by Erin Engelson, Perpetua staff member
If you’re new to running, it can be hard to figure out what pace you should be running at. A lot of new runners get discouraged because they get tired after a short period of time, but it’s likely because they start off running way too fast. Most of us actually run too fast without even knowing it. I’ve been running regularly for 20 years and I still sometimes have trouble with pacing.
SLOW DOWN TO RUN FASTER?
Elite runners actually do a lot of their running at an easy (relatively speaking) pace. Why? Because running slower actually helps you get faster! Your everyday pace should feel relaxed and you should be able to finish a sentence without having to catch your breath.
There are some distinct physical benefits to “easy” running:
- Allows you to build your training volume with a lower risk of injury because it helps your tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones to adapt to the stress of running.
- Helps improve your running form to become more efficient.
- Trains your aerobic energy system, in which your muscles convert fat, protein and glycogen into energy. This is the process which allows you to sustain exercise for more than just a few minutes at a time.
- Teaches you to be patient and disciplined.
Easy running is also just really nice! You can discover new places. You can work through stressful situations because it has similar brain effects to meditation. You can bond and connect with friends – I’ve found that there are conversations you can have while running next to one another that you wouldn’t necessarily have over a pint or a latte.
BUT HOW SLOW SHOULD I GO?
There are a few different ways to figure out how slow you should run. The most technical involves using a heart rate monitor. To calculate your estimated maximum heart rate, multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract this number from 208. Your easy running should keep your heart rate at around 60%-70% of your max.
But an easier way to measure this is the talk test referenced earlier. If you cannot finish a sentence and can only converse with your running buddy in grunts, it’s a signal that you’re going too fast and you should back it off just a bit. On the other side of the coin, if you can sing the entire Lady Gaga album during your run, you’re going too slow! Pick it up a bit.
Your easy pace might vary based on different factors on a daily or weekly basis, which is why it’s important to focus on effort or heart rate versus the pace you see on your watch. On a hot and humid day, your easy pace is going to naturally be slower than a cool and rainy day. If you’ve had a really stressful week at work, this might have an effect on the way your body performs and impact your running pace. Focus on your effort level because the body doesn’t lie!
OK, THEN HOW DO I GET FASTER?
Once you’ve built a comfortable level of endurance on your easy runs (you can easily do 30-45 minutes without stopping) you can then mix in some speed sessions to help get faster.
75-80% of your weekly running should be “easy.” If you’re running 4 times a week, then 3 of those runs should be easy. This allows your body to continue to improve its aerobic energy system (in addition to all the other benefits listed above.) The other 20-25% should get you into the anaerobic zone and help improve your lactate clearance.
LACTATE CLEARANCE IN A NUTSHELL
Lactate is a byproduct that occurs when your muscles break down glucose for energy. (For every molecule of lactate produced, there is also a hydrogen ion. Hydrogen is responsible for the “burning” feeling you get in your muscles)
During aerobic respiration, the lactate is then cleared from your muscles and reconverted into energy. When the lactate is cleared, it takes its hydrogen ion with it. Your muscles are happy and continue breaking down glucose for energy.
When you run faster or farther (or both), your body stops being able to keep up with lactate production and cannot clear it quickly enough – which means it can’t take its hydrogen ions away, which is when you get that burning in your muscles.
A couple of “effort” sessions each week can help your body improve its lactate clearance, which will allow you to get faster and run harder for longer. The combination of lots of easy running and a little bit of fast running is a tried-and-true formula for faster race times.
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