Understanding What is Pace in Running – Complete Guide

Runners throw around the term pace all the time – but what exactly does it mean and why does pace matter so much? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain what is pace in running and everything a new runner needs to know about using pace data to enhance training and meet race day goals.

What is Pace in Running?

silhoutte of a woman running

A lot of beginners often ask: what is pace in running? Quite simply, your running pace refers to your speed or rate of movement across a set distance. Unlike driving a vehicle where speed is measured in miles per hour, pace is expressed as the minutes and seconds it takes to cover each mile or kilometer. For instance, a 10-minute-per-mile pace means it takes you 10 minutes to run one mile at that exertion level.

Monitoring your pace statistics provides key metrics that determine your running efficiency and fitness gains over time. But delve deeper and pace plays an even greater role by:

  • Gauging Speed – Pace provides an exact measure of running speed vs perception which can be inaccurate. Knowing pace assists in exerting optimal effort.
  • Informing Race Strategy – Having pace targets prevents going out too hard early and hitting the wall later on. Pacing yourself wisely is essential for performance.
  • Enabling Progress Tracking – Small improvements in your regular training pace over weeks and months demonstrate true fitness gains. Seeing new personal bests is extremely motivating.

Now that you know what is pace in running conceptually, let’s explore how runners actually capture this vital data.

Measuring Your Running Pace

a runner in starting position before a race

In the days before modern technology, the only way for runners to determine pace was to time themselves running a set distance on a track. Using a stopwatch while running four laps around a quarter-mile track reveals your mile pace performance for that day.

Thankfully, we now have much more convenient ways to record pace through:

1. GPS Running Watches and Fitness Trackers

Advanced wrist-based wearables use built-in GPS capability to accurately measure pace, distance, route maps, and other metrics in real time. Popular models from Garmin, Coros, and Polar also offer features like digital pacing guidance based on customized race goals.

2. Mobile Run Tracking Apps

Mobile apps like Strava, MapMyRun, and Nike Run Club use your smartphone’s GPS to track pace and distance during outdoor runs. Some apps even announce your pace periodically through your headphones to keep you posted on progress. Syncing to these apps provides more ways to analyze your pace data.

3. Foot Pod Sensors

Small wearable pod sensors like Stryd and RunScribe clip onto your shoe and use accelerometers to capture highly precise pace, distance, cadence, and biomechanical running power numbers that Bluetooth to watches and phones. They come in handy when the GPS signal is spotty.

Key Pace Metrics and Usage

a runner approaching finishing line

While tracking technologies open many possibilities, what exactly should you be monitoring when it comes to pace? Here are the most useful metrics:

1. Minutes Per Mile (or Min/Km) Pace

The basic measure of your speed. A 7:30 min/mile pace means it takes you 7 minutes and 30 seconds to cover one mile. You’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Average Pace – Your pace averaged across an entire run’s distance. Shows your sustainable pace for that duration.
  • Lap/Mile Split Pace – Pace for each individual mile/km split during a run. Reveals whether you maintained pace or slowed at different stages.
  • Current Pace – Real-time check of your pace at that exact moment. Helps confirm you are hitting targets.

2. Perceived Effort

It’s easy to fixate on pace numbers, but it’s equally important to listen to your body’s signals. The “talk test” determines if your breathing is under control at the current pace and intensity. Use a 1-10 Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to find and lock into paces that feel sustainable.

Determining Your Pace as a Runner

a person's hand on a railing wearing a smart wristband

When just starting out, guessing an appropriate pace is difficult. Instead, let race performance or time trials serve as the best indicators of your pace abilities:

Racing a 5K, 10K or longer event provides real race day data. Your average pace demonstrates your fitness for covering the full distance at maximum effort. No calculations are required to determine where you stand currently.

Conducting solo time trials also works. Warm up properly then time yourself running a 5K (3.1 mile) course at max sustainable effort. Use the resulting average pace as a baseline for your 5K fitness.

Online race time predictors like McMillan and Jack Daniels Running Formula also provide customized pace estimates across all race distances. Simply plug in a recent race finish time to generate paces tailored to your current fitness.

Types of Running Paces

runners starting a race

As discussed previously, minutes per mile or kilometer describes what is pace in running. But pace targets and needs can vary drastically depending on run type and goals including:

1. Easy Run Pace

This comfortably challenging pace should comprise most of your runs to build an endurance base without overtaxing your body. Conversational pace where you can talk easily. Typically 1-2 mins slower than race pace per mile.

2. Marathon Pace

For optimum marathon performance, determine the speed you can realistically expect to sustain for 26.2 miles without hitting the wall. Completing 20+ training miles near the goal marathon pace adapts your body.

3. Half Marathon Pace

Slightly faster than the marathon pace. The pace needed on race day to achieve your 13.1-mile goal time. Half marathon-specific tempo runs practice sustaining this quicker speed.

4. 10K Pace

Significantly faster turnover and exertion are required to race 10K distance (6.2 miles) vs. half or full marathons. Interval sessions help sharpen speed for pushing your 10K pace.

5. 5K Pace

Since a 5K is only 3.1 miles, pace demands are exceptionally high to maximize performance. True speedwork and hill repeat train you to maintain the extra leg turnover necessary for a record 5K pace.

How to Improve Your Running Pace

a runner sitting cross-legged on a track

Managing pace properly during workouts and long runs develops fitness so your pace steadily improves over weeks and months. Here are the most effective ways to get faster:

Speed and Hill Sessions – Interval training at 5K through marathon goal paces boosts speed and teaches your body to upshift gears for hard efforts. Hill repeats build strength for faster turnover.

Strength Training – Complement running with lower body strength exercises, yoga, and core training. The resulting muscular endurance fends off late-race fatigue so you can maintain paces longer.

Dynamic Warmups – Skip static stretching before runs. Actively warm up muscles with form drills, skips, shuffles, and lunges over 10-15 minutes. Dynamically primed muscles contract more powerfully to enable faster paces.

Race Pacing Practice – Recalibrate your sense of different paces by occasionally running time trials. Confirm paces feel steady and sustainable, not too ambitious or easy.

Nutrition and Recovery – Proper rest, hydration and nutrient timing reduce injury risk while optimizing the fitness gains that translate to better paces in training and races.

Tracking Your Pace Progress

three people looking at an exercise tracking device

A key benefit of pace data is quantifying your fitness improvements over weeks, months, and years. Here are constructive ways to monitor progress:

Pace Charts – Log paces from training runs in a spreadsheet pace chart or use tools like Strava to visually spot positive trends in your average paces across different distances.

Software Data Analysis – Endurance sports software like Final Surge and TrainingPeaks integrate with devices to track pace metrics. View elegant pace and heart rate charts to confirm your fitness building.

Celebrating PRs – New personal best-pace achievements, no matter how incremental, validate your hard work is paying off, providing motivation to keep striving.

Bottom Line

Whether you’re tracking pace manually or leveraging the latest wearables, understanding what is pace in running is invaluable for meeting race goals and charting meaningful development as a runner. Let your pace metrics motivate you and fill you with pride in your expanding capabilities. With consistent smart training focused on pacing, every runner can achieve their personal best.

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