How do distance runners set and keep pace while running?
November 26, 2006 11:45 PM   Subscribe

How do distance runners set and keep pace?

Can someone please explain to me how distance runners calculate the pace they intend to run while they're actually running.

Also, bonus points for information on how to keep pace accurately.
posted by MasD to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've only ever been a fun-runner, and I'm fairly sure that good runners are better than us "plodders" at this sort of thing. But...

When training, you know the routes, and you know the times. So when I was last working my way up to a half marathon, I knew that if it took me 18 minutes to get to a particular post box I was doing about 10 minutes/mile, and then it would take 35 to get to a particular tree. And you know how you feel between these points, and whether you're running at the same sort of pace. It's not that accurate, but it's enough to know if you need to put in extra effort or not. Practice helps - I used to do some of my training around a park with a mile circuit, and running 1 mile laps regularly helps you get the "feel" for how fast you're going.

In my experience, treadmill running doesn't help at all at pace estimation, but it does help with enforcing pace consistency. In other words, it doesn't help guess how fast you're going, but it does help you know if you're going at a constant speed.

When racing it is even easier because those nice race organisers put up mile or kilometer posts and you can work it out with your watch.
posted by handee at 2:51 AM on November 27, 2006

I am also not too good pacing myself, but you may be interested to know about pacemakers: in many races, a runner is designated as 'pacemaker', and he/she sets the speed. You might have more than one, especially in amateur races, so there is a pacemaker for those aiming at a 20minute 5k, and one for those going 16 minutes, and another who will run it in 25 minutes.

Here is an old article about a pacemaker in the London Marathon.
posted by jacalata at 3:59 AM on November 27, 2006

A lot of people use heart monitors/gps tools that help you keep track of pace and exertion. And, of course, being famiiar with the terrain helps a lot. After you get used to things and start to build up the miles, you'll start to settle in to a steady rate of travel... sometimes that can be a blessing or a curse.

During races over half marathon in distance, typically there are official and unofficial pacers you can use to adjust your rate of travel. Even during shorter races, you start to get a feel for who's in relatively the same shape as you after the first mile or so.
posted by ph00dz at 4:29 AM on November 27, 2006

It's always been pure experience for me. I ran collegiately for a while, and all the grueling workouts where you obsess over your pace "teach" you what 5min/mi or 6min/mi feels like.

Measure the courses where you run, and take note of your times as you run them. Then, evaluate how you felt vs. how fast you were running, every time. Know thyself.
posted by zhivota at 4:53 AM on November 27, 2006

Practice. Not that I'm 'so Mr Old school' but when I was running semi-seriously fifeen years ago the most exotic device I had was a watch. There used to be a race where you would state your finish time before the race, run the race, and then the person or persons who came closest to their predictions got prizes.
posted by fixedgear at 5:23 AM on November 27, 2006

Rhythmic breathing can help you judge your pace as you run within broad bands (just a different version of knowing how you feel at a given speed).

For a moderate pace, breath in for three steps, out for two. If you want to speed up, push until you need to break into a 2:1 breathing pattern. For a moderately fast pace, run so that you can still manage 3:2 but feel like you're about to break into 2:1 (use an odd number of steps for each cycle so that your first out breath falls on alternate feet, as this is where your footfall will be hardest).

Funnily enough, I did a 10K race yesterday, and having run on my own for ages, found it nearly impossible to gauge my pace for the first mile or so when I was surrounded by other runners - I kind of knew I was going too fast but couldn't slow down...
posted by penguin pie at 6:08 AM on November 27, 2006

It really comes down to practice and experience. The more you do it, the more you're able to judge all of the minutae that tell you how fast you're moving. It's easiest to learn on a marked course or a track, where the distance is fixed and you can pay attention to the time variable.

Even experienced runners are fooled by races, though, because being more keyed up than usual can lead to an easier apparent effort at a higher pace. Then there's the body's ugly payback when the pace can't be maintained.
posted by OmieWise at 6:42 AM on November 27, 2006

I agree, PenguinPie. Those gang race starts seriously mess me up too. For shorter runs that's good, as it keeps me from going too slow at the beginning. But when I did the half marathon in October, I was lulled into beginning too fast and I paid for it later.

I have come to rely on certain songs on my MP3 player. If I am running right in tempo with them, I know I am at a certain pace. But some races don't allow players, so that's not the best gauge either.

I hope to get a Garmin for Xmas and then I can stop worrying about it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:11 AM on November 27, 2006

Calculating the pace they intend to run is usually done beforehand, i.e. if I want to finish this 10 mile race in 1h10, I will have to run 7' miles.

Then comes calibration: matching the pace you are running to the plan. Most races have mile/kilometer marks, especially in the early stages, to help you do this. You do have to bring your own watch.

Once your pace is good, when it's not way too fast or too slow for you and the terrain does not vary too much, you can usually maintain it just on feeling. As posters above have said it has to do with breathing rhythm, among other things.

Good thing too, because those GPS contraptions have a tendency to report pace with a large margin of error.
posted by thijsk at 7:49 AM on November 27, 2006

People in my training group used wrist-top GPSs, and the rest of us just kept up with them.

On my own, I plot out my route ahead of time with this neato website and then time myself with a stopwatch. It's not as precise as race markings, but it's free and with a little math after my run I've got a pretty good idea of where I'm at.
posted by AV at 8:11 AM on November 27, 2006

I always tended to use the "rythmic breathing" / singing under my breath in my marathon days.

I knew that as long as I could hold the long notes of any song, I could run until the end of the race in long distance occasions.
I also agree that the horrible mass race starts suck and make it impossible to start and hold any type of decent pace.

Not at all scientific but it always worked for me.
posted by zona_sul at 4:08 PM on November 30, 2006

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