Are You Making this Common Pacing Mistake?

by Jason Fitzgerald

Running is so simple – just lace up your shoes and you’re ready to run. I love it.

But to improve, stay healthy, and get faster it becomes more complicated. Running itself is simple – but training is more complex.

Running Pace

Over the years, I’ve reviewed hundreds (maybe thousands) of Runner Questionnaires as I create custom training plans to help people run faster and improve their best times. After reading the answers to 20+ questions on injuries, mileage, workouts, cross-training, goals, and the history of an athlete I have a great picture of someone’s running background.

And most runners have striking similarities: the same mileage levels, the same random pattern of workouts, and a surprising lack of strength work.

And I keep hearing the same problems:

I have a consistent pattern of running 4 days per week. Where I don’t have consistency is knowing how to pattern those midweek runs. How can I make my overall speed faster?

I want to get faster but I don’t know when to schedule speed workouts, long runs, weights, etc. Is what I’m doing working??

My #1 struggle is speed and trying to increase my mileage. I’m going to attempt some fartlek training soon and contrast showers.

Most of these runners have plateauing performances – and consistent injuries – because of what I like to call the Trifecta of Slow: low mileage that never increases, non-existent fast workouts, and no progressionOf course you won’t improve with that kind of running!

Now, there’s a lot of wacky information floating around the internet so knowing what to do can be confusing.

Intervals? Strides? Fartleks? Hills? Tempo runs? Sprints? Progression workouts?

It’s exhausting just reading some of these articles that give you an example workout – with no guidance on when to run it or how to execute it.

So today, I want to explain how you can dramatically upgrade your training and get better results by avoiding a top mistake I see: running the same pace every single day.

Are You Stuck in Neutral?

You’d be fascinated to read the responses to the question, “What workouts have you done in the last four weeks?

I’ve run a few intervals but mostly just jogging.

Slow treadmill running and one outdoor run.

Just a few easy 5 mile runs. No long runs.

These runners are stuck in neutral – running the same speed every day because they’re afraid of going fast or not confident in planning their own workouts.

So what happens when you only run the same pace every day? Well, on good days it will feel comfortable. And on bad days it will feel like you’re racing.

Your fitness will improve at a snail’s pace. If you’re preparing for a race and you’re not doing any race-specific training, you won’t be able to run much faster than this pace on race day.

What good is a valuable race pacing strategy if you can’t go any faster?

Stuck in a rut, with no training variety, these runners are often hurt or never improve their times. Where’s the fun in that?

The 6 Paces You Need to Run Regularly

There are six different paces that every runner should include in their training when they’re preparing for a race: recovery, comfortable, race-specific, two support paces and fast.

Your recovery pace is a really easy jog. It’s fully conversational, in control, and very comfortable. It probably feels a little too slow.

This is the pace that you run on your recovery day – typically the shortest day of the week. This runs helps maintain your mileage but its real purpose is active recovery.

comfortable pace is more moderate and a little faster than your recovery pace. These two paces are close and are within the range of “easy.”

For example, a runner with a 55-minute 10k personal best likely has an easy pace range of 9:45 – 11:00 per mile. Their comfortable pace is on the faster end of this range (while their recovery pace is on the slow side).

The race-specific pace in your training is whatever your goal pace (or current PR pace) for the race you’re training to run is per mile.

Support-paces help make your race pace feel easier and there should be two of them. In their most simple form, support paces are slightly faster and slightly slower than your race-specific pace.

It’s a smart concept that Brad Hudson discusses in Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon

Let’s take a hypothetical runner named Charlotte who’s training for a 10k. Her goal pace is 8:45 per mile, which will give her a 54:20 finish time.

What are her support paces? Obviously 10k pace (8:45) is her goal, but the paces for distances that are longer and shorter are her support paces.

Both 5k and 8k pace are faster support paces for the 10k. And 10-mile and half marathon are slower support paces.

So for our 8:45 per mile 10k runner Charlotte, her support paces are:

  • 5k – 8:25
  • 8k – 8:40
  • 10mi – 9:05
  • HM – 9:15

The workouts in Charlotte’s training need to focus on these paces. See how we’re making her 10k race pace seem easier from both the speed and the endurance side of things?

Using multi-pace workouts makes this easier. Here’s an example track workout for early in the season:

  • 2 x mile @ HM Pace with 400 jog recovery
  • 2 x 800 @ 8k Pace with 400 jog recovery
  • 2 x 400 @ 5k Pace with 200 jog recovery

As Charlotte gets closer to the race, more focus is then given to her Goal Pace of 8:45 to make the workouts more specific to the 10k itself.

The last pace that runners should use in their training is a fast or sprint pace where you’re running at 95-100% of maximum speed. This running usually takes the form of strides or hill sprints.

It’s a common misconception to think that running fast is hard. If you’re running strides or hill sprints, they’re very short and only at a high speed for a few seconds. This type of running will actually make you feel better afterward – even for beginners.

Putting it All Together

So, how would all this pace work look in a real training schedule?

During the first 4-6 weeks, the focus will be on both faster and slower support paces. Approaching the specific goal pace from two directions is more effective.

But most of the running will be at the recovery and comfortable paces with 1-3 sessions of strides or hill sprints.

As you get further into the training, the faster workouts become more specific to your goal race. But there’s still a variety of different types of running throughout the week.

Here’s a general example of how this will look:

Race Paces

By working on multiple paces through the training cycle, running a PR becomes a lot easier. Using this strategy over several months allows you to practically guarantee a personal best!

If you’ve gotten a custom training plan from me, you’ve probably seen this in action – it really works.

Now my question to you: what workouts do you use on a weekly basis to help you include more variety in your running paces? What’s your favorite (and least favorite)?

Leave your answer in the comments below!

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{ 20 comments }

Paul O.

Personally my favorites are long runs with a building effort level. Start the first half as comfortable as you want. If its 12 miles, finishing mile 6 is the tipping point. Boot it up from a comfy pace to a HM pace at mile six– and then a slow build in effort to a tempo pace on the last mile. Its pretty tough mentally! its way too easy to go too fast too soon. Slowing down is always an option and building again from where I think I should be at; however its like a challenge to avoid slowing down. It gives a really good feel for pace/exertion levels.

Another favorite shorter one I haven’t done in a while is: after warmup, 10 min jog, 12 min HM pace; 8min 10k pace; 4min 5k pace; 2min walk/easy jog recover. Do that twice. Going by time instead of mileage has a different feel to training and is cool too :)

Paul O.

And the “twice” part is just the 12/8/4/2 set.

Sudhindra

Congratulations on becoming a father. Your daughter is a cutie :-)
I will now wait for an article on how to maintain consistency and not let your training be affected after becoming a father

Wes

well done, Mom and Dad!

Mary

Congrats on becoming parents….now the fun begins!!!!

Martin

CONGRATULATIONS!

Brock

Congrats on the baby girl, that’s great! I’m with Sudhindra, looking forward to articles over the coming months about adjusting your routine around the little one and a “modified” sleeping schedule :) All the best!

Allison

Good info in this article! It’s a good supplement to the race plan you wrote for me, which is going really well so far! And congratulations to you and your wife on your new baby girl! So exciting!

Michelle

This was a very timely article as I am working my way out of ‘neutral’. Our training group does speed work once per week and I can tell the difference. Thanks for your insights/ideas!

Congrats on the new arrival…she’s beautiful!

Shelly

Congratulations to you and your wife on the new baby.

Variety – speed on Tuesday mornings, hills on Thursday afternoons. There’s very few things that rival hill workouts in the evenings in Houston, TX summer heat and humidity. You really learn about pacing (and hydration).

Cabe

Where do you have hills in Houston? In high school we used to run the path along Buffalo Bayou near downtown. There were a couple of small hills there.

Chip

When I was in Houston in the late-80s, hills were also called overpasses. :-)

Congrats to the new mom and dad!

Shelly

They’re hard to find that’s for sure. Chip is right – overpasses and bridges are the majority. Then about 60 mins west New Ulm has some nice rolling hills for long runs.

Aidel.K

Congratulations! Reagan is adorable.

Kris

Great advice, and congrats!

Daniel

Hey, congrats on the baby! I guess having a baby is very inspiring. This is one of the best and most informative posts I’ve read in a long time.

Great, great post!

Greg Strosaker

Great post Jason and congrats on the baby, glad Mom and daughter (and hopefully Dad) are well. Your approach is the exact same I employ in designing plans as well – start with a lot of slow punctuated by a little really fast (strides & hill sprints), and then narrow the gap over time to dial in race pace. It’s surprising how well it works, and I also find it makes the training more interesting and fun.

Jason Fitzgerald

Thanks Greg! Yeah a lot of folks think “building a base” means just endurance when in fact it’s providing the foundation for everything you’ll do later in the peak weeks of training.

Ron

Congratulations…after the baby announcement, despite a great article, nothing else matters. Enjoy you new and exciting life and take the time to spend as much time as possible with your wife and daughter as possible.

Tim

Congratulations Jason to you and your wife. A baby is a blessing beyond words. Enjoy your new family!

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