There’s no getting away from it. Running can be very competitive. I don’t mean everyone’s trying to be the next Usain Bolt but the question on most beginner lips is “how fast should I run?”
There’s always the temptation to compare yourself with your brother, the guy at work who just started running, your neighbour or the woman who just left you for dead running down the street – just about everyone.
Stop right there. Read on to find the answer to “how fast should I run”. These tips will help you find your ideal pace!
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Tip 1 – It’s not about being competitive
When you’ve just started running you’re building a runner’s body. It takes time! Those muscles need to strengthen and become more efficient.
A few months ago, this body of yours was happily hanging out on the couch. Now you’re making it run and everything aches. Push your body too hard at this point and it’s going to end in tears and injury. Being competitive can come later.
Tip 2 – Make sure you can talk when you run
A good way to make sure you’re running at the right pace is to check you can talk and run at the same time. That’s the best definition of an easy running pace. It’s the starting point for most beginner running schedules.
It means you can talk in complete sentences without gasping for breath. If all you can manage is yes or no answers, you’re running too fast.
Everybody’s easy pace is different. You may find you’re running with someone who’s happily chatting away and you can barely grunt out a few syllables.
Swallow your pride and slow down. It’s good to run with others but don’t let them push you too hard too soon.
Tip 3 – Everyone is different
When it comes to how fast should I run, everyone is unique. Age, weight, gender, whether you’re already active in other sports, will all affect your running speed.
The good news is, as a beginner runner, the only way is up. When it comes to running, most people are competing against themselves. The satisfaction and enjoyment comes from improving. There will always be better runners yet you can always compete against yourself.
Tip 4 – Easy Paced Runs Help You Burn Body Fat
Worried that you’re not running fast enough? Relax. Those easy paced runs are the most efficient way to burn stored body fat.
Lower intensity efforts burn a higher proportion of fat as fuel. As intensity increases, when you up your running pace, this proportion reduces – you burn a higher proportion of carbohydrates.
It’s not a straightforward trade-off. Running faster burns more calories overall, so you can find a fast-paced run actually burns more fat. A smaller proportion of a bigger total can be better than a larger proportion of a smaller total.
Just note, your easy paced runs will still help you reach your body weight goals.
Tip 5 – It’s Okay To Adopt A Run/Walk Pace
When you’re a beginner runner, there’s no shame in taking a walking break. There’s no shame even if you’re an experienced runner!
If you find you can’t keep up a conversation while running, try alternating running with fast-paced walking. It’s better to take walking breaks than labor along at too fast a pace.
Switching to walking is also good if you find your running form is starting to suffer. Long slow runs as a new runner can often leave you struggling to maintain your form. Follow these tips to maintain a good running style when you start to feel tired.
Tip 6 – When To Run Faster
Most new runners will find themselves naturally running faster as they turn into more efficient running machines. As your body gets stronger, you’ll feel the urge to up the pace.
Try adding in short bursts of speed or find a few hills to run up. Mix up your training with short fast runs where you can only manage to gasp out a few words.
Just make sure you alternate faster runs with easy running days to give your body time to recover. The mantra as a new runner is don’t over-do it.
It takes time to become a better runner. Be patient. Build those bursts of speed and faster paced runs slowly.
Tip 7 – Don’t obsess over your 5K Time
A good time for 5K is considered to be sub 25 minutes by a lot of runners. That’s at a respectable 8-minute-mile pace.
That’s fine but it’s not worth obsessing over if you’re a long way off running at this type of pace. Don’t feel bad about your running because of some arbitrary “good time”.
If you can run sub 25 minutes great. If your goal is sub 40 minutes, and it’s a good time for you, that’s also terrific. It’s your body and your running. Just keep on improving.
I hope these tips will help you stop fretting about “how fast should I run?” Comparing yourself with other runners, and being competitive, can come later when you’re more experienced to judge your body’s abilities. For now, enjoy your running! I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.
Frequently Asked Questions
The difference in running pace is huge depending on age, gender and fitness levels. In 2018, based on data from 300 million runs, Strava clocked an average pace of 9 minutes 48 seconds (9:48) for a mile. This breaks down into 9:15 for men and 10:40 for women. If you’re slower than the average it doesn’t matter. It’s more important to run at a sustainable pace. New runners are more likely to be slower than the more experienced Strava community, so don’t be discouraged if your pace is closer to 15 minutes per mile – you’re still running!
Most experienced runners will consider anything under 25 minutes to be a good time for 5K (that’s 3.1 miles). This is running at an 8-minute-mile pace. It’s a tough target for beginner runners where a mile pace can be anything from 9 to 13 minutes. If your 5K time is closer to 40 minutes, count it as a good time if you’re making progress and your running is improving.
Your running pace should vary depending on the distance you’re covering. If you have a target completion time for a race, you can calculate the times you should be running for different distances. For example, being able to run one mile in 8 minutes suggests an average marathon pace of 10:46 per mile and a completion time of 4 hours 42 minutes.