Perfect Pacing

in All Posts

… Also known as – how not to crash and burn!


Many runners – newbies or vets – struggle with pacing.  It’s far too easy to come out fast and blow all your energy at the beginning of a run (or race).  Trust me – I’ve done it numerous times (pacing can be a hard lesson to learn).  This is actually a topic we discuss at Girls on the Run because many of the girls struggle with even pacing.  We explain pacing to the girls in very simplistic terms (basically, slow and steady wins the race; the rabbit ultimately gets left behind).  But, of course, most adults know that pacing in the real world is a little more complex.


Here are my suggestions for finding that perfect pace:


Walking doesn’t mean you aren’t keeping pace:  Know that taking walking breaks doesn’t necessary mean you can’t maintain an even pace.  There are two ways to think about pacing.  The first way is to strive for a consistent miles per hour (MPH) over every single minute.  This means you’d run 1 mile in 10 minutes at exactly 6.0 MPH for the entire mile.  Alternatively, you can think about pacing over the whole mile.  Maybe you run for 2 minutes at 6.5 MPH, take a 30-second walking break, pick up your speed again, and you can still end up running 1 mile in 10 minutes.  The Rolling Intervals Treadmill Workout is a perfect example of this.  Sometimes, I ran 7.5 MPH and other times, I sped along at 6.0 MPH, but it still worked out to a little faster than a 10-minute/mile.


Many people find it easier to use regular walking intervals than jog the entire time and actually end up faster overall.  So don’t get caught into the trap of ‘pacing means running the same MPH the entire time.’  You can think it over a mile or even over an entire time.


This race was a great example of extremely poor pacing.


Don’t compare yourself to others: That being said, it’s very easy to get caught up in ‘my friends run this fast’ or ‘that blogger runs that fast.’  Don’t set your desired pace based on what other people can do.  YOUR pace is something that you can comfortably maintain for the entire distance.   Your perfect pace might vary day-to-day.


Consider getting a GPS-enabled watch:  If you want to get scientific about it, one way to know your exact pace is to invest in a GPS watch, such as the Garmin 305.  The Garmin uses satellites to calculate your pace per mile.  By turning the AutoLap feature on, you can even see a mile-by-mile breakdown at the end of your run that will tell you how far you went, the speed for each mile, and your top speed each mile.  You can also roughly guesstimate your pace by driving your run route, noting each mile marker, and keeping track of what time it is when you hit the mile marker.


Consider basing pace on how you feel: Instead of pacing based on time, you can pace based on perceived effort.  I try to run longer races at 75% perceived output.  In my mind, 0% is laying on the couch, 50% is walking, 90% is how I run the last 0.5 mile, and 100% is sprinting to the finish line.  My 75% output might be a 9:30-minute/mile at the beginning but may drop to 10:30 at the end.  Personally, I like this method because it keeps me from focusing too much on time, which can make me crazy.


This race is an example of really effective pacing based on my perceived effort.


Learn what different paces feel like on the treadmill:  Although I hate being stuck on the treadmill, I do have to say it’s great for pacing.  When running on the treadmill at a comfortable, maintainable pace, notice how your legs feel, the rhythm that you strike the ground, how often you need to breathe, etc.  Then, try to recreate that entire scenario on the road.


Listen to the right kind of music:  Be careful!  Music highly influences how fast you run.  Music with too many beats per minute will encourage you to speed up; music with 80 – 90 BPM are better for warm-ups.  Runner’s World has a great article on selecting music based on BPM. 


Set realistic goals:  The biggest pace-blower?  Setting unrealistic goals.  If you can’t run 3 miles in 30 minutes, don’t think you’ll be able to run a 5K in 28.  For more info on goal-setting, check out How to Set Race Goals (and Not Drive Yourself Crazy) Part I and Part II.


Do speedwork:  Regularly doing speedwork will help you become faster and eventually increase your overall pace (as will more training time).  Rolling Intervals Treadmill Workout is a good example of speedwork.


How do you pace yourself?  A watch?  How you feel?  Any epic crash-and-burn stories to share?



  • Molly @ RDexposed October 5, 2011, 7:39 am

    I use my iNike to help pace. I secretly get a thrill at people blowing by me at the start of the race and then passing them towards the end because they are spent. Does this make me a bad person…runner..?

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 7:42 am

      Nope 🙂 I do the same thing!

      • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 7:42 am

        It’s only dick if you’re running ‘with’ a friend the entire time and then blown past her with 200 yards to go. LOL

  • Khushboo October 5, 2011, 7:43 am

    GREAT post! Especially where long runs are concerned, pacing is so important! It’s all too easy to speed up earlier on and then realise that you’re losing steam too early. Pacing is definitely one reason why I love the treadmill! I rather pace myself by changing up the speeds with mini intervals! It kills the boredom too! If I was running outdoors, I imagine my pacing would be more of a matter of maintaining a steady speed!

  • Sara @ RunnerWife October 5, 2011, 7:48 am

    Great post! I think the best is don’t compare yourself to others. I have often struggled with that – my husband is a super fast runner and his “slow’ runs are quicker than my speed work – but thats OK. We are both running Chicago this weekend and I always keep telling myself it doesn’t matter how fast just that you complete it – and he will do awesome as well – I Just can’t compare myself to his leve of fitness and speed.

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 7:49 am

      GL at Chicago!

    • Alett October 5, 2011, 9:30 am

      Good luck this weekend at the Chicago marathon! Hydrate!

  • Lee October 5, 2011, 8:03 am

    I’m horrible at pacing during a shorter race. I always, always, always go out too fast. I’m better at a longer race though. I think that not comparing yourself to other people and just running at a speed that works for you is key.

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat October 5, 2011, 8:03 am

    Great post Caitlin!! I like to pace myself using treadmill speeds, since the majority of my runs are done indoors. I like your idea of pacing based on how you feel though – more of an RPE sort of thing. In the spin classes I teach, there are no meters on the bike so it’s very much about coaching based on feel as opposed to RPMs. I bet the girls at GOTR really enjoyed this!

  • katie @ KatieDid October 5, 2011, 8:08 am

    I sued to be religious to my Garmin, constantly checking it and feeling good or bad about myself depending on what it told me. When I finally got rid of it and started running more for pleasure I was able to really tune into my body, and enjoy running more. Different things work for different people, but not using a Garmin helped me listen to how my body was feeling, not what my garmin was telling me!

  • Mia October 5, 2011, 8:11 am

    I think your pacing advice is good, but I would also add that if someone wants to get faster that you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can’t become a faster runner without pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on long runs and on short runs. Tempo runs are great for that.
    Also, remember that running is a mental sport. During my last half marathon I had no problem maintaining a 7:45 pace, and then at mile 11 I just wanted to stop and walk the rest of the course! that’s when mental coaching comes in handy – you have to believe in yourself that you can run a lot faster than you ever thought you could. My goal at the end of every race is to feel completely SHOT at the end…otherwise, I know I didn’t push my self hard enough, and that is dissapointing. This is somewhat related to setting goals, because if you can run 3 miles in 30 minutes on your regular training runs, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to run 3 miles in 28 minutes during a race…races should be harder than your routine training runs.

    • Kristie October 5, 2011, 9:38 am

      She said if you CAN’T run 3 miles in 30 minutes… but I definitely agree with you on the mental part!

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 9:43 am

      I know what you mean, Mia (although I did say “can’t” as Kristie said above). It is disappointing when you finish the race feeling like you could’ve put more effort into the run, like you saved yourself too much. You’re right – so much of pacing is that mental hold out. I feel like it takes a long time to cultivate that capability, though. Any advice on developing it???

      PS – a 7:45 pace for 11 miles is incredible 🙂 Good job!

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) October 5, 2011, 8:12 am

    I don’t train for races, but I feel like life and a training in pacing yourself these days! I need to take it easy and realize that things don’t always have to happen quickly and that all good things come in time…

  • Brooke @ Tales of a Bride-To-Be October 5, 2011, 8:18 am

    I pace myself based on how comfortable my legs are. If I’m going too slow for myself, my legs start to hurt or my stride gets too short. I try to find that balance of not feeling my legs and then not focusing on my breathing, just try to get comfortable and only think of something else. Thats when I find it to be my best times and quickest pace.

  • Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday October 5, 2011, 8:37 am

    I like pacing myself based on my perceived exertion.

    But I really don’t have other options– I don’t have a Garmin and there are very few run routes where I actually know what the landmarks are for the mile markers.

    I find that running based on how I feel allows me to worry less about time and speed and keeps me a bit more in tune with my body and how it feels. I push myself a little harder when I know I can do it or I scale back my speed if I’m getting burned out. It works really well.

  • Dana October 5, 2011, 8:46 am

    I ran cross country in high school and I think our speed workouts and time trials help me to get to know my own pace/body. Our coach always had a stop watch and would yell + or – how many seconds we were off from our pace. I could typically say “I’m running 9:15’s today” and keep that pace pretty accurate. I wear a watch now, but I don’t use it for pace.

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 9:46 am

      That’s amazing! I can guess my pace without 30 seconds but to be spot on…. You were clearly well coached 🙂

  • Victoria (District Chocoholic) October 5, 2011, 8:48 am

    I pace myself with a heart rate monitor for longer runs/races – this helps me stay in the aerobic zone for the first part of the race while everybody flies past me, and leaves me with enough energy to push past lactate threshold for the last 30-45 minutes.

  • Dana October 5, 2011, 8:49 am

    I love the idea of basing pacing on how you feel… I never thought of it like that! I will definitely be testing this out on my next run.

    Also, i dont have a garmin but a friend told me about a free app called endomondo which seems to be similar to a garmin. It tracks distance, splits, overall speed and also saves your route. It has been soooo helpful in my outdoor runs…. i would recommend it to anyone with an iphone who doesnt have a garmin!

  • Kamaile October 5, 2011, 8:51 am

    I use a garmin to pace myself. Best advice someone gave me before my first marathon was start out slow then back off, you can always pick up the pace if you’re feeling good but once you crash and burn it’s too late!! 🙂

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife October 5, 2011, 8:53 am

    I just usually go with how I feel….but I train mostly on a treadmill and with a watch, so I guess I’ve learned where I ‘should’ be at. Plus, I always check the times at each mile marker so I know where I am in relation to my *goal* time!

  • Brandy October 5, 2011, 9:02 am

    Great post! If Only it was so easy. This seems to be one thing you can work on forever!! 🙂

  • Tina October 5, 2011, 9:02 am

    This post doesn’t make any sense; if you run 6.5mph for 2 min and walk at 3mph (average female walking speed) for 30 seconds then you only average 5.8mph. If you’re running a marathon, that puts you almost 9 minutes off your goal time.

    That’s not pacing, that’s accepting less to finish, which is fine if you’re a newbie, but not if you’re boasting 43 races of experience and giving advice.

    • Caitlin October 5, 2011, 9:14 am

      Thanks for pointing this out, Tina! That sentence WAS confusing and I don’t want to steer anyone the wrong way. I think I implied that you could repeat that cycle over and over again, which isn’t what I meant. I meant you can still walk occasionally and hit certain paces. I am super exhausted and haven’t had my coffee yet. 🙂

  • Amy October 5, 2011, 9:03 am

    You mean the hare ultimately gets left behind….the tortoise wins the slow and steady race!

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 9:05 am

      I am still asleep. LOL. I had nightmares all night and could barely keep my eyes open for this post!

  • Jill @ justfocuswell October 5, 2011, 9:05 am

    Great tips! I wish I could beome more of a runner, but I don’t know if I have it in me. I run 2 miles and I feel as though I am doing something amazing. I am envious of those that can run long distances on a regular basis.

    • Alett October 5, 2011, 9:33 am

      Keep it up Jill!
      Two miles IS amazing : )

      • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 9:44 am

        Agreeeee 🙂

      • Jill @ justfocuswell October 5, 2011, 11:35 am

        Thanks guys! When does running start getting more enjoyable? I am always in the weight room and wish I could incorporate more running…

  • Hillary October 5, 2011, 9:09 am

    I always underestimate how fast I can run when I get on a treadmill, but listening to music is my favorite way to pace myself (and realize that I can really up the ante and still feel ok!)

  • eliza October 5, 2011, 9:14 am

    hey! I have a question. I ran a half marathon on Sunday. Today, I ran 4 miles and after my run I noticed the back of right knee felt completely numb. Any ideas why it was like this?! I still feel some tingling even now, 3 hours later. Should this be concerning?

    • Caitlin October 5, 2011, 9:15 am

      Although I am not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, I would bet it means you are just swollen from the half marathon and that’s causing numbness. I would definitely not run for a week or so and would also ice and see how it feels in a few weeks. If it doesn’t improve, go see a sports medicine doctor!

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen October 5, 2011, 9:31 am

    The walking part is so true. I ended up using that in my first half last year when I got to mile 9, I’d walk through the fuel stations (every mile)and for a few yards past them and just that little break of walking allowed me to pick up my pace for the rest of the mile and still maintain the same pace as when I had been running the whole time. It’s as much a mental benefit as a physical one too!

  • Faith @ For the Health of It October 5, 2011, 9:34 am

    This post was perfectly timed, Caitlin! I’ve been wondering recently how I can hit 6 miles no problem at my casual pace but struggle to do 2 at my “race” pace. I’m still trying to figure out my pacing, so I’ll definitely be incorporating these tips. The music one especially is a great one! Faster songs can get me super pumped, but if I’m listening to them on a slower paced run it can really jack up my effort!

  • Beth @ 990 Square October 5, 2011, 9:38 am

    I struggle with comparing my pacing to others. I was really excited about a HM PR of 2.07, but I know for many, that’s SUPER slow. Just have to keep telling myself that I’m doing well FOR ME!

  • Theresa @ActiveEggplant October 5, 2011, 9:52 am

    This is such good advice Caitlin!
    I’ve struggled for years with trying to “break” my habit of using run/walk intervals and just kept getting frustrated because I never felt good while I was out there running without walk breaks. A couple months ago – thanks to an injury – I decided to bring the walk breaks back and I’m running faster overall! It does sound counter-intuitive, but the regular walk breaks definitely can lead to faster finishes!

  • Corrie Anne October 5, 2011, 10:02 am

    Cute signs. I’m a total Garmin addict. I hate running without it because I don’t do well running by feel. I tend to really overdo it if I have no clue what my pace is. I think I need to do more yoga. Lol.

  • Peter October 5, 2011, 10:09 am

    The new Apple Nano has some pacing and distance features…

  • Shelly October 5, 2011, 10:19 am

    After hearing so much about Garmins, I went out and bought one. I absolutely love it for telling me how fast I’m going. I’ve even noticed that I have been able to speed up. Love it!

  • Rachel October 5, 2011, 10:21 am

    I’m just beginning to run, so this is all very valuable information to have (especially as I get more into it). Thanks!

  • Healthy Party Girl October 5, 2011, 10:29 am

    I just started running outside again after a long break of treadmill only and my first run I just ran as much as I good, with hills & wind and didn’t think about pacing. Even though my average was 6:07min/km, my fastest was 4:31min/km & slowest was 12:49min/km. I barely kept a steady pace for 2 minutes! But I was just happy to be out there 🙂

  • Heather @ Better With Veggies October 5, 2011, 10:31 am

    I use the GPS to make sure i’m not running too fast, typically. I tend to like to start fast if I don’t have that feedback and then crash. 🙂

  • Kara October 5, 2011, 10:35 am

    I agree with this pacing advice, except it’s missing an emphasis on the need to push your pace past your comfort zone if you want to get faster. Also, walk breaks are ok for beginners and people running more than 26.2 miles, but for experienced runners, it’s just not needed. If you’re running so fast that you need a walk break, then you could try running a slower speed or at least stick to a set ratio of walking/running so you don’t lose too much time walking. More than a minute of walking isn’t necessary!

  • Tania @ The Health Macadamia October 5, 2011, 10:46 am

    Thanks for the post – perfect timing for me as I’m struggling with this a lot recently. I wish my Garmin helped more but my footpod keeps dropping out and then comes back. Now way I’m going 20 miles an hour!

  • Cat October 5, 2011, 10:46 am

    Not sure if you’ve heard of the Run While you Can project:

    but it’s pretty inspiring and definitely worth sharing throughout the blogosphere. He was talking about pacing today too. Though, in a much more extreme fashion!

  • Jeanelle @ Glocal Girl October 5, 2011, 11:00 am

    Now that I live in Europe I run all by myself! My running buds are back in the States so keeping pace is especially important… I create running playlists with warm up songs, then ‘pace songs’, and ending with motivational pump up music. It really helps me stay motivated as well!

  • Deva @ Deva by Definition October 5, 2011, 11:28 am

    I am working on building back up endurance right now – in the thick of the worst season for asthma for me – so my pace isn’t something I’m working on – yet. I signed up for a GOTR 5k in November and want to finish in 30 mins. I don’t need to be speedy – it’s my first race!

  • Chelsea October 5, 2011, 11:32 am

    My boy-friend will ride a bicycle next to me to help keep my pace 🙂 He peddles at the same rate, same gears, and everything. I’ve never had better pacing than I do with those workouts 🙂

  • Heather October 5, 2011, 11:46 am

    I have run a ton of races but I still get SO excited at the start I go to fast. I am DETERMINED to start more conservatively this weekend for my half marathon! I would much rather finish strong!

  • Carina October 5, 2011, 11:47 am

    You said, YOUR pace is something that you can comfortably maintain for the entire distance.

    But I’d say if you’re racing, your pace shouldn’t be comfortable! Training’s obviously a different story, but you seem to be talking about races.

    I don’t think anyone winning a local 5k or Boston (or maybe even setting a PR if they’re actually raced the distance before as opposed to running it long ago, or sandbagging it) is going to say they were comfortably maintaining their pace — there’s a reason why it’s called racing! But I think you’re right in that it should be something you can maintain (though I’m sure you know there’s a lot of talk about how the best 5kers don’t really run even or negative splits, they do run positive splits). But positive splits are by less than 10 seconds per mile, not like the experience you linked — that’s going out too fast!

    Heartrate is probably a better way of pacing, rather than perceived effort. I tend to rely on that more than the pacing on my garmin, but the bottom line is that sometimes it’s better to get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Too many people (women in particular I think) don’t think it’s cool to be a sweaty, snotty, pissy mess at the end of a race, going balls-to-the-wall. They want to just look cute while they run, and run at a “comfortable” pace. It’s a shame that that’s encouraged — there’s so much to be gained from actually pushing yourself!

    My fave running coach ever told me that you should finish a 5k with nothing left in the tank. He said he actually wanted us puking at the finish line or darn close (though I hope he didn’t really mean that, he just meant BE UNCOMFORTABLE and give it your all!). If you’re not pushing yourself, I don’t see a huge reason to pay money for races.

    Too long of a comment and hopefully doesn’t come across as argumentative. Sorry!

    • CaitlinHTP October 5, 2011, 11:49 am

      No, I totally understand what you are saying and think you make some awesome points. I am all about the snot and sweat 🙂 Just not the dry heaving at the end. Heh. I would love to hear more about how you mentally push yourself!

  • Katie @ Peace Love and Oats October 5, 2011, 11:53 am

    Thank you for the tips! I’m new to the racing world, only 2 5Ks and 2 10Ks under my belt, but I’m training for a 10 miler and this will definitely help! I usually use my garmin to pace myself, but I get tired of looking at it! haha

  • Ciera @ Rose and Thistle October 5, 2011, 4:49 pm

    First of all, LOVE the new look. Very sophisticated.
    Secondly these tips are awesome, have just started training for my first half after only doing little races before and this is something I’ve been thinking about… Was debating the whole Garmin thing but I normally go by the ‘perceived effort’ method you described and I like that the best 🙂

  • Wendy October 5, 2011, 4:50 pm

    My epic crash-and-burn story: running the first 5 miles of a half marathon on an unseasonably warm day in April at an unmaintainable (for me) pace, then passing out the moment I stepped over the finish line! Not an experience I want to repeat, so I think this is all GREAT advice!

  • Joelle (On A Pink Typewriter) October 5, 2011, 5:24 pm

    Great suggestions, and might I say I LOVEEE the new blog design! Looks good!!

  • Amanda October 5, 2011, 5:28 pm

    Blog layout suggestion—

    I love the new layout, it’s super cute! I did find the width of your previous layout to be slightly more readable. I think there are a lot of studies about the appropriate number of inches in width words should be for maximum readability. Maybe consider a happy medium between the two 🙂 (I promise I’m not afraid of change! Just since you were already changing some aspects I thought I would make a suggestion)

  • Christie October 5, 2011, 5:31 pm

    I tend to use my watch for pacing, but I normally don’t think about it too much – when I’m training I just try to push myself as best as I can. I should probably start to think more about pacing, so will definitely follow some of your tips. Great post!

    Beautiful new blog design by the way, very stylish! Love it!

  • Kathryn @ Flopoodle October 5, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Love the new design!

  • Rebecca October 5, 2011, 5:37 pm

    Nice new layout!

  • Postdoc October 5, 2011, 5:40 pm

    Heard about this pacing music website this morning: You enter your mile time, and it comes up with a playlist of music with the right number of beats per minute for you for pacing! Then you can download the playlist on iTunes if you want. Looks like there’s a similar website called JogTunes:

  • Shrinking mommy of 2 October 5, 2011, 5:40 pm

    I LOVE the look of your blog! It is awesome! I also enjoyed this post! I really need to get a garmin but can’t justify paying for one right now. I would like to be able to run more than I do…maybe one day!

  • Corrie Anne October 5, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Wow! I love the new background & header!

  • Joey October 5, 2011, 6:43 pm

    Awesome post! It is so hard not to determine what pace is best for ME by reading blogs! Probably the hardest part is focusing on what is best for ME and my body, and trying not to compare to others.

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin October 5, 2011, 6:53 pm

    Great post Caitlin!

    I have a Garmin, but I don’t really use it for pacing. I just run at whatever speed feels comfortable for me at that particular time.

    I love your new layout! The patterned background is so pretty! 🙂

  • Mary @ Bites and Bliss October 5, 2011, 7:33 pm

    Great tips, Caitlyn. Thanks for these! I find myself comparing myself to the paces of other runners or feeling the “need” to run continuously to keep up pace..

  • Shelley October 5, 2011, 7:43 pm

    Hi love this post and the new design! Also i am be a total dummy with computers but you know how on your old design once you get to the bottom it you can go back to previous posts it doesn’t say that anymore so how do you view old posts? Also there is no calendar on the side anymore or maybe it’s just my computer?

    • Caitlin October 5, 2011, 9:04 pm

      Hi Shelley!

      Trying to work out the glitchhhhes!

  • Nancy @ Beyoutiful Fitstyle October 5, 2011, 9:22 pm

    This post is perfection! When I trained for my first half marathon (which I just completed about 3 weeks ago) I found myself running way too fast in the beginning of my runs. I was used to my softball training type runs (aka run as fast as possible until you finish or else you have to run more) and had to teach myself that running 9 minute miles was okay. The first time I ran 6 miles I was so worn out on mile 3.5 and I didn’t know why. When I linked my watch to my computer to see how I did, I ended up running a 7 minute mile for the first mile! I’ve never ran a 7 minute mile when running just 1 mile alone before! It was nuts, but definitely an eye opener. Now I keep my watch on the pace part instead of the miles. I might have to check out that Garmin though if I start running more races. My Nike+ watch only does so much.

  • Sophie @ threetimesf October 6, 2011, 9:22 am

    Great post – I really struggle with running when I am not on the treadmill, so thanks for the tips 🙂
    Love the new look by the way!

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