In honor of my long run this week right smack dab in the middle of my eight week half marathon training, let’s talk about pacing! Last week I talked about how as a new runner, the two biggest things that have helped me stick to it and even enjoy running are 1) distracting myself and 2) pacing. Now I say “new runner” because it was only two years ago that I started actually running for myself and not just to give my dog exercise.
To give a little background, I have been struggling with my hatred of running my entire life. Yes hatred. Before I became a runner I literally would have told you I would prefer any other exercise over running. In junior high I could ice skate 5-6 days a week or dance for hours, but I swear I could barely survive a mile without dying. When I was in excellent shape in high school working on my Gold Medal figure skating tests plus going to the gym regularly it still was the bane of my existence. I tested out of gym to graduate early, and had to perform all these rigorous fitness tests. You know what was the hardest part for me? Running a 10 minute mile for three miles.
Here’s the problem — I didn’t know how to pace myself. Many other exercises I was used to, especially skating, were all about pushing yourself to your max in intervals. Because of this I would start out with all this energy, push myself too hard too fast, and then get a side ache that would kill the rest of the run for me or just tire myself out so my pace was waaaay slower after that first half mile.
The other part is the monotony of it, not even from a mental perspective (which is where the distracting comes in), but from a physical perspective really got to me. I would find myself super aware of using the same muscles and tendons over and over and over and only be able to focus on the discomfort of that.
That all being said, I went from struggling through a single mile without a break to happily running 13.1 miles without stopping. Right now I’m training for my fifth half marathon in two years (and ever for that matter). In this time that I’ve fallen in love with running, I have learned a ton about pacing myself and how to then push that pace to start getting faster!
When you first get going, you have all this energy and may want to rock your pace and see taking advantage of this early energy as a way to do so. Resist the temptation! Time and time again when I have done that I have a) gotten so tired I slow down the rest of the time or b) get such an awful side ache I’m forced to walk the rest of the way, not because I’m tired, but because I can’t make the cramping stop. Let yourself warm up for at least the first half mile to mile at a nice medium pace.
Keep going slower than you think.
Once you get in the groove, you may not know how fast you should really be going. Until I really learned my pace, my rule to myself was always to push it to about 60-70% of my ability. I wasn’t insanely out of breath, but it wasn’t necessarily easy either. This is particularly important for longer distances. That being said, for me my speed and how much I push it depends on how long my run is. If it’s a shorter run like 2-3 miles I might push myself a bit just because I know it will be over soon. If it’s longer I think of it in terms of “survival” and am a little more conservative. If you’re going at about 60% at the beginning, that same effort might feel harder at the end, but you can keep that same consistent pace. Then, as you get stronger, that same 60% effort takes you farther and faster!
Take deep breaths.
BREATHE! I cannot emphasize this enough. Learning how to properly control my breathing was a huge factor in learning to pace. When I would take lots of shallow breaths I would not only tire myself out, I would also dry out my mouth, give myself side aches, create tension in my body, and get exhausted from even small amounts of exertion. Different activities require different types of breathing, but I think Pilates-style breathing (deep in through the nose and blow out through the mouth) is what helped me most for running. A big part of training is actually conditioning your lungs, and getting all that oxygen in to your body makes a huge difference. If you have a hard time forcing yourself to take deep breaths slow down — if you can’t breathe deeply you’re going to fast. At the beginning it may even help you to count. 1, 2, 3, 4 in — 5, 6, 7, 8 out to the beat of your music.
Counteract your weak spots.
As I mentioned, running exacerbates the areas of the body you use most or your weak spots. For instance, with all my current training runs I have been really tight in my Achilles. It can hurt to the point that it’s almost impossible to focus on anything else. So I have found stretching really well before and sometimes in the middle of my runs helps a lot so it doesn’t slow me down the entire time. Also my calves can get really tight, but when I make sure to point my toe on my backward running stroke, it stretches that opposite muscle and helps my level of discomfort. Some people get really tense in their arms and shoulders and have to think about releasing and relaxing those areas. Knowing and understanding where your pain points are can help you counteract your weaknesses and gain better form overall!
Use a running app.
Using a running app like Map My Run, Runtastic, Nike+ GPS, or RunKeeper Pro can help you understand how fast you’re going. This helps you find your pace better and also know when you can push it. On that note…
Know when to push it!
This all being said, know when to push yourself. I like to have my running app tell me my current pace every quarter mile, which ends up being every couple minutes. For some, that would be too much, but for me it’s a reminder of when I’m getting slower or mentally cheering myself on when I am getting faster. That way I don’t generally get too off track from my goal for more than a half mile.
That’s all folks! What helps you pace yourself when you’re running?