Training Paces While Running

When you talk with other runners or read the running literature, you hear comments about running various paces, such as rest runs, tempo runs, marathon pace, etc. Proper training means that you don't just run one pace all the time. You vary your pace according to the goals of your training. In this page, I discuss the paces that are commonly used by runners. Keep in mind, though, that not all runners have the same definitions for their paces.

Maximum Heart Rate

Before we discuss the paces themselves, we need to discuss the maximum heart rate (MHR) that a runner could have. This heart rate is the reference for comparing the paces used during training. Running, jogging, and walking put a stress on your body, and this stress causes your heart rate to increase. It is a common practice to rate the intensity of a pace by the heart rate that results from the activity. Absolute values of heart rate are not used, because they vary from person to person. Instead, the resulting heart rate is compared with the maximum heart rate for the person. For example, a particular pace might cause the person's heart rate to increase to 65% of the person's maximum heart rate. Another pace might cause the person's heart rate to increase to 78% of the maximum.

There are several formulas that give a calculated value for maximum heart rate. The following graph shows the results obtained by three of the formulas. Keep in mind that these calculated values may only be an approximation of your actual maximum heart rate.

Here is a suggestion for use of the graph. First, find your age. If you are an aggressive runner who wants to push your body for maximum performance, choose the curve that gives you the highest maximum heart rate. If you are a conservative runner who wants to reduce the risk of injury during your training, choose the curve that gives you the lowest maximum heart rate.

The equations used in creating the graph shown above take into account the age of the runner. Here is a formula that takes into account age, body weight, and gender.
MHR=210 - 0.5 x age - 0.05 x body weight (pounds) + 4 if male or 0 if female

Here are modifications to MHR if previous illnesses or injuries have occurred.
a. Subtract five beats if you are recovering from a major illness or injury that has kept you from training for six months or more.
b. Leave the number where it is if you have been working out about two to three days per week for at least a year.
c. Add five beats if you have been working out more than three days per week for at least a year.
d. Add 10 beats if you have been working out more than five days per week for at least five years without recurring colds, illnesses, injuries or long periods of burnout.
The most accurate way to determine your MHR is to run or walk until your heart rate won't go any higher. Running that fast puts a lot of stress on your body, but walking gives a good approximation of your MHR and puts less stress on your body. Here is the walking method.
Go to any high school or college track (most are 400 meters or 440 yards around) and walk or stride as fast as you can in your current condition. Walk as fast as is comfortable. Walk four continuous laps.

The last lap is the important one. Take your pulse, or use your heart rate monitor, to determine your average heart rate for only the last lap. The first three laps are just to get you to reach a heart rate plateau and to stay there for the last lap.

Add to this average last lap heart rate the one of the following that best matches your current fitness level:
1. Poor Shape: +40 bpm
2. Average Shape: +50 bpm
3. Excellent Shape: +60 bpm
This final number should be fairly close to your Max HR.

Rest or Recovery Pace

The term "rest pace" or "recovery pace" refers to a slow pace that is used when your body is tired and needs extra rest, or when you are recovering from a stressful run. This pace is slow enough that you can easily carry on a conversation with a running partner (or with yourself if you're running alone). When running this pace, you shouldn't be huffing and puffing at the end. This pace is also known as a "comfortable pace". Depending on your age and condition, this pace will probably be somewhere in the range of 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate.

 

Endurance Training

Think of running, walking, or jogging as having two phases. The first phase, the endurance phase, is developing the strength or endurance to easily cover a desired distance. The second phase is developing the strength to cover a distance in less time, that is, developing speed.


The most important phase is the endurance phase. If you get tired while running, you won't have the energy to run as fast as you would like. That is, you must develop endurance before you train to run faster. Most of your running should be at your endurance pace. This pace is similar to your recovery pace, but it may be slightly faster. Long Slow Distance is usually run at an endurance pace but can be run at a rest pace if the runner needs recovery from stress. Depending on your age and condition, your endurance pace will probably be somewhere in the range of 60% to 75% of your maximum heart rate.

Many beginning runners want to run a half-marathon or a marathon after just a few months of running. This is unwise, because it takes years for your body to develop true endurance. My suggestion is not to run half-marathons or marathons until you have been running for at least a year for half-marathons and two years for marathons. Running long distance before your body has developed true endurance increases the risk of injury.

 

Tempo or Lactate Threshold Runs

Tempo or Threshold runs, also known as lactate threshold runs or anaerobic threshold runs, are popular with runners training for 15K (9.3 miles) or longer runs. They help runners develop the ability to run long distance at a fast pace. Dr. Jack Daniels, the person who popularized tempo runs, defined them as "nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace." Threshold pace is the pace just below the point where your body can no longer convert lactate to energy, thus allowing the accumulation of lactate in your body. Lactate is produced during your run from the metabolism of carbohydrates.


Many runners, including me, have a difficult time understanding the definition given by Daniels. So, to help us understand tempo runs, here are some general guidelines for determining a tempo pace.
  • Running just below the change from aerobic to anaerobic running. For many recreational runners, this is running significantly faster than a rest run but slower than running as fast as you can (sprinting).
  • For experienced runners, running a little bit slower than their 5K pace. Experienced runners usually run 5Ks anaerobically.
  • Running at a pace that is 85% to 90% of maximum. Beginning runners thus shouldn't do tempo runs because they haven't developed a good base of endurance.

Typical Heart Rates for Common Races

Here are typical heart rates for experienced runners for common races. Even though these figures are stereotypes, they can be useful to you as a guide to how intense your training and racing should be.
  • 5K: 90%
  • 10K: 85%
  • Half Marathon: 80%
  • Marathon: 75%
Notice that the longer your races, the slower you run.

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