Many new runners only understand two levels of pacing while running: all out and easy jogging. To become a better runner, however, you need to practice a whole range of paces, ensuring you run at the right intensity, at the right moment.
If you only run as fast as you can, you’ll get tired quickly and won’t increase your aerobic fitness. Similarly, if you don’t put enough effort, you’ll hit a plateau sooner rather than later.
Any running program worth its salt includes different types of workouts. Some are short and intense, some are long and light, and occasionally, some are long and very tough. Each workout, each pace has its purpose. Easy runs build endurance and increase your muscular and skeletal strength, whereas speed workouts help you improve your running economy, form, and leg speed, elevating your anaerobic threshold.
Understanding pace in running
Ask a group of runners middrun at what pace they’re going and you’ll get very different answers. Without peeking at a GPS running watch, it’s easy to overestimate or underestimate pace and that translates into running at the wrong intensity. Run too fast too early in a race and chances are that you hit the wall and penalize yourself with a slower time.
The most common way to calculate our pace is measuring the speed and distance of every step you take. This metric, speed, can tell you the effort you put into your training sessions. The faster you run a set distance, the more effort it’ll take. Typically, runners measure pace in minutes per kilometer. Elite athletes, for example, run a marathon at a pace of 3:00 minutes per kilometer. Of course, most runners can run this fast and will train at a pace between 5 and 6 minutes per kilometer.
Pace isn’t the only way to estimate your effort. Heart rate and running power can guide your training and help you run at the right intensity as well.
Watch below the fourth episode of our How to Start Running video series to learn a few tips on how to find the optimal pace.
Dial In Your Heart rate zones for Proper Pacing
Pacing yourself sounds easy enough. After, all it takes is looking at your running watch and reading the numbers on the screen. However, any seasoned runner knows that every time you go for a run is a different experience. No two runs are the same.
On a good day, running fast can feel effortless, but on a bad day, hitting the same speed can feel like moving mountains. It can be hard to know if you’re going slow enough on easy days and fast enough on hard days. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new runner or a seasoned veteran, mastering the art of pacing yourself is a challenge.
One smart technique for proper pacing in running is to determine your running heart rate zones. Heart rate training is a great way to monitor, in real time, how hard you’re working out and to guide your intensity during training. Unlike a purely subjective evaluation of intensity and effort, your heart rate is a number you can measure, just like speed and distance. And because it’s a number, it can easily prevent you from running your long runs too fast, at a high heart rate.
PROPER PACING: How to DEtermine your Running Heart Rate Zones
A treadmill stress test in a lab will determine your maximum heart rate, but you can simulate a test on your own with a heart-rate monitor, like Polar watches and heart rate sensors. Polar’s Running Performance Test will guide you to gradually increase your speed until you’re running as fast as you can. Your heart rate at the end should be close to your maximum heart rate and maximum effort.
PACING BY POWER ZONES
Sometimes, speed-based pacing in running has some disadvantages. It doesn’t reveal how hard you’re working. For example, running uphill decreases your speed, but requires more work than running on a flat path.
In these situations, running power brings something new to help measure your effort, helping you run at the right intensity. Running watches, like Polar Vantage V2, can an also measure, in watts, your running power directly from your wrist. And, just as you can with heart rate, it’s possible to generate power-based target zones for the different types of runs.
Or you can use power in conjunction with heart rate to identify improvements in performance. For example, if you repeat the same session one month apart and you find you’re running at the same power but with a lower heart rate, you’ll know you’ve improved your form.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.