There’s no way I can hold that pace for that many repeats, I thought during 10K training last spring, contemplating the 5 x 1 mile at 10K pace on my training plan. Surely I will slow down by the last mile.
Whether you prefer short and fast repeats on the track or longer tempo runs, you have likely thought the same thing about a workout. How can you hold the prescribed pace without inevitably slowing down at the end? The fear of bonking then takes over and your confidence in your abilities wavers.
Even if you have repeatedly slowed down in interval workouts (haven’t we all at some point?), you do not have to dismiss yourself as a poor pacer or give into anxiety when a challenging workout appears on your training plan. While every runner has unique strengths, my hope for today’s post is that it can provide some guidance for how to pace during speed workouts so you run consistent splits – if not negative splits – and are able to accomplish those hard workouts and build up your confidence in your ability as a runner.
Why Proper Pacing Matters
Speed workouts and tempo runs are not time trials. The pace and perceived effort of a 5-mile tempo run or mile repeats matters – if you run the workout too hard, you miss the benefits and increase your risk of overtraining and injury. Even if you could run your 3-mile tempo run at 5K pace, doesn’t mean you should – at that point, it’s practically a 5K race.
Most speed workouts are run at VO2max pace (faster than 5K pace), 5K race pace, or 10K race pace. In the peak weeks before a race, you might switch from running at current 5K or 10K race pace to goal race pace. These runs are hard – the perceived effort will feel like an 8-9 out of 10. Tempo runs are a comfortably hard effort, like a 6-7 out of 10, and are the pace you could sustain for an hour long race – somewhere between 10K and half marathon pace for most runners.
Running too fast is part of the problem for some runners – if you start off a long tempo run at 5K pace, of course you are going to slow down. However, knowing your training paces is only part of the equation – consistent pacing still takes hard work and a bit of strategy.
The Importance of a Warm Up
A full-length warm-up will aid in pacing during your speed workout, along with preventing injury. Run at an easy effort for 1-2 miles and then perform some dynamic stretches and drills. A warm-up slowly loosens up your muscles and joints by bringing more oxygen to them, preparing you to then increase your speed without feeling too stiff or winded. If you are short on time, even 5-10 minutes of warming up can make a huge difference!
How to Pace During Speed Workouts
This approach is what helped me improve my pacing in workouts and stay on pace through the last interval. My approach may not work for you, so be open to experimenting based on your preferences.
Set your watch to show lap pace, not instant pace.
Especially if you are running off the track, your instant pace will vary throughout an interval. Tree cover, terrain, wind, and other factors can affect what the watch reads as your instant pace. You do not want to be speeding up and slowing down based on a wrong reading because you went under some tree cover – you want to run a steady effort throughout each interval. Save yourself the stress and do not look at your instant pace during the run. If your GPS watch or app has the option, set it to show lap pace, not instant pace.
Even better – stop staring at your GPS! Obsessing too much over pace will prevent you from getting into a steady effort. Checking your watch every couple steps can throw off your form, disrupt your ability to monitor your perceive effort, and stress you out – none of which are conducive to consistent pacing.
Stay in control during the first interval.
Starting out too fast is all too easy – you’re warmed up and ready to go. However, if you run too fast on your first interval, you will likely slow down as the workout progresses. Whether you are running at tempo pace or 5K pace, your muscles will fatigue and your breathing will get out of control as your body tries to transport enough oxygen if you start out too fast. You will likely be able to complete the workout, but seeing your paces slow down can feel defeating. Beyond that, you will establish bad pacing habits for race day – when starting out too fast can cost you your goal.
Control is key in this first interval. Do not let yourself go faster than your goal pace – hold back if you usually start out too fast. Let yourself get a feel for how your pace should feel, while also preventing going out too far, fatiguing your muscles, and slowing down with each interval. If you are going to monitor your pace at all during a speed workout, do so during the first interval to help you stay on pace.
Focus on your perceived effort for the remaining intervals.
After the first interval, you know how the effort should feel for the workout in the conditions of the day. Focus on your breathing and your perceived effort. As you progress, the intervals will get harder, so run the second half of the intervals at a slightly harder effort than the first half – this should help you stay on pace, if not run faster than you did at the start.
Slow down for your recovery intervals.
Pacing does not just matter on the hard intervals; how you pace the recovery intervals can affect how strong you stay through the second half of the workout. Slow down as much as you need to steady your breathing during these intervals, regardless of what your watch reads. It’s okay to slow down by two or three minutes per mile – the focus isn’t on your speed, but how well your are recovering before the next hard interval.
Do you struggle with pacing in your workouts?
What other tips would you add for how to pace during speed workouts?