Maintaining your pace is crucial for ensuring that you have a successful run. Training programs often require you to run at specific rates and achieve certain milestones before progressing in their programs. Knowing your pace during the run will allow you to adjust your speed up or down so that you can reach your target distance or speed without expending too much energy or running too slowly. There are four ways to track your pace while running; each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
The easiest and least technical way of measuring your pace while you are running is by using your rate of perceived exertion or RPE. It is a reflection of the difficulty of the exercise and has been shown to correlate to actual heart rate. RPE uses the Borg Scale, which rates your effort in numbers between 6 and 20, with 6 being easy and 20 being exhaustion. Your goal in setting a pace is to find a number on the RPE scale and stay on that number throughout your run. For instance, if you wanted a hard run you might choose a 15 on the scale, and your goal would be to reach and stay at 15 during the entire run. The problem with RPE is that it's not a precise measurement and is subject to how you are feeling that day. Although it correlates to heart rate, the lack of precision may not be suitable for elite-level training.
Another measurement for pace while running is heart rate. Heart rate can be taken by measuring the pulse in your wrists or wearing a heart rate monitor. Heart rate reflects exercise intensity, which theoretically means you will work at the same relative intensity each time you train at that heart rate. This corrects for improvements in training when you become more conditioned and can run faster without having a higher heart rate. The problem with using heart rate as the sole measure of pace is that, over time, the measurement become less accurate for different speeds. A phenomenon called cardiac drift occurs during prolonged runs in which your heart rate becomes higher while performing at the same speed, according to a 2001 study by Edward Coyle in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal Exercise and Sports Science Reviews.
Clock and Stride Length
The next method simply requires a clock to measure your pace. Using this method, you count the number of strides you take for a given amount of time and try to maintain the same number throughout your run. The idea is that each stride will propel you the same distance. This technique works best on flat land. However, while running up a hill, your pace can decrease significantly with each stride, and while running downhill you increase your stride length. Counting the number of strides also does not account very well for stride intensity. If you are pushing on the ground forcefully, counting strides will underestimate your speed while less forceful strides will inflate your speed. Since the key to using strides is maintaining the same stride length, it is probably not suitable for short distance runs that require faster speeds.
GPS and Clock Combo
The final and most accurate method of measuring your pace while running is to use a combination of a global positioning system and a clock. The GPS will track the distance you cover while the clock measures how long it takes you to travel that distance. By ensuring the distance is accurately measured and then dividing that by the time it took you to travel that distance, you will know the exact pace at which you are running. You simply need to match distance and time travelled for that distance to maintain your pace. Unfortunately, GPS and watch combination systems can be extremely expensive and are not necessary for recreational running. Smartphone apps are, however, becoming more popular with runners for tracking distances; they are a less expensive option.
- Exercise and Sports Science Reviews: Cardiovascular Drift During Prolonged Exercise: New Perspectives
- McMillanRunning.com: The McMillan Running Calculator
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; National Academy of Sports Medicine
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale)
- American College of Sports Medicine: DIY: How a Smartphone Can Benefit Your Health