How to tell if you’re running too slow

Everything you need to know about when to take it easy, and when to push harder.

Easy runs

Some runs really should feel easy, and that might mean a pace that you consider to be ‘slow’ (and remember, slow is always relative!). If you are a beginner runner, or coming back from injury, easy running is what you should be focusing on. Even at a pace you can have a full conversation at, you’ll be working your cardiovascular system and building muscle that will make you a better runner. Think of it as the big wedge at the bottom of a pyramid – that’s your aerobic base. Everything else should be the narrower pointy bit on the top – and can come later.

Once you are used to a certain amount of kilometerage, you can start to safely progress towards interval or tempo running as a small part of your overall training. Very roughly, you should do 80% easy, low intensity running, and just 20% harder. But always remember that the slower running is also helpful for your overall training. And if it is an easy run, then it probably can’t be too slow!

Interval runs

However, while easy runs should feel properly easy, to get the gains from harder efforts, you do need to push hard enough. This can also be difficult to gauge, particularly for new runners as we are often not sure yet what we are capable of.

For interval sessions, depending on how long the intervals are, you are probably aiming to not be able to say much at all! You are going to be working, in short bursts, at a greater intensity than you are used to, so you should be breathless and need the recovery periods between the intervals. If you can chat during your intervals, you probably are running too slowly, or are at least capable of running quicker!

Tempo runs

Not all hard efforts, though, are flat out, as harder efforts can include tempo runs, which should feel like a ‘comfortably hard’ level that you could sustain, theoretically, for an hour or so.

However, working too rigidly to prescribed paces can be unhelpful. So many other factors will influence your training: how well you slept, how busy or stressed you might be, your health, the outside temperature, the gradient of your run – to name just a few.

So though we live in an era in which we have gadgets to measure heart rate, cadence, blood sugar levels and many more, a recent study at the Queen’s University Belfast has found a nice new twist on the ‘Talk Test’ – and it’s a refreshingly back-to-basics way of gauging your effort.

During your next tempo or threshold run – an effort of 7.8 out of 10 – try counting to 30 at ‘a conversation pace and volume’. If you can do it comfortably, speed up until it becomes difficult.

What rough pace should you be doing your intervals or tempo runs at?

While working to ‘perceived effort’ is often a more helpful tool than getting too worried about exact paces, you may still want a rough guide. So to work out what pace you should be doing your different training runs at, you can use Runner’s World UK’s training pace calculator. It’s very simple to use, just tap in a recent race time and press ‘calculate’.

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