How Fast Should Beginner Runners Run?

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Many runners, especially those who are new to the sport, wonder about what pace they should be running. Many training plans advise that beginning runners should complete workouts at an "easy" pace. In fact, even experienced runners should spend some time training at an easy pace. But what is an easy pace?

Definition of Easy Pace

There is no clear definition of what "easy" means. What is easy for one runner might be challenging for another. And what is easy for you on one day when you are well rested and well fed, might be difficult when you are tired and hungry.

For these reasons, there is no strict pace number that is defined as easy. The simplest way to determine your easy pace is to run slowly enough so that you can carry on a conversation.

During an easy run, you should be able to speak in complete sentences. You should be able to answer a running buddy with more than just a "yes" or "no." If you're running alone, you should be able to sing "Happy Birthday" without gasping for air.

An easy running pace is often described as a conversational pace, meaning that you are running at a speed that allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation without stopping every few words to gasp for air.

Running with a group or with a running buddy can be helpful in determining your easy pace. If you find yourself struggling to breathe while you talk with a running buddy, you've overextended yourself out of the easy zone into a moderate or difficult training zone.

Most running groups have different pace groups. If you can't comfortably carry on a conversation with your group, find the group with a slightly slower pace and see how you feel.

If you can't find a pace group that allows you to run at an easy pace, you may need to find a different group or do easy runs on your own. Running with others who are slightly faster than you can be a healthy challenge, but not if it overtaxes your ability all the time.

For some new runners, a conversational pace may mean doing a run/walk combination. You can alternate between intervals of running and walking, gradually increasing your run time and decreasing your walk time.

Benefits of Easy Pace Running

Running at an easy or conversational pace provides several benefits for both novice and experienced runners. Easy running— also called base running— can provide these specific training adaptations.

Efficient Running Style

When you run at an easy pace, you can focus more intently on proper running form. When you aren't distracted by the hard efforts of a tempo run or intervals, you have the mental and physical energy to address upper body posture, proper cadence, and lower body mechanics.

By correcting any muscular imbalances—even making small changes to your stride or arm swing—you make yourself a more efficient runner. As a more efficient runner, you'll find it easier to increase your pace and avoid injury.

Increased Utilization of Stored Fat

When you work at a lower intensity (around 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate) your body burns a higher percentage of fat as fuel, according to research. As your intensity level increases, you burn a higher percentage of carbohydrate and a lower percentage of fat as fuel.

However, this training benefit is often misunderstood. Burning a higher percentage of fat does not necessarily mean that you burn more fat overall. It simply means that a higher percentage of your total caloric expenditure comes from stored fat. If your total caloric expenditure is lower, the total number of fat calories burned is also lower.

Confused? When you work harder you burn more calories from carbohydrate but more total calories overall. Because the total number of calories burned is much higher, you might still burn more fat calories working at a higher intensity even though the percentage from fat is lower.

But that doesn't mean that you should avoid lower intensity runs. It's healthy for your body to burn fat as fuel sometimes because you can't work at a high intensity all the time.

Process Oxygen More Efficiently

When you exercise at a lower intensity, such as an easy or moderate intensity, your body learns to use oxygen more efficiently. This can lead to health-promoting effects, including increased efficiency of antioxidant and oxidative damage repair systems, according to research.

You'll also be able to increase your cardiovascular endurance as you strengthen the systems that transport oxygen. The result? A stronger, healthier body.

Reduced Lactate Production

When you exercise at a lower intensity—such as running at an easy pace, you gain exercise benefits without the buildup of lactate. Lactate is a byproduct of both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Research has shown that as exercise intensity increases, lactate concentration in the body also increases.

For many years, researchers believed that lactate (and lactic acid) was a waste product responsible for muscle soreness after exercise. However, as scientists have learned more they now believe that lactate alone is not the culprit, but published studies still suggest that a build-up of lactate is associated with muscle fatigue during exercise.

Boost in Confidence

One of the greatest benefits of running at an easy pace is the enjoyment and sense of accomplishment you gain from completing a workout with confidence. Hard workouts can leave you feeling exhausted and may even lead you to question whether or not running is worth the effort. You may feel worn out for the rest of the day.

But running at an easy pace is likely to leave you feeling energized and proud of yourself. This boost in confidence is likely to fuel a continued effort in the sport.

When to Pick Up the Pace

As you build your endurance, you'll find that your conversational pace will naturally get faster. But once you build your fitness level and gain more experience as a runner, you may want to introduce faster runs to challenge your ability.

You can participate in a targeted, faster run once a week. These workouts may include a fartlek run or a tempo run and will help you learn how to run faster.

However, it's important to add speedwork slowly and cautiously to your routine to avoid injury. For example, you'll need to make sure you still do a proper warm-up before jumping into your fast intervals.

But as you add speedwork, continue to participate in easy pace runs as well. In particular, long runs should be done at an easy, conversational pace to make sure you can cover the distance.

How Long Does It Take to Get Faster?

Even the most experienced runners don't run every workout at a hard effort. They do easy-paced runs at least every other day to give their bodies a chance to recover and rebuild themselves to be stronger. Running hard every day could lead to injury as well as physical and mental burnout from overtraining.

So how long does it take to turn your easy pace into a faster pace? The good news is that if you exercise regularly, you will see results. But research has shown that it takes at least six interval training sessions to improve pace in well-trained athletes. In less well-trained athletes it might take longer.

If you complete one speed workout per week, that means you'll likely get faster over the course of two months. But remember that during that time, you'll enjoy the many benefits of running at an easy to moderate pace as well.

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