Why Pace Matters

When it comes to training for a race, no matter the distance, there’s more to running than “just lace up and go.” Before hitting the pavement, ask yourself, “what is the purpose of this run?”

Going into a run with a plan of action and a reason for your workout will not only help you get faster; it will also help you to avoid injury and enjoy your running journey.

There are 5 main categories that a run will fall into. While the distance, effort, and weekly volume of each run may vary (depending on whether you are training for your first 5k or your 5th marathon), they are the bread and butter of any training plan, and can be incorporated throughout your training cycle.

Running Categories

Easy run: An easy run will feel exactly that – easy. If you can’t carry a conversation with a friend throughout your run, then you are running too fast. Slow down as much as you need to, until you are at a conversational pace. Depending on the terrain, your pace may vary, within a minute or 2, but the effort will remain the same.

Tempo run: A tempo run is comfortably uncomfortable. The purpose is to teach your body to run efficiently, at faster speeds, and for longer distances. Tempo runs are just below your lactate threshold (the point at which lactic acid builds in the muscles, preventing oxygen absorption). They feel challenging, but not so challenging that you can’t maintain the effort. Tempo runs are about 60 to 90 seconds faster than your easy pace.

Intervals: Running in intervals (that vary your pace) trains your anaerobic system, and teaches your body to flush out lactic acid more quickly, allowing you to increase your speed over longer distances. Interval speeds are generally about 90 seconds to 2 minutes faster than your easy pace. So, if your easy pace is 9:00 min/mile, intervals are run at 7:00 to 7:30 per mile. Intervals are not a sprint pace. They feel “in-control,” so that you are able to repeat them and still adequately recover in between each interval.

Long run: The long run is where you build your aerobic endurance. Throughout the training cycle, this distance will build to about 4 miles, for a 5; up to double digits, for a half marathon; and into the 20 mile range, for marathons. At the beginning of the cycle, the long runs is about 30 to 60 seconds slower than easy pace, building closer to race pace at the peak of the cycle. Or, you can end a long run with some fast finishes, and/or portions of the run done at race pace.

Recovery run: The #1 most neglected run, is the recovery run. While the phrase may seem like an oxymoron (doesn’t recovery mean taking a day off?) recovery runs are crucial to help move lactic acid from your muscles, after a hard effort. Recovery runs should be done the day after speed work (interval or tempo runs), or the day after a long run. They are anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds slower than an easy pace.

Training for a foot race is about cumulative stress on your body, balanced with recovery and adaptation. Without proper recovery, your body cannot adapt to the new stresses being placed on your body. Recovery includes: recovery runs, rest days, sleep, hydration, and good nutrition. Putting all the pieces together is crucial for a successful training cycle at any point in your running journey!

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