People love to praise running as a very, very accessible sport. All you need is a pair of shoes and a small stretch of road or trail to get started! But sometimes, even the most simple sports can seem, well, complicated.
Some people are very happy doing all their runs at the same pace, every day. This is perfectly fine if you're simply running for health and fitness! But, if you want to get faster or tackle new distances, appropriate pacing can help you achieve your goals! You've probably heard experienced runners talk about their different paces...but what do those paces actually mean? Here's a quick guide to help you interpret paces and their purpose!
Easy or conversational pace: This refers to running at a pace that is, well...easy. Your perceived exertion should be low, and you should be able to hold the pace comfortably, and with relative ease! One of the best ways to ensure you stay at an easy/conversational pace? Have an actual conversation while running! Generally, this this pace is 1-2 minutes per mile slower than marathon pace, and up to 3-4 minutes per mile slower than 5k pace.
Runners should aim to run about 75-80% of their total mileage at easy or conversational pace. That may seem like a LOT of time to run at a "slow" pace, but there are huge benefits. It trains your body to efficiently process oxygen, increases the size of mitochondria in your cells, and strengthens your muscles so they can handle longer distance and more intense runs.
Tempo or threshold pace: The term "threshold" refers to your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is the point in exercise at which your body is producing more lactic acid than it can clear away. In the running world, this is usually the pace you can hold running as hard as you can for 60 minutes.
Since 60 minutes of all-out running would cause a lot of strain on your body and require a long recovery, runners usually train at this pace for 15-30 minutes at a time.
Interval pace: Intervals are generally short distances. An interval is typically anywhere from 50 meters to 1 mile -- or 10 seconds to 8-10 minutes! Obviously, there's a big difference between those two distances! So, the Road Runners Club of America breaks interval pace down into two categories: short interval (anything under 200-400 meters) and long intervals (about 400 meters to 1 mile).
Since 1 mile is considered a long interval, a runner's long interval pace is typically the pace they can hold for one all-out mile. A runner's short interval pace is generally 30-45 seconds faster than their long interval pace. So, it my long interval pace is 6:00 per mile, my short interval pace will be about 5:15-5:30 per mile.
Goal pace: Goal pace is the pace a runners is trying to hit for a specific race! Each runner has unique goal paces for each distance. If you're trying to run a 25:00 5k and a 4:00 marathon, your goal 5k pace is 8:03 per mile and your goal marathon pace is 9:15 per mile. Therefore, it's important to consider goal pace in the context of your fitness level AND your goal distance.
Often, you'll see runners incorporate goal pace miles into a longer run. It's a technique used to train your body to handle the more strenuous pace. Remember: like tempo/threshold pace, goal race paces can be taxing on your body!
If you're training for a shorter race (10k or less), don't try to spend more than 10-20 minutes at goal race pace. If you're training for a longer distance (10 miler to marathon), you can likely hold your goal pace for longer than 30 minutes at a time -- but be aware that you may need longer recovery.