Finding your perfect race pace for a variety of distances is a multi-step process. If you’re an experienced runner/racer you already know your exact goals each and every time you're on the starting line. For anyone new to the sport though, or trying out a new race distance, there are a few easy steps to follow. These steps will lock down your daily training pace as well as your per mile pace goals for everything from 5k up to a full marathon. Take your time working through these six steps and have fun with the process!
6 Steps to Find Your Perfect Race Pace!
Test your one mile speed! If you’ve run a mile race or time trial within the past 3 month or so, perfect. If not, then your best bet is finding an accurately measured track or a section of road/trail that gives you an uninterrupted 1 mile section. The goal is to get out there and put your best mile foot forward, see how fast your legs can carry you through a mile. You don’t need to prep or peak for this, the closer to a normal day your legs and body feel the better. This max mile pace will serve as the basis of your race pace calculations going forward.
Take the pace MUCH slower for your daily base runs! Using that 1 mile max pace from Step 1, slow your average pace down by about 2-3 minutes per mile. This per mile pace will keep you in your aerobic sweet spot (65% - 85% max heart rate) while also allowing your legs to build strength without too much fatigue. As your aerobic fitness develops your average base run speed will increase. With that increase your 1 mile max pace is likely increasing as well.
Calculate your 5k per mile race pace and test it! Depending on your training duration you may need to retest your max mile pace by the time you get to this step. No matter what, start with your most recently tested max mile pace. Add 30 to 35 seconds per mile to that pace and that’s your goal 5k race pace to test. Signing up for a local 5k to test your pace is ideal. If that's not feasible you can fit it in as a weekly workout. One mile warmup, 5k time trial on the treadmill, track or roads, and a one mile cool down gives you a solid workout and a chance to test the pace without paying an entry fee. Although you will miss out on the goodie bags and post-race snacks!
Analyze your 5k race/workout and adjust accordingly! Think about how you felt at the constructed goal race pace. Did your running form fall apart at that pace? Did it feel TOO controlled, TOO easy? Was your breathing pattern labored from the start? Did you feel like you could have pushed the pace significantly more in the final mile? These are all great questions to ask yourself post-race. Depending on the answers you can make minor adjustments to your pace either up or down. Don’t over-adjust! Start by slowing down or speeding up by no more than 3-5 seconds per mile. Safe, smart, minor pace adjustments will add up over distances for the better.
Convert your perfect 5k pace to other distances and practice! The calculations are pretty simple from here, once you’ve found that top speed mile, and subsequent 5k pace it’s time to use your multiplications skills. Multiple your max mile time by 1.15, 1.2, and 1.3 for 10k, half-marathon, and full marathon races respectively. For whatever race you’re training for, and the correlated pace per mile, train your body to be comfortably uncomfortable at that pace. Add in one race pace effort workout per week to your routine. Start with 1/4 or 1/2 mile increments at your goal race pace and build up over weeks. Eventually you should be clicking off 50%-75% of your total run at that pace.
Get out there, race your best, and have some fun!!! Remember to trust the paces and try and maintain an even rhythm and pace from the gun. If it’s your first time at a race distance be patient. Once the finish line starts to come into sight that’s the time to make your move and adjust the pace up to finish strong and fast!
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