Your training paces for running

Your training paces for running

A key question before doing any run will be ‘at what pace’ or the related question ‘at what effort’. In our personalised training plans we provide the full level of detail: heart rate, subjective effort target (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and pace ranges. We do this to avoid the MAIN TRAP of training:

  • If you have a goal pace in your training plan you may use the WRONG EFFORT to meet it (thus ruining the session)
  • If you have a goal EFFORT in your training plan you may never get close to the RIGHT PACES (thus not becoming fit enough for your goal)

So in order to execute runs correctly, we always need to line up the desired pace with the right level of effort for the run. Otherwise you may be trying to hit what you believe is your ’10k pace’ while actually exerting ‘3k effort’. You then get a totally different training response. The most common example are runners who are always running ‘steady’ and believing this pace to be ‘easy’. We see this all the time and it leads to overtraining.


Your pace on the day

When we prescribe any pace description to you whether it be ‘marathon pace’ or ‘1 mile pace’, we talk about the pace you would use if you had to race the distance TODAY – not when you were at your best and not some aspirational pace.*

Nike founder Bill Bowerman called this the difference between ‘Date Pace’ (your pace today) versus ‘Goal Pace’ (the pace you target) but we find people can be confused by especially the first term. If our plans say nothing else then assume you have to run at your ‘pace as it would be TODAY’. If we want you to run at your target pace we’ll call it ‘target pace’.

* In our customised plans we have exceptions to this as we will sometimes schedule runs at ‘target pace’ to see how far or how close you are to a desired target. We also sometimes use a ‘Target Pace Test’ to see before we start a plan whether your goals are realistic.


Paces in our free plans

We launched our first free plans on 7th of July 2017 for the Dublin Marathon – the first of many. Since we cannot prescribe exact paces in these plans (we’d need to write up thousands to cover all the fitness levels!), we have instead used the simple system below which is an amalgamation of systems used by Renato Canova, Steve Magness and the Hanson Brothers as well as earlier coaches:

  • Easy pace: 20-25% slower than your current realistic marathon pace. If you plan to run 4:50 min/km pace your easy pace is around 5:48-6:02 min/km. You can double check whether you are really running ‘easy’ by doing a MAF test – easy pace should be close to the pace for this test.
  • Steady pace: 10-15% slower than your current realistic marathon pace. If you target 4:50 min/km pace then your expected steady pace is 5:19-5:33 min/km
  • Marathon pace or Race Pace: Race pace always refers to your realistic target pace for the event. For our free marathon plans it would be marathon pace plus/minus a few second per kilometre or mile. If your target pace is 4:30 min/km then ‘Race Pace’ or ‘marathon pace’ would be 4:28-4:32 min/km
  • 5k pace, 10k pace, 3k pace and so on: Refers to the expected pace you would run RIGHT NOW for these distances. You can use a VDOT Calculator to find these paces. In our customised plans we calculate these for you and send you a Pace Chart.

We also use a few ‘less formal’ descriptions on occasion such as:

  • Mixed paces: Often used for Fartleks and other runs where you either run by feel or the specific combination of paces is described in more detail in the workout description.
  • HARD’: Often used for hill efforts – simply means you WORK HARD up the hill.
  • ‘FAST’ or ‘VERY FAST’: Often used for shorter faster repeats, strides and sprints where we do not care about the exact pace but we want you to feel like you’re moving ‘FAST’ and ‘VERY FAST’. The rule here is to try and stay relaxed despite the speed.

If you adhere to strictly to pace targets ignoring information from your subjective feelings and/or your heart rate monitor, you are likely to get into trouble with overtraining or not training the right systems at the right time.

To use your plans you only need to ask yourself the question ‘Does this feel like what I could run for the distance this pace refers to TODAY’?


I don’t want to run paces too slow compared to my race!

Understandable – running done at race pace is the most important. But to do the right level of quality at race pace you need to prepare your body through the slower running. One builds on top of the other. Go straight to race pace and you will be building on a foundation of sand, recover slower, not be able to do extensive enough training sessions and increase your risk of injury.

Also published on Medium.

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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