you know your average pace or what pace you’re aiming for, you can use the treadmill to help you get used to the feel of that pace.

The consistency of the treadmill helps to develop your muscle memory around a particular pace. Set the pace and stick to it, paying attention to how it feels to run at your pace. You can use the RPE here too!

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.