How Fast Should You Be Doing Your Training Runs?


By Takia McClendon

A few weeks ago, I posted that I was running my long, easy runs too fast. I received a lot of questions about pacing so instead of responding to everyone individually, I thought this blog post would be helpful.

So, how fast should you do your training runs? You’re not going to like it but the answer is... it depends. Since everyone’s training goals, average pace, body types, etc. are different, there is no perfect answer to this question but I’ll outline 5 main points to help you understand when and why you should run fast and slow:

  • Effort/Intensity

  • 80/20 Running

  • Benefits of running fast

  • Benefits of running slow

  • How to incorporate it all in your running.

Let’s Talk About Your Effort/Intensity

If your goal is to be a well-rounded runner for a goal race, you should be training at different intensities. These should at least include easy/recovery, tempo, intervals/repeats, and race pace.

  • Easy Runs: These should be run at an easy, conversation pace. Most runners, especially those looking for a new personal record run their easy runs too fast. Although I’m not a new runner, when I’m not using a good GPS watch, sometimes I run my easy runs to fast.

  • Tempo Runs: Jack Daniels (no, not that one) describes these efforts as comfortably hard. You should be able to hold this pace for at least 20-30 minutes.

  • High Intensity Repeats: The speed at which you are running repeats will vary based on where you are in your training and your goal race distance. They build anaerobic power and VO2/max.

  • Race Pace: These runs are done at your goal race pace. You can include them in interval training, long runs or as a stand alone run.

Since average running pace varies for everyone, effort/intensity will also be different for every runner. Let’s use Coach Jack Daniel’s VDOT Calculator to give you an example of how someone training to run a 2:11 half-marathon (10-minute/mile pace) would run at a few popular training intensities.

  • Easy Runs: These runs would be done between 11:30-12:06 min/mile

  • Tempo/Threshold Runs: These runs would be done at 9:35min-mile

  • 1-Mile Intervals: These would be done at 8:51min/mile

If completing a long-distance running event is not your primary goal, you don’t have to focus on variety as much - someone who wants to do short sprints as a part of their lifting routine has no need for a long, easy run. If a race is on your horizon, variety will be key to increasing your running economy.

The Benefits of Running Fast

Depending on how fast or hard you’re running, this type of running improves anaerobic power, speed and running economy. If your goal is to get faster, you should be incorporating faster running into your training. Here’s a break down of how faster running intensities impact your training.

Race Pace: According to Coach Daniels, the “physiological benefits are really not different from those gained during easy running” BUT these runs help you build confidence around your abilities.

Tempo Runs: These runs train endurance and allow your body to improve it’s ability to clear blood lactate.

Intervals: These runs can maximize aerobic power and VO2 Max when they are broken up properly with timed breaks in between.

Repeats: These runs improve anaerobic power, speed, and running economy.

Again, it’s crucial to mix up your training with one or all of the above.

The Benefits of Running Easy

Now that you’re familiar with Jack Daniels, let’s refer back to his popular book, Daniel’s Running Formula. In this book, he describes the benefits of running slower as:

  • Great for base building

  • Resistance to injury by taking it easy

  • Develops heart muscle

  • Increases vascularization (opening of the tiny blood vessels that feed your exercise muscles)

  • Develops running muscles.

Even when you know you can go faster, that doesn’t mean that you always should. Reserve your energy and power for harder, faster workouts and run your easy runs easy. This will help make sure that you don’t overtrain or reach your “peak” before your race date.

Running slow also allows your body to recover from the harder efforts you did earlier in the week.

You May Also Like: Runners Connect Podcast - 3 Simple Ways to Determine if You are Running Easy Enough: Matt Fitzgerald

The Quick Scoop on 80/20 Running

Okay, now that you understand the different intensities that you should run, let’s do a quick run down on 80/20 running. Through studies and years of working with athletes, Stephen Seiler, an American exercise scientist based in Norway, found that athletes performed at their best when 80% of their runs were completed at low intensity and 20% of their runs were at high intensity. If you’d like more information about 80/20 Running, check out Matt Fitzgerald’s book, 80/20: Run Stronger And Race Faster by Training Slower.

The problem that most of us will run into is the balancing act while following a “lower-volume” training plan. Elite runners can have 100-mile weeks in their training (that’s about 20 miles done at hard efforts) while most of us may peak at 20 miles, leaving less time for harder running. There are benefits to both running easy and hard and the most important factor is to find what works best for you.

Is 80/20 the only way? Nope. In fact, studies (like the Salzburg Study) found that you can boost performance by training at higher intensities, however, the same study showed that athletes who did 57% of their runs at higher intensities didn’t improve as much as those who did about 20% at that same effort.

What About Run Less, Run Faster? This program recommends 3 days of intense running and 2 days of cross-training. If your goal is to reduce the amount of days you run, then you may find success with this method. (I personally know runners who use this method). Remember, the Salzburg Study showed that you can still improve on a high-intensity plan, just not as much as you do on a majority low-intensity plan. Just note that the workouts in this plan are not easy for beginners and you have to commit to your cross-training to reduce the risk of injury.

Putting It All Together - How To Incorporate Easy & Hard Running Into My Training

One of my favorite running books is by Coach Brad Hudson (he’s the coach of Elite Marathoner Allie Keiffer). The book, Run Faster From The 5K to The Marathon, teaches coaches and runners how to develop a plan that incorporates all types of running into your plan. Although his clients are elite athletes and his mileage recommendations are a little out of range for most people, that doesn’t change the validity of his teachings.

Coach Hudson recommends doing two “hard workouts” every week - one interval workout and a threshold/tempo run outside of the long run in addition to your easy runs to round out your training. Like Jack Daniels, he also recommends incorporating both easy and moderate efforts.

It’s Different For Everyone: Where you are in your training will let you know how fast you should be running. For example, our 2:11 half-marathoner from the example above should run her long run of 6 miles at an easy pace during week 2 but during week 8, she may do a progression run with 6 miles easy + 2 miles at a moderate pace.

If You Don’t Remember Anything Else, Remember This

If you’re training to hit a new personal record in a long distance race, you may want to consider running at a variety of paces. Your training plan should include a mix of fast running as well as conversation pace easy runs. This will allow your body to recover properly, gain strength, and you’ll become a better athlete.

Takia McClendon is the co-founder of City Fit Girls. She’s a Certified USA Track & Field Coach who enjoys leading group runs and track workouts in Philadelphia.