Whether you run a mile or a marathon, one of the golden keys to a successful run is knowing how to properly pace yourself. This is actually more difficult than it may initially seem, because pacing is just as much an art as it is a science. There are a myriad of factors when it comes to establishing a proper pace running, but the ultimate goal is to maintain an efficient stride that will prevent premature burnout. Even the most well-conditioned long-distance runner will eventually run out of steam if he/she attempts to run more than 400 meters by starting out full speed ahead and never letting up. Unless you're sprinting, endurance is the name of the game.
So how can you go about learning to pace yourself during a run? Here are a few tips to help you become a more efficient runner.
1. Training by Heart Rate
This involves running at a speed that brings your heart rate to a certain level of beats per minute (BPM), but it's not the same thing as training by heart rate zones. The point is not to become obsessive about hitting certain chart points, but rather to understand how your body responds to various levels of exertion. This will help you get an idea of how for different paces will feel to your body, and it will help you learn how to adjust your breathing and physical movements to maximize your efficiency at various heart rate levels. In this respect, training by heart rate is utilized as more of a monitoring tool than a goal-setting tool, with the ultimate objective being to get you more in tune with your body.
2. Running by Feel
Perhaps one of the most underrated elements of proper training for runners is that of running by feel. The main goal of running by feel is to increase body awareness, which is a critical component to successful running. Body awareness involves tuning in to the various signals that your body sends you when running so that you can know when to increase intensity versus when to ease up. Your body is constantly sending signals to you as you engage in training; being able to recognize and respond to these signals will help you to determine when you can increase versus decrease your pace, as well as what type of recovery needs your body may have between training sessions.
Exercise scientists often correlate body awareness to a phenomenon known as "perceived exertion," which is basically a measurement of how difficult the body perceives an exercise to be at any given moment. This can vary from day to day, and is often based on the rhythms of your body's physical condition. If you've been running for any length of time, you know that there are days when you feel like you could run 10 miles without breaking a sweat, while other days even a small run feels like a full-blown marathon.
If you've planned to train hard on a particular day but your body keeps sending signals that you need to take it easy, you would do well to take heed to what your body is telling you. On another day, it may be a completely different story; you may have only planned a very light or brief training regimen, but if your body is telling you that you can push it a little bit, that signal is more than likely reliable. Learning how to govern your training in accordance with these physical instincts will be a master key to pacing yourself properly during races; you will be able to know when to take it up a notch, and when to back off and conserve energy during your run.
3. Running on a Treadmill
This winter, when it gets too cold or dreary to comfortably run outside, hopping on the treadmill for your run will help you master the art of pacing yourself at a given rate of speed for a set amount of time. Since the treadmill will run at a consistent rate, you will be well aware of when you're slipping behind pace versus staying on track during your run. This will ultimately help you determine if you've been selecting a pace that is slightly beyond reasonable for the amount of distance you plan to cover, or if you're able to maintain a solid pace for the duration of your run.
4. Using a Metronome
You can take the guesswork out of how many footfalls per minute you need to run by using a metronome during training sessions. Strive to maintain a pace where you are accomplishing 180 steps per minute, or roughly 3 steps per second. This is considered to be an optimal pace for injury prevention and energy conservation. There are several metronome apps you can download to use on your smartphone while running, or if you want to keep it very simple, you can purchase a pocket-sized digital metronome with a headphone port to keep track of your running pace.
As mentioned earlier, much of developing a proper running pace is somewhat subjective and instinctive, so by practicing the tips listed above, you can gain a better understanding of your own personal thresholds, and pinpoint areas where you can adjust your efforts to achieve a pace that best reflects your own individual athletic ability.