If I could wave my magic coaching wand and convince you to take one piece of advice, it would be to vary your running pace. One training mistake that many runners make is that they run the same pace day in and day out. When we run slow all the time, we never train to run faster.
If you think this post is about running speed intervals, that is part of it, but it's more about varying your paces to reach a specific goal, to recover better, reduce injury and ultimately run stronger and faster.
The bigger mistake I see many runners make is that they go out too hard, too often and don't allow proper time for their body to recover. More and faster is not better.
Most of your daily runs should be at a recovery or conversational pace. All your long runs (usually classified as any run duration longer than an hour) should be conversational. The conversational pace is a pace at which you can hold a full conversation without taking gasps of breaths between words or sentences. It should feel effortless and easy. Most of us (me included) don't consistently run slow enough on our easy-effort days.
Note that if you are a brand new runner, it will take some time before any runs are conversational, be patient, take plenty of rest days, and stay consistent, you'll get there.
Tempo pace should feel comfortably hard. You are pushing your effort level but not so hard that you couldn't hold the pace for 20 minutes without stopping. It is slower than you would run a speed interval, but faster than your conversational pace. You could probably have a conversation but would have to take gasps of breaths between sentences. The goal of a tempo run is not to run the same distance faster, but to extend the distance in which you can hold the 'comfortably hard' pace. If you start tempo training at two miles, you would progressively increase the miles at the tempo pace over time, rather than increase the pace for two miles.
Long intervals are most appropriate for half or full marathon runners to train at a faster pace for longer distances. Long intervals are usually 3-5 minutes or half mile intervals. This pace is faster than your tempo (comfortably hard) pace so let's call it hard-hard pace. If you were to speak during your speed intervals, you'd only get a word or two out (and they may be swear words).
Short intervals are short bursts of speed with a long recovery. These are most appropriate for sprinters or training to increase speed for shorter race distances. For short intervals run 30 seconds to a minute at full effort. Talking would likely not be possible. Take long rest periods until your breath is fully recovered.
Most runners would benefit from including just one effort session, one long run (if needed for race training) and run the rest of the week at recovery pace. This will allow your body to recover between sessions, perform better during hard workouts, increase fitness, and reduce the chance of injury.
Your body adapts, gets stronger and faster during the rest period after the run, not during the run itself. You must allow proper rest and recovery to gain the full benefit from your hard work. Rest and recovery are as important as the training plan.
I love determining pace by running by feel, the talk test (as described above) and the RPE chart (I wrote more about RPE in this blog post), but I understand that a lot of runners want hard and fast numbers. The issue with assigning paces without coaching is that paces from the internet or a chart are baselines and must be adjusted based on weather, stress levels, elevation and other factors.
This calculator can be helpful in determining paces to use as a baseline, but my preference is the RRCA pace chart developed by Amby Burfoot. (Click to download, no email address required). If you look up your recent 5K time on the chart, it is a good starting point for determining paces for training runs.
It's also important to note that you should choose your training paces from the chart based on your current 5K race time, not the 5K time you wish you could run. Only increase the training paces once your 5K time has improved.
If you take anything from this blog post, remember this: Slow runs slow. Fast runs fast. Running too fast all the time can sabotage your results.
If you get too attached to the numbers, I suggest putting aside the GPS watch for a while and running by feel. How to tell if you're in a bad relationship with your GPS watch.
Need help with all of this? I have openings for online run coaching to help you reach your running goals.
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