How to Find Your Running Pace 

People running together

Getty Images / Geber86

It can be challenging to find your running pace. You may experience being out of breath faster than you'd like, or maybe you've found yourself unintentionally taking it too easy on certain days. Finding your pace—no matter what that may be, is helpful for progressing in your running journey.

Determining your running pace, and then learning how to improve it, can be tricky. Read on to learn more on why pace matters, how to find your pace, exercises that help, and how to use pace in distance running.

Why Does Pace Matter

Think of your energy stores as a fuel tank. The more energy you use, the more fuel you burn.

A consistent running pace helps you moderate that fuel. If you run too fast, you’ll be out of breath faster, and your muscles may get tired before you finish your run. If you run slower, you may have fuel left at the end of your run. While both of these options may be purposeful in certain training environments, your everyday pace should be sustainable while also challenging you to progress in your abilities.

How to Find Your Pace 

When finding your pace, it's helpful to note how much energy you exert. Use the Borg rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to help you feel your intensity. The scale is 0 to 10, with 0 being no exertion and 10 being your maximum exertion. Stay at a 5 or 6 or moderate level of effort.

There are two ways to look at running pace, according to Dave Thomas, head coach of cross country and track and field at Thomas Jefferson University.

Minutes / Mile

The first (and most common) way to understand your running pace is by tracking how many minutes it takes you to run one mile.

Maintain a 5 to 6 level of exertion and time your run. If you run multiple miles, your average time per mile will be your running pace.

For example, say you run three miles. Your first mile takes you 10 minutes. Your second mile takes you 9 minutes. Your third mile takes you 9 minutes. Your pace is 9:33.

You will naturally improve by running regularly. Soon, you may find your average mile pace dropping—keeping track of your pace is a great way to improve your time. Many running apps will automatically track your pace per mile for you, helping you focus just on your run.

Heart Rate / Intensity

Another way to measure your pace is by tracking your heart rate. For this, you’ll need a heart monitor so it can show you your beats per minute (BPM). First, measure 60 to 65% of aerobic capacity and keep that rate for 30 minutes. Thomas uses this formula to determine 60 to 65%: 220 minus your age and 60% of that number. 

For example, the formula looks like this for a 40-year-old: 220-40=180x.60=108. So, for this person, their heart rate goal is 108 BPM for 30 minutes. 

Exercises That Help You Find Your Pace 

While pace is often found simply by practicing your skill (running consistently), there are some tried-and-true methods of "keeping the pace" you set out to achieve.

Running to BPM

Music can help you maintain your running pace. First, determine your stride frequency. Hop on a treadmill or step outside for a one-minute run. Set a timer and count every time your foot (left and right) hits the ground.

That number is your beats per minute. Look up songs with that BPM and add them to your running playlist. Keep the tempo during your run.

Talk Test

Try having a conversation during your run. If you're too out of breath, you may only be able to get a word out in between breaths. On the other hand, if you can comfortably carry on a conversation, your level of exertion is easy.

Carrie Tollefson, Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series Coaching Ambassador, uses the talk test for runners of all levels. She explains the talk test benefits for light running, half marathon pace, and 5k pace.

"If you are just trying to have an easy day or a recovery day, conversational pace is a good indicator you are keeping it light. If you can chat with someone next to you and are able to get a short answer out, that is your short answer pace, which is about 70% of your max effort and close to your half marathon pace. If you can only say 1-2 words and get a little cranky if someone is trying to talk to you, that is close to your 5K pace, and no talking but only sprinting is close to a mile or shorter event pace."

How to Use Your Pace in Distance Running

Pacing yourself is particularly crucial in distance running. You want to be able to run the entire distance without depleting your energy and having to walk.

"If you're a beginning distance runner, start with 15 minutes. Warm up first, then 15 minutes of running. You can start off at a low heart rate (the 60 percent zone) and your breathing is such that you can have a conversation with the person next to you," Thomas advises.

Try using a pace calculator to reach your running goals and compare your running times with others. Then, put in two of the following to calculate the third: distance, time, or pace.

A Word From Verywell

While sticking to your pace is intending to help you progress in your running abilities, the most important aspect of any training routine is safety. If you experience any lingering pains or issues, seek advice from a medical professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know my running pace?

    You can calculate your running pace with your heart rate or by how you feel. If you want to go by feel, you can use the Borg perceived exertion scale.

  • How do beginners train for running?

    The talk test is an excellent way to determine your pace as a beginner. You should be able to comfortably have a conversation while running.

  • Is it better to walk and run or just run?

    Walking and running intervals can help you go longer instead of just running the entire time, says Thomas. If your goal is to be able to improve your distance, then you should try the walk and run. If your goal is to improve speed, you may want to try tempo runs.

  • Is it better to run more often or longer?

    Thomas recommends taking more days off if your goal is fitness. For example, run for 30 minutes and take a day off to allow your muscles to recover. If you're training for a marathon, you need to run longer, but how long depends on your current fitness level.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Williams N. The borg rating of perceived exertion (Rpe) scale. Occupational Medicine. 2017;67(5):404-405. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqx063

  2. Oeveren BT van, Ruiter CJ de, Beek PJ, Dieën JH van. Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PLOS ONE. 2017;12(10):e0184273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0184273

  3. Saini M, Kulandaivelan S, Devi P, Saini V. The talk test—A costless tool for exercise prescription in Indian cardiac rehabilitation. Indian Heart J. 2018;70(Suppl 3):S466-S470. doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2018.09.009

By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.