How to Determine Your Ideal Training Pace

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Whether you're a new runner or you've been logging miles for ages, you might have questions about your training pace. What paces will improve your fitness? Is there such as thing as "too slow" on easy days? If you're ready to dial in your perfect pace, look no further. This easy-to-follow guide will have you running at the right effort, every time.

Easy Run Pace

What it is: This type of running is pretty self-explanatory, and you guessed it—the pace should feel easy. The majority of your running (think 70 to 80%) should be at an easy, conversational pace. If you run too fast, too often, your muscles, ligaments and joints will never have the chance to recover properly. 

How to do it right: On your everyday runs, aim for a "conversational pace." The exact speed will vary depending on your fitness level and goals, but generally you should be able to recite the pledge of allegiance or sing a few lines of your favorite song while running. If you're just starting out as a runner, don't be afraid to take walk breaks! If you're worried about being too slow, keep in mind that most runners actually push too hard on easy days. Slow is good!

Lactate Threshold Pace

What it is: A lactate threshold run, sometimes called a tempo run, is the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can process. If you run under your lactate threshold, the body can process that biproduct and convert it back into energy. If you run faster than your lactate threshold, you'll eventually run out of gas (heavy legs, gasping for air, etc.). The goal is to gradually move the needle so you can run faster without hitting that threshold. Regular tempo runs are the best way to improve your lactate threshold.

How to do it right: If you run just below your lactate threshold point, your body will eventually be able to clear lactic acid more effectively. To find the right pace, aim for "comfortably hard" or a pace that you could hold for no longer than about an hour. And if you use the talk test, remember that you should only be able to speak in brief sentences, e.g. "Does the pace feel okay?" "Let's turn here." This pace should make up about 10 to 20% of your runs.

V02 Max Pace (a.k.a. speed workout) 

What it is: V02 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can absorb and utilize during exercise. Essentially, it's a combination of how much blood your heart can pump and how much oxygen your muscles can extract and then use. In the case of V02 max, more is better! The higher it is, the better the athletic performance. 

How to do it right: During V02 max sessions (think fast intervals on the track), you really shouldn't be able to speak at all. It's a near maximum effort that's equivalent to 5K race pace or faster. This pace should make up only a very small part of your training, approximately 10% of your running volume. 

Half Marathon and Marathon Pace

What it is: If you're training for a longer race, you might choose to focus on half marathon or marathon pace instead of V02 max and tempo run workouts. Or maybe you'll incorporate this type of pace into some quality long runs. As you prep for race day, running at your intended pace will build specificity in your muscles and most importantly, increase confidence.

How to do it right: Figure out your target half marathon or marathon pace goal, and practice running it often in the weeks and months leading up to race day. For example, if your goal is to run a sub-2 hour half marathon, you'll want to practice running around a 9-minute per mile pace.

Long Run Pace

What it is: Most of your long runs should be run at your easy pace (or slower). If you're new to running long distances, your long run pace will probably be your slowest run of the week (think double digit pace). However, if you're training for a PR, consider adding in quality pace work (like a fast finish) to some of your long runs.

How to do it right: For most long runs, aim for a pace that is at least 1 to 2 minutes per mile slower than your half marathon or marathon race pace. If you're up for it, consider adding in a "fast finish long run" every few weeks. Start at an easy pace and gradually speed up until your final few miles are at your goal race pace.

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