Finding Your Race Pace

As part of my volunteer effort for The KIDS Center, I’ve been helping a group of runners train for the upcoming Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon. Most of the people in this group are tackling the 13.1 mile (or 26.2 for some) distance for the first time.

As part of the “packet” that we provided for the runners, I put together a training plan and we’ve had workshops on common injuries, getting the right gear and nutrition. As the “experienced runner” leading the group, I’ve been asked lots of questions over the last 2 months. One of the most common questions has been, “What pace should I be running?”.

For the long, slow, distance building training runs, my answer has always been, “Run at a pace where you can carry on a conversation”. Without the aid of a heart rate monitor, this is the best way to make sure that you aren’t working your body too hard. If you can carry on a conversation with someone running beside you, then you are running at a good aerobic pace.

So it’s fairly easy for someone to figure out what this pace is for them. The more difficult thing to figure out is what your pace should be for shorter races, or workouts focused on speed and not endurance. I personally have struggled with this question over the years as well. Even in a race as short as a 5K, if you take off too fast, you can give-out before the finish line.

Sometime last year, I came across a website called McMillan Running. This website is run by Greg McMillan, who is one of the most recognized distance running coaches in America. On this site, he offers training programs, personal coaching, videos, strength training routines, and much more. The main thing that I use this website for is it’s running calculator. The McMillan Running Calculator allows you to put in your time for just about any distance and it will predict your race time and pace at any other distance. I’ve found this to be a very useful tool when trying to determine at what pace I should run my next 5K or 10K race. It also provides you with expected times for speed workouts.

So, here’s an example:
If you are training for a half-marathon and your “conversation” pace is around 10 minutes per mile, your time for a half-marathon (13.1 miles) would be 2 hours and 11 minutes. You can figure this time out by using a pace calculator, such as Once you have this time, plug it into the McMillan Calculator and it will spit out your estimated time and pace for every other distance. So for this example, it predicts that this person would run a 5K in 28:20, a 10K in 58:52, a 10 mile race in 1:38:39 and a full 26.2 mile marathon in 4:36:17.

Knowing what you can run at an upcoming race based on a recent performance can help take the guesswork out of your race planning. You can set attainable goals and know what pace you should try and maintain during the race. These times are a moving target, since with time and hard work, your pace and endurance will increase. So bookmark the McMillan Running Calculator and head back after your next race to see what your new speed and workout paces should be. Note that as soon as you open this website, a video automatically starts and has very loud music. So if you are at work, turn off your sound first!

3/6/11: Run – 4 x 5K (5K warm-up, 5K at LT, 5K at AT, 5K at max effort) – 12.6 miles in 1:36:27
3/7/11: Swim – 1000yd TT (1008 yd in 18:03) 
3/7/11: Weights – Body Weight Only Set x 4
3/8/11: Run – LT test (5.94 miles in 45:10)
3/9/11: Swim – TrainSmart Swim Group – 2700 yd in 1:00:10
3/10/11: BRICK – 65 minute bike (20 miles), 2 min. transition, 15 minute run (2.08 miles) 
3/11/11: Swim – Aerobic Intervals (1550 yd in 35:14)
3/12/11: Run – Rodes City Run (6.2 miles in 44:07)
3/14/11: Run – Acceleration intervals (5.0 miles in 35:51)

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