If you’re just getting into running, there’s plenty to think about. How far should you run? What’s a good speed? What type of shoes should you wear? Fortunately, you can accomplish a lot by simply getting outside and moving. But, aside from having a rock in your shoe, nothing derails a jog quicker than running at a problematic pace.
Run too fast, and you won’t cover much ground before tiring out. Run too far, and your speed might fall below the level required to meet your fitness goals.
Of course, every runner is different, so there isn’t one blanket pace that works for everyone. Instead, you have to listen to your body and do what feels right. Below, two running coaches provide advice and insights to help beginners dial-in their ideal pace.
RUNNING PACE FOR BEGINNERS
“Beginner runners often make the mistake of pushing too hard, too often,” says coach Johnny Crain of Team Wicked Bonkproof. “My advice for any level of runner is that your easy runs should be slow and relaxed. Too slow doesn’t exist.”
To find a good speed, Crain suggests running at a pace in which you could carry on a conversation with someone. This applies regardless of distance. You can push yourself on some days, but the most important thing is to put in the time. “There are so many benefits to be gained just by getting out there,” says Crain.
SPEED VERSUS DISTANCE
“In general, all runners benefit from the majority of their running being longer, slower distances,” says Nicole Gainacopulos, coach and founder of Momentum of Milwaukee. “This helps keep runners healthy, improves and increases their endurance, and provides all of the cardiovascular and health benefits of running.” That said, she notes that adding one day per week of shorter and faster runs can help boost performance, reduce injury risk and improve your overall enjoyment of running. She suggests starting with one day, and then after successfully performing that workout for several weeks or months, you can add another speed day if that’s something you want to do.
“Too much of anything can leave you stale or burned out,” adds Crain. “Mix it up.”
READ MORE > SHOULD RUNNERS TRAIN BY TIME OR DISTANCE?
MEETING YOUR GOALS
People run for different reasons. Some want to lose weight, others want to improve their cardio or train for a long-distance race. Others just want to relieve stress and do something healthy outdoors. In each case, all running is good running. But if your goal is to lose weight, the best way to get there is variability in your training, says Crain. “If your body gets the same stimulant every day, you won’t continue seeing gains. Variability skyrockets your metabolism and helps you lose weight.” He suggests mixing up your workouts with tempo runs, hills and long runs so your body continually adapts and makes positive changes. “Having a coach comes in handy because they can help build structure into your training.”
If your goal is to improve your overall fitness and endurance, he suggests putting in the base work first by logging miles to get your cardio up. Run at that slower, conversational pace. As you continue, you’ll be able to keep that pace for longer distances. “Generally speaking, long and slow helps long-term growth,” he says.
INCREASING YOUR PACE
Before you can improve your pace, it’s important to establish a benchmark pace, says Gainacopulos. You should always aim to complete a workout in its entirety at your benchmark pace before trying to improve your speed. She gives the following example: If your workout is a 4 x 400m at an eight-minute pace, only try to increase your speed after you have successfully hit all 4 x 400m at that eight-minute pace. If you can run 3 x 400m at a faster clip but you can’t get in that fourth repetition, then you’re not ready to increase your pace.
“Everyone’s body is amazing at responding to what we give it,” says Crain. “Give it a little time, and that conversational pace might be 15–20 seconds faster per mile.” He suggests going more by feeling than by an arbitrary timeline, and know that you may experience ups and downs due to weather, altitude or terrain. Plenty of things in nature can slow us down, but “feeling is universal,” he says.
STICKING WITH IT
Regardless of your age or fitness level, Gainacopulos says to live in the present moment and always listen to your body. “Most importantly, make sure that you are feeling good during and after each workout before increasing pace. If you are extremely sore and tired after the workout, continue to stay where you are until the workout is more manageable.”
“It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re getting started,” adds Crain, or to fall off the wagon when you miss a day or get injured. “The most important thing is being consistent,” he says. “Don’t feel defeated if you miss a couple of days of running. Just hop back on the schedule, stay engaged and your body won’t know the difference.”
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.