How fast should I run?

Running 101: How Fast Should You Run?

Most runners are essentially joggers. They do all of their runs at the same, steady, moderate pace. They might go a bit slower on their longest runs than they do on their shortest ones, and a bit faster on their best days than they do on their worst days, but they make no conscious effort to vary the pace of their training.

And that’s fine, as long as it works in relation to your goals and preferences. Specifically, if you enjoy jogging and if improving your race times is not especially important to you, then by all means, keep on jogging. However, if running at the same, steady, moderate pace all the time gets to be a little too monotonous for you, and/or you’re willing to put more effort into improving your performance, then you should incorporate pace variation into your training.

Even the most highly competitive runners jog most of the time. Easy running is great because the more of it you do, the fitter you get, and because it’s not terribly taxing you can do a lot of it. Faster running is more taxing, so it can only be done in small amounts. But a little goes a long way, especially when faster running is layered on top of a high volume of easy running.

Most competitive runners do two faster workouts per week. Some also add a small amount of faster running to a third workout — for example, a few wind sprints at the end of an easy run. This weekly schedule has become standard because it works better than any alternative for the majority of runners. If they do less, they don’t get as fast or race as well; if they do more, they burn out or get injured.

All fast running is not the same. There are a few speeds exceeding the natural jogging pace that competitive runners routinely hit in their training. It’s good to hit them all because each contributes to fitness development in a slightly different way than the others.

What’s often referred to as “tempo” pace is only moderately faster than your natural jogging pace. To find it, start at a jog and imagine shifting one gear up, pushing yourself just a little but remaining comfortable.

The next faster pace is known as threshold pace. This is the fastest pace at which you can remain fully in control of your breathing. At your threshold pace you’re breathing deeply, but not straining to get enough oxygen. For highly trained runners, threshold pace can be sustained for about one hour in race conditions. For beginners, it’s closer to a 30-minute maximum pace.

Faster still is VO2max pace. This is the pace at which you breathe as hard as you can. Actually, it’s the slowest pace at which you breathe as hard as you can. For most of us, it corresponds to the fastest speed we can sustain for six to 10 minutes. It’s very uncomfortable, but you can get used to it. VO2max running is almost always done in interval format. So, instead of going out and running six or seven minutes straight at this pace, at the end of which you’re completely exhausted, you might run 5 x 3:00 at VO2max pace with a 3:00 rest interval of easy jogging after each segment. The rationale here is that you can do a much greater total volume of VO2max pace running if you break it up into intervals than you can if you do one block straight to exhaustion.

Your next gear has no conventional name other than “speed”. It’s really a range of speeds faster than VO2max pace and slower than a full sprint. Runners usually incorporate speed work into their training in the form of intervals ranging between 200 and 400 meters in distance, or between 30 and 80 seconds in duration. For example, Nike coach Alberto Salazar like to have his athletes run 7 x 300 meters with jogging recoveries after each interval.

The fastest training pace is a full sprint — the fastest speed you can sustain for no more than 20 seconds. Even most competitive runners do no real sprinting, but they should, because it’s a terrific power builder and it’s fun.

The title of this article is, “How Fast Should You Run?” Perhaps you’ve noticed that I still haven’t answered this question. I’ve made the case for running at a variety of speeds, but what you need to know is exactly how fast you should run your threshold workouts, your VO2max intervals, and so forth.

There are two complementary ways to find the right pace for each workout. The first is to let the workout itself guide you. For example, an appropriate threshold workout for many runners consists of 20 minutes at threshold pace between a jogging warmup and a jogging cooldown. Those 20 minutes should feel challenging but not exhausting. Your breathing should be heavy but controlled. If you run this workout using these guidelines and monitor your pace as you go, then whatever pace you wind up running is your current threshold pace. You can then use that numerical information to help guide future threshold efforts. Note that this pace will improve over time as you get fitter.

There are also various systems that prescribe appropriate target paces for individual runners based on their current fitness level. These require that you enter a recent race time or estimated current race performance capacity. They then run a calculation and spit out target paces for various types of workouts. The best workout pace calculators are very reliable, but they should not be treated as gospel. You still need to listen to your body when running appropriately formatted workouts and either speed up from your target pace or slow down as necessary. My favorite workout pace calculator is that created by coach Greg McMillan.

Mile speed is one of the most commonly tracked statistics among all runners, from elite marathoners who train full-time to hobbyists who go around the block to break a sweat.

Tracking your average running pace is a great way to monitor your progression and increased fitness while training. Plus, when you reach a new barrier—like the first time you run faster than a 10-minute mile, for example—it allows you to search out new goals in your running journey.

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But defining an average running pace for all runners can be difficult; your mile speed varies based on several factors. Before we talk about average running pace, let’s touch on some of the many factors that can affect this statistic.

What Affects Average Running Pace?

The following factors play a big role in every runner’s mile speed:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Weather/wind
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Injuries
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Terrain

Even what you think about can affect how fast you run, and that’s under your control. Other factors, however—such as height and age—are things you obviously can’t change.

For example, when it comes to age, one data analysis performed in 2010 and based on 10,000 U.S. runners who completed a 5K showed the average minutes per mile for runners of different ages. The average overall? That was 11:47 per mile. Men in the 16-19-year-old age range finished the run with an average pace of 9:34; women in the same age group finished in 12:09. The numbers gradually increased as the age groups got older.

In most cases, the gaps between the finishing times of the different age groups weren’t drastic. And you might not necessarily get slower with age. As Runner’s World has reported, many pro runners and average runners peak in their 30s, and even runners in their 70s can keep getting better with age.

Because of the many variables associated with running pace, it can be difficult to establish an across-the-board average running speed, but it’s not impossible.

Average Running Pace for Runners Overall

Based on more real-life data from more than 300 million runs uploaded to workout app Strava in 2018, the average running pace across the globe is 9 minutes and 48 seconds (9:48). That number adjusts based on gender—9:15 for men; 10:40 for women—and in the U.S. with 9:44 overall (9:07 for men and 10:21 for women).
Don’t fret if your current average time is a little off from those marks. Keep in mind that, while sizable, the dedicated Strava community doesn’t represent the entire running community. also reports that new runners may take 15 minutes to run just one mile, equaling out to four miles an hour.

How Fast Should I Run in a Race?

If you’re looking to find out what your average running pace should be to hit a specific time goal in a race, you’re in luck. Our Runner’s World Pace Charts (in both minutes per mile and kilometer) show what time a given pace will produce for six common race distances: 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles, half marathon, and marathon. As an example in the chart below, if you want to run under 1 hour and 45 minutes for a 10-mile race, you’d need to have an average pace of 10 minutes and 29 seconds per mile to accomplish your goal.

Brian Cariaga

Use our charts as a reference point after you start training so you can know what average pace is necessary (and realistic) for your upcoming goal race.

How Can You Improve Your Mile Speed?

If you want your average running pace to be faster, there are several steps you can take to improve, like figuring out how to breathe properly and mixing up your types of runs. You should also recognize the importance of nutrition and hydration and fuel up with good food at the right time to maximize your performance. Stay hydrated, too, drinking plenty of water and consuming energy gels during long runs and races.

Adopt a holistic approach to your training, doing regular conditioning workouts to improve your strength and flexibility in addition to running—a stronger body can help you run faster and avoid injury. Finally, don’t forget to always be aware of your form; having correct technique can prevent injury, too.

Fastest-Ever Mile Speed

The fastest mile ever recorded was set by Hicham El Guerrouj, a Moroccan runner who ran a mile in 3:43.13 in 1999. Guerrouj was 24 years old at the time. For women, the fastest mile ever was run by Sifan Hassan, who clocked a 4:12.33 in 2019. If you’re looking for the fastest average running paces over the course of 26.2 miles, look no further than the world record holders in the marathon—Eliud Kipchoge (4:38.4 per mile) and Paula Radcliffe (5:09.9 per mile).
Watch: Runners attempt to maintain Eliud Kipchoge’s pace of 4:38 per mile.

And just for fun, if Usain Bolt were to ever keep his jaw-dropping sprint going for a full mile at his peak ability, the Jamaican’s top speed in 2009 during his 9.58 world record 100-meter dash would have put him just over 27 miles per hour.

What is the average time to run a mile?

People who wish to reduce their average mile time can try several techniques to improve their running economy. Running economy is the amount of energy that a person requires to run at a particular pace.

Researchers have identified various interventions that may help people run faster.


People who include endurance, interval, resistance, and plyometric training in their workout schedules may improve their average mile times.

Researchers believe that endurance training causes physiological responses that help people adapt to running more quickly.

Coaches often prescribe high intensity interval training and hill workouts as additional methods of improving average mile times.

Many elite athletes also choose to train in cities at high altitudes, such as Boulder, CO. High altitude training improves oxygen delivery to the muscles and helps them use oxygen more efficiently.


Both elite and amateur runners use caffeine to help improve their performance. Coffee contains caffeine, but this stimulant is also in sports drinks, gels, jelly beans, and other carbohydrate-rich products that are quick for the body to absorb.

A study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance evaluated the effects of drinking coffee before a 1-mile race.

The team of researchers separated 13 male athletes into three treatment groups. One group received 3 milligrams (mg) of caffeinated coffee per kilogram (kg) of body weight, while the second group received an equivalent amount of decaffeinated coffee, and the last group drank a placebo solution.

The researchers noted that the runners who drank caffeinated coffee 60 minutes before the race ran 1.3% faster than the participants in the decaffeinated coffee group and 1.9% faster than those who received the placebo.

However, these results are not consistent across studies. Another group of researchers asked some participants to drink 5.5 mg of coffee per kg of body weight and others to drink an equivalent amount of decaffeinated coffee. All participants then completed an 800-meter race, which is almost equivalent to half a mile.

The researchers found that caffeinated coffee did not improve the participants’ race performance, compared with decaffeinated coffee.

It is important to note that in both of these studies, the participants were well-trained runners, so it is unclear whether caffeine may affect the speed of untrained runners.

Learn more about the possible benefits of drinking coffee here.


Share on PinterestA person may enhance their exercise performance by eating spinach.

Dietary nitrates, which occur naturally in lettuce, spinach, arugula, cress, celery, and beetroot, may play a role in exercise performance and tolerance.

When people eat nitrates, the body converts them into nitrites. The further conversion of these substances into nitric oxide takes place in conditions of low oxygen, which can occur when exercise causes the muscles to become oxygen-deprived.

Nitric oxide has many positive effects on the body that may enhance exercise performance and tolerance.

As the authors of a review article note, several studies have shown that dietary nitrates can improve exercise tolerance and lower the quantity of oxygen that the body needs during exercise.

Other research has tested the theory that nitrates can improve exercise performance.

Researchers found that fit adults performed better on a 5-kilometer treadmill run when they ate 200 grams (g) of baked beetroot, compared with those who ate a placebo. The runners ate the beetroot, which provides more than 500 mg of nitrates, 75 minutes before the run.

Most of the research to date has used beetroot juice. However, researchers are unable to determine the exact amount that people need to consume to perform better.

Researchers agree that athletes can easily include 5–9 millimoles of nitrates in their daily diet, although there is currently a lack of evidence to suggest that this will result in better exercise performance.

Other factors

Researchers have been working with elite athletes to break the 2-hour marathon time. They have studied other factors that may improve running economy, such as:

  • consistent tailwind
  • downhill course
  • specific running shoe designs

Researchers suggest that wearing running shoes that are 100 g lighter, alternating between leading and drafting behind other runners, and racing on a course with a 42-meter elevation drop could make it possible to run a marathon in under 2 hours.

Another study tested the theory that people run faster while listening to music, which can influence both movement tempo and motivation.

In the study, the researchers asked recreational runners to run to exhaustion on a treadmill under three sets of conditions:

  • a control condition, with no auditory stimulation
  • a metronome condition, with beeps matching the runner’s cadence
  • a music condition, with the beat of motivational music matching the runner’s cadence

The researchers believed that motivational music with a tempo equivalent to a faster running cadence would have superior effects, compared with just a metronome beat.

However, the findings did not support this belief, with time to exhaustion being consistent across the metronome and music conditions. Runners ran for more time under both of these conditions than under the control condition.

The results also indicate only a slight reduction in the runners’ perceived effort when they ran to motivational music. However, by boosting mood and arousal levels, motivational music may help people feel less pain and fatigue when running, allowing them to last longer before they reach exhaustion.

The study authors note that previous findings show that the motivational nature of the music is less important than the tempo matching the runner’s cadence.

People can try listening to music during their training to help motivate them to run faster. By choosing motivational music with a beat that matches their preferred cadence, the person may run more efficiently.

“If I have to point to one mechanical limit for bipedal runners, from all the work that we’ve done, it’s the minimum period of foot ground contact,” he said. “A human who’s really fast, like Usain Bolt, is on the ground roughly 42 or 43 percent of the total stride time. But for a fast-running quadruped” — a cheetah, a horse — “it’s two-thirds of the stride time.”

During the brief period of ground contact, our legs must push us forward and push us upward to support our body weight. That’s a lot of force to exert in a short time — and it’s why humans can skate faster than they run, Dr. Weyand said: “On skates, you’re on the ground most of the time, like the quadrupeds, instead of being in the air.” Keeping your skates on the ground longer helps support your body during the glide phase, taking some of the load off the pushing leg.

I asked Dr. Weyand how he would redesign humans to run faster. I tossed out four options: longer legs, really wide hips, extra legs, or extra knees.

“Adding more knees is probably the trickiest one,” he said. Extra knees might let you extend your legs to stay in contact with the ground longer. But if your feet get too far out from under your body, it’s hard to generate enough leverage to push down against the ground. “If you were designing robots or whatever, of the options you included, I think that’s probably the least likely,” he said. “That and the wider hips.”

7 Ways You Can Run Faster in Your Next Race

Most runners run the same schedule every week, month and year. Every time they lace up their shoes, it’s the same distance, at the same pace, for the same number of runs per week. No wonder so many runners don’t improve.

Instead, there are many ways you can upgrade your running, improve your training, and get faster. These seven practical tips will help you to run faster in your next race.

Run Fast More Often

To run fast, you have to run fast. Sounds intuitive, doesn’t it? But many runners aren’t running a fast workout every week and that’s a big mistake. Consistently running fast is one of the best ways to improve.

If you don’t run a faster workout every week, start this week by doing an easy fartlek workout like six repeats of 1 minute at a hard pace and 2 minutes of easy jogging in between as recovery.

Already run a weekly fast workout? Make it two.

More: 6 Speed Workouts to Run a Faster 5K

10 Minutes, Every Day

A little bit of strength work goes a long way. Dedicate at least 10 minutes after your run for a runner-specific strength workout.

You’ll improve your running form, become more efficient—especially late in a race when you’re tired—and it will also help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

This is also critical part of injury prevention for runners.

More: 3 Injury Prevention Moves for Time-Strapped Runners

Run Long Every Week

Most runners think of speed when they want to get faster. But for beginner and intermediate runners, endurance is the real key to improving race times.

More: Should You Run More Miles?

The Red Queen Effect: Avoid Running Faster and Faster Only to Stay in the Same Place

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll, was not only an author but a keen observer of human nature. His most famous works are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, which have become timeless classics.

“Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

— David Foster Wallace

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice, a young girl, gets schooled by the Red Queen in an important life lesson that many of us fail to heed. Alice finds herself running faster and faster but saying in the same place.

Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’ but Alice felt she could not go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.

The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. ‘I wonder if all the things move along with us?’ thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, ‘Faster! Don’t try to talk!’

Eventually, the Queen stops running and props Alice up against a tree, telling her to rest.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’

‘Of course it is,’ said the Queen, ‘what would you have it?’

‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’

‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent,
but the one most responsive to change.”

— Charles Darwin

Smarter, Not Harder

The Red Queen Effect means we can’t be complacent or we’ll fall behind. To survive another day we have to run very fast and hard, we need to co-evolve with the systems we interact with.

If all animals evolved at the same rate, there would be no change in the relative interactions between species. However, not all animals evolve at the same rate. As Darwin observed, some are more “responsive to change” than others. Species that are more responsive to change can gain a relative advantage over the ones they compete with and increase the odds of survival. In the short run, these small gains don’t make much of a difference, but as generations pass the advantage can compound. A compounding advantage… that sounds nice.

Everyone from Entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 CEOs to best-selling authors and middle managers is embedded is in their own Red Queen. Rather than run harder, wouldn’t it be nice to run smarter?

Here are just three of the ways we try to avoid the Red Queen.

  1. We invest significantly in new product development and content. Our courses, evolve quickly incorporating student-tested concepts that work and reducing the importance of the ones that don’t. Another example, our learning community, adds real-world value to people who make decisions by discussing time-tested principles. This is not a popular path as it’s incredibly expensive in time and money. Standing still, however, is more expensive. We’re not in the business of Edutainment but rather providing better outcomes. If we fail to keep getting better, we won’t exist.
  2. We try to spend our limited mental resources working on things that won’t change next week. We call these mental models and the ones we want to focus on are the ones that stand the test of time.
  3. We recognize how the world works and not how we want it to work. When the world isn’t working the way we’d like it to, it’s easy to say the world is wrong and sit back to see what happens. You know what happens right? You fall behind and it’s even harder to catch up. It’s like you’re on a plane. When you’re flying into the wind you have to work very hard. When you’re flying with the wind at your back, you need to expend less energy and you get there earlier. Recognizing reality and adapting your behavior creates a tailwind.

More Examples of the Red Queen Effect

In Deep Simplicity, John Gribbon describes the red queen principle with frogs.

There are lots of ways in which the frogs, who want to eat flies, and the flies, who want to avoid being eaten, interact. Frogs might evolve longer tongues, for fly-catching purposes; flies might evolve faster flight, to escape. Flies might evolve an unpleasant taste, or even excrete poisons that damage the frogs, and so on. We’ll pick one possibility. If a frog has a particularly sticky tongue, it will find it easier to catch flies. But if flies have particularly slippery bodies, they will find it easier to escape, even if the tongue touches them. Imagine a stable situation in which a certain number of frogs live on a pond and eat a certain proportion of the flies around them each year.

Because of a mutation a frog developes an extra sticky tongue. It will do well, compared with other frogs, and genes for extra sticky tongues will spread through the frog population. At first, a larger proportion of flies gets eaten. But the ones who don’t get eaten will be the more slippery ones, so genes for extra slipperiness will spread through the fly population. After a while, there will be the same number of frogs on the pond as before, and the same proportion of flies will be eaten each year. It looks as if nothing has changed – but the frogs have got stickier tongues, and the flies have got more slippery bodies.

Drugs and disease also represent an “arms-race.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee, in his Pulitzer-prize winning book The Emperor of All Maladies describes this in the context of drugs and cancer.

In August 2000, Jerry Mayfield, a forty-one-year-old Louisiana policeman diagnosed with CML, began treatment with Gleevec. Mayfield’s cancer responded briskly at first. The fraction of leukemic cells in his bone marrow dropped over six months. His blood count normalized and his symptoms improved; he felt rejuvenated—“like a new man a wonderful drug.” But the response was short-lived. In the winter of 2003, Mayfield’s CML stopped responding. Moshe Talpaz, the oncologist treating Mayfield in Houston, increased the dose of Gleevec, then increased it again, hoping to outpace the leukemia. But by October of that year, there was no response. Leukemia cells had fully recolonized his bone marrow and blood and invaded his spleen. Mayfield’s cancer had become resistant to targeted therapy…

… Even targeted therapy, then, was a cat-and-mouse game. One could direct endless arrows at the Achilles’ heel of cancer, but the disease might simply shift its foot, switching one vulnerability for another. We were locked in a perpetual battle with a volatile combatant. When CML cells kicked Gleevec away, only a different molecular variant would drive them down, and when they outgrew that drug, then we would need the next-generation drug. If the vigilance was dropped, even for a moment, then the weight of the battle would shift. In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the Red Queen tells Alice that the world keeps shifting so quickly under her feet that she has to keep running just to keep her position. This is our predicament with cancer: we are forced to keep running merely to keep still.

This doesn’t only happen in nature, there are many business examples as well.

In describing the capital investment needed to maintain a relative placement in the textile industry, Warren Buffett writes:

Over the years, we had the option of making large capital expenditures in the textile operation that would have allowed us to somewhat reduce variable costs. Each proposal to do so looked like an immediate winner. Measured by standard return-on-investment tests, in fact, these proposals usually promised greater economic benefits than would have resulted from comparable expenditures in our highly-profitable candy and newspaper businesses.

But the promised benefits from these textile investments were illusory. Many of our competitors, both domestic and foreign, were stepping up to the same kind of expenditures and, once enough companies did so, their reduced costs became the baseline for reduced prices industrywide. Viewed individually, each company’s capital investment decision appeared cost-effective and rational; viewed collectively, the decisions neutralized each other and were irrational (just as happens when each person watching a parade decides he can see a little better if he stands on tiptoes). After each round of investment, all the players had more money in the game and returns remained anemic.

In other words, more and more money is needed just to maintain your relative position in the industry and stay in the game. This situation plays out over and over again and brings with it many ripple effects. For example, the company distracted by maintaining a relative position in a poor industry places resources in a position almost assured to get a poor return on capital.

Inflation also causes a Red Queen Effect, here’s Buffett Again:

Unfortunately, earnings reported in corporate financial statements are no longer the dominant variable that determines whether there are any real earnings for you, the owner. For only gains in purchasing power represent real earnings on investment. If you (a) forego ten hamburgers to purchase an investment; (b) receive dividends which, after tax, buy two hamburgers; and (c) receive, upon sale of your holdings, after-tax proceeds that will buy eight hamburgers, then (d) you have had no real income from your investment, no matter how much it appreciated in dollars. You may feel richer, but you won’t eat richer.

High rates of inflation create a tax on capital that makes much corporate investment unwise—at least if measured by the criterion of a positive real investment return to owners. This “hurdle rate” the return on equity that must be achieved by a corporation in order to produce any real return for its individual owners—has increased dramatically in recent years. The average tax-paying investor is now running up a down escalator whose pace has accelerated to the point where his upward progress is nil.

The Red Queen is part of the Farnam Street latticework of mental models.

– The excellent Sanjay Bakshi
– Wikipedia
– Through the Looking Glass

Tagged: Game Theory, Mental Model, Red Queen Effect

If you tend to go out and run as fast as you can, that’s a recipe for injury. If you never get out of first gear, your fitness will quickly plateau. To understand why it’s important to vary your pace and how to know how fast or slow to go, we turn to two run coaches, Tia Accetta, an RRCA-certified coach in Tucson, Ariz., and Eric Orton, the coach in the best-selling book, “Born to Run,” who hosts running camps in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

“As with any skill, if you stay in your comfort zone, you won’t get better,” Accetta says. “If you’re training for a race you definitely want to vary the pace.”

Orton agrees, “Training methodology and fitness gains come from challenging the body, followed by some recovery. The challenge, whether it is more intensity, running more often and/or running long, causes the body to adapt to the stress/challenge, and the recovery allows for the body to rebuild and get strong, faster, fitter.”

Why should I vary my pace?

Accetta refers to slow-twitch, intermediate fast-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. You need to address each in training, because “in a race, from 5K to marathon, you will recruit all three muscle types to varying degrees,” she says. “If you’re training for a marathon, you’ll want to spend more time running long, running at tempo pace and doing long intervals. If you’re training for a 5K, you’ll spend more time running at tempo pace and faster. However, if you want to be best prepared and most comfortable, you’ll want to carefully fit it ALL in.”

Accetta suggests most of your training be at a comfortable, conversational pace with higher intensity workouts every two or three runs. Those harder workouts could be a long run (90 minutes or more), hill repeats, tempo run, long intervals (2–6 minutes) or short intervals (20–90 seconds).

Orton explains that there are three key energy systems that you want to train: aerobic (long easy to moderate effort/distance), lactate (8-20 min moderately hard steady efforts) and anaerobic/VO2 (2-4 min hard/fast efforts). “The percentage of these might vary based on race distance and time of year, but you should for the most part always try to incorporate these into your running routine,” he says. “So, a very simple approach would be to include one run of each of these energy systems into your week.”

READ MORE: What You Need to Know to Run a Half Marathon

Orton explains, based on the three energy systems, that your aerobic effort should be approximately 70–75 percent or a pace that feels easy for the length of your long run. Your lactate run should be 85–90 percent effort or approximately 60–80 seconds faster per mile than your easy effort. Your anaerobic/VO2 effort should feel like 95 percent or or 1:45–2:00 minutes faster than your easy pace. For example, if your easy pace is 9:00 min/mile, your lactate speed is 8:00–7:40 min/mile and anaerobic/VO2 effort is 7:00-7:15 min/mile pace.

“The key is, as you begin to include faster efforts into your training, they need to be done as intervals, so they are as fast as they need to be,” he says. “In other words, you can’t run fast enough for your anaerobic efforts if you are running longer than 4 minutes—it becomes another energy system and accomplishes something different.”

READ MORE: 5 Habits of Successful Runners

Accetta divides runs into five categories, explaining, “The difference between a ‘fast day’ and a ‘slow day’ depends on the goal of the run (which muscle fibers need flexing). I like to use a simple effort scale.”

Level 1 = Recovery run effort

You can maintain a conversation with ease because the running is almost effortless. A recovery run is a necessary follow up to a higher intensity run.

Level 2 = Marathon effort

This is “chit-chat” running. You can still talk, but the running takes a little more focus and energy. The majority of your weekly mileage will be at this effort level. Pace-wise, this is about 45–60 seconds faster than your recovery run pace.

Level 3 = Tempo effort

Running and talking get difficult to do at the same time. This is the effort that is just slightly out of your comfort zone but that you can maintain for up to an hour. Both slow-twitch and intermediate fast-twitch muscles get worked at this effort level. Tempo effort is about 20–30 seconds slower than 5K pace.

Level 4 = Long interval effort

This is a moderately-hard effort that you can maintain for up to 6 minutes without slowing down. Long interval workouts of 2–6 minutes are good for practicing race efforts from 5K–15K. Intervals flex the slow-twitch and intermediate fast-twitch muscles and add strength and power to your running. Long interval effort is around 5–10 seconds faster than 5K pace.

Level 5 = Short interval effort

This is a hard effort reserved for shorter repeats between 20–90 seconds. You recruit intermediate and fast-twitch muscles. Short repeats are commonly sprinkled into training for the neuromuscular benefits; training your brain and muscles to fire and react more quickly. Short interval effort is about 30 seconds faster than 5K pace.

“Training becomes a more intuitive process when asked to explore the spectrum of your efforts, rather than hit specific paces,”Accetta says. “Gradually, as the goal race draws near, pace goals become more important.”

READ MORE: 8 Common Marathon Mistakes to Avoid

Both coaches agree on the need for varied speed, but what about when you aren’t registered for a race? “If you aren’t training for something, go fall in love with running,” Accetta says. “The more time spent running the better, so run whatever pace feels best, whatever makes you happiest.”

But you may have a goal, and this approach won’t help you get there. Orton explains, “I always tell runners, what you do needs to mirror your goals. So if you have no goals other than to get out for a run and just do what feels good that day, this is awesome. But if you want to improve performance or fitness or lose weight, you need to consistently challenge the body, followed by recovery. And the more you can train a variety of energy systems, and increase the training load, the better.”

READ MORE: 4 Keys to Not Going Out Too Fast in a Race

Nicki Miller Nicki Miller is the former editor-in-chief of Competitor Running and managing editor of Women’s Running and is an RRCA certified coach. She loves encouraging runners, helping them avoid injury, covering sports nutrition and developing healthy recipes. Follow her at @nickiontherun

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The long run is a staple in almost every runner’s weekly training schedule. Whether you’re training for the 5K or the marathon, at least one day a week is reserved for going long.

Despite the near universal application of the long run, however, many runners don’t know how fast they should be running for optimal benefit. If you run too slow, you won’t produce significant stimulus and adaptation. Run too fast and you run the risk of not being recovered for your next run. Making things more difficult, long runs can serve multiple training purposes, each with its own set of intensity and pace recommendations.

How do you determine the optimal pace for your long runs? Let’s look at the science.

What is the purpose of your long run?

The first step to determining the pace of your long run is assessing the purpose and intensity of the run itself. Not all long runs are created equal. Some long runs are designed to simulate marathon conditions or teach you how to finish fast. These types of long runs are considered a hard workout and you should have extra recovery days scheduled after your session to recover accordingly.

On the other hand, some long runs are done at an easier pace and lesser intensity to build aerobic endurance and put “time on your feet.” These types of long runs aren’t exactly recovery runs, but they aren’t designed to be hard, either. If your long run is designed to be a relatively easy day and you run too hard, you’ll start your next workout too fatigued and risk poor performance and injury.

Race-specific long runs in half marathon and marathon training have predefined paces aimed at helping you get more comfortable at running race pace. But what about those “easy” long runs on your schedule? How fast should they be? And why?

photo: 101 Degrees West

Why You Run Long

The optimal pace of a long easy run is determined by the physiological benefits it is intended to induce. Long runs create a number of training adaptations in the body.

Capillary Development

Capillaries, the smallest of the body’s blood vessels, deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues. The greater the number of capillaries you have surrounding each muscle fiber, the faster you can shuttle oxygen and carbohydrate into your muscles.

Various studies have shown that capillary development appears to peak at between 60 and 75 percent of 5K pace. This isn’t to say that running really slowly (or much faster) on occasion doesn’t have any benefit. However, running much faster or slower than this pace doesn’t significantly increase or decrease capillary development.

Increased Myoglobin Content

Myoglobin is a special protein in your muscles that binds the oxygen that enters the muscle fiber. When oxygen becomes limited during exercise, myoglobin releases the oxygen to the mitochondria. Simply speaking, the more myoglobin you have in your muscle fibers, the more oxygen you can sequester to the muscle under aerobic duress, like in a race.

While all muscle fibers contain myoglobin, the ones we’re most concerned with targeting during the long run are the Type-I (slow twitch) muscle fibers. Research has shown that maximum stimulation of Type I muscle fiber occurs at about 63-77 percent of VO2 max. This is about 55-75 percent of 5K race pace.

photo: 101 Degrees West

Increasing Glycogen Storage

The body stores carbohydrates in the muscles for usable energy in the form of glycogen. While this isn’t important for races that last under 90 minutes, when racing the marathon, the more glycogen you can store in your muscles, the longer you can prevent the dreaded bonk.

The goal with easy long runs is to deplete the muscles of their stored glycogen. The body responds to this stimulus by learning to store more glycogen to prevent future depletion.

The faster you run, the greater the percentage of your energy will come from carbohydrates. While there isn’t any scientific research on the optimal pace that burns significant carbohydrate while still providing enough energy to get through a long run, my experience and studying the training of elite runners has shown that a pace of about 65-75 percent of 5K pace is optimal.

Mitochondria Development

Mitochondria are the microscopic organelle found in your muscle cells that contribute to the production of ATP (energy). In the presence of oxygen, mitochondria break down carbohydrate, fat, and protein into usable energy. Therefore, the more mitochondria you have, and the greater their density, the more energy you can generate during exercise, which will enable you to run faster and longer.

Two researchers, Holloszy (1967) and Dudley (1982) published some of the defining research on optimal distance and pace for mitochondrial development. In short, Holloszy found that maximum mitochondrial development occurred at about 2 hours of running at 50-75 percent of V02max. Likewise, Dudley found that the best strategy for slow-twitch, mitochondria enhancement was running for 90 minutes at 70 to 75 percent V02 max. So what does this mean in real-world terminology?

photo: 101 Degrees West

Summing It Up

Physiological system

Perecent of V02 max

Percent of 5K pace

Pace for 20 min 5K runner

Pace for 30 min 5K runner

Capillary development 60-77 % 50-75% 9:40 – 8:00 pace 14:30 – 12:00 pace
Myoglobin content 63.1-77 % 55-75 % 9:20 – 8:00 pace 14:00 – 12:00 pace
Glycogen storage No Research 65-75 % 8:40 – 8:00 pace 13:00 – 12:00 pace
Mitochondria development 70-75 % 65-75% 8:40 – 8:00 pace 13:00 – 12:00 pace

The body of evidence is clear: your optimal “easy” long run pace is between 55 and 75 percent of your 5K pace, with the average pace being about 65 percent.

The research shows that running faster than 75% of your 5K pace on your long run doesn’t provide a lot of additional physiological benefit. Pushing the pace beyond 75% of 5K pace only serves to make you more tired and hamper recovery.

In fact, the research indicates that it would be just as advantageous to run slower as it would be to run faster—to an extent. Regardless of your ability level, 50-55 percent of 5K race pace is pretty easy, but the research clearly demonstrates that it still provides near optimal physiological benefits.

If you’re feeling tired and the long run isn’t scheduled to be a “hard” day, don’t be afraid to slow it down. Start on the slower side of the pace recommendations (50% of 5K pace) and slowly pick it up throughout the run if you feel good. The long run is one of the stapes of your training week—make it count!

Coach Jeff Gaudette has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college. Jeff has competed all over the world, in numerous marathons, and recorded Olympic Trials qualifying times in the marathon and 10,000 meters. He is the Founder, CEO and Head Coach at RunnersConnect.

Endurance Training: Running Long and Easy or Fast and Short?

If you are trying to improve your running endurance, you have surely wondered how you should train. Is it better to do a long slow run or a short fast one? Running expert Sascha Wingenfeld explains the advantages and disadvantages of both and which is more suited to beginners or advanced runners.

Good to know:

A high endurance level means that your body is able to maintain its performance for a long period.

Playing it safe: the long slow run

In long, slow runs the focus is on preparing your metabolism for continuous exertion and building up muscle. This option is particularly appropriate for beginner runners: your performance will improve and endurance is enhanced.


  • The intensity is not very high – there is little risk of overexertion.
  • The body rapidly learns to maintain performance for a long period.
  • Beginner runners are quickly able to run longer distances.

If you want to improve your running performance long-term with the “continuous endurance” method, you will need to increase both the duration and the distance of your runs.
Keep the intensity of your workouts very low. This is the only way your body can get the oxygen necessary to supply your muscles with the right amount of fats and carbohydrates. If the intensity is too high, it will prevent you from effectively developing your endurance. This could lead to overexertion.

Fast track to success: the short fast run

High intensity runs are being increasingly recommended as a fast way to enhance performance. In “HIIT training” (High-Intensity Interval Training) the recovery phase is an important part of the training. This kind of high intensity interval training actively challenges the body when it is experiencing an oxygen deficit. It promotes fat burning and keeps the metabolism in high gear, even after the run is over.

  • You can see positive training results without investing too much time in working out.

If you decide on this method, it is important to push your limits. Since your body is working so hard, you have to pay attention to the signals it is sending you – this is the only way to prevent strains/injuries. You should also be in good shape so that your body can handle and compensate for the high intensity. This is why this method is only recommended for experienced runners.

Summary: both training methods will give you results

“I recommend long, slow runs for beginners. The important thing is that these are done at a really relaxed pace,” says running expert Sascha Wingenfeld. “Experienced runners should definitely try short fast runs.” With both methods the key is to pay attention to the intensity of the workouts.
If you want to boost your endurance, you should choose one of the two methods before your run and stick with it: mixing methods during your run will only confuse your body. Make sure you allow enough time for recovery after your training – this is the best way to achieve success.


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