I often run races as a race pacer, where my role is to run at a particular pace so that I can cross the finish line at a particular time. If you want to finish your half marathon in 2:20 and I’m your pacer, just follow me and I’ll get you there.
When I’m running a race as a pacer, I’m often asked how I can do it. How can I run so consistently and finish within a few seconds of my goal time? My glib answer is I do what my watch tells me.
But honestly, it isn’t a glib answer: I really just do what my watch tells me.
During every race when I’m a pacer, there will be at least one person who points out that I’m not running the ‘right’ pace.
There are a few occasions when I really am going too fast (it happens), but in most cases, it’s either intentional (for example going faster to make up for slower uphill sections elsewhere on the course), or they are using a different way to measure pace than I am.
Different Ways to Determine Pace
There are several ways to measure your pace when running. Each has its pros and cons and best use cases.
Making sure you are measuring pace the right way is the best way to make sure that your threshold or interval pace run is really being run at the correct threshold or interval pace.
Note: I’ll be using the terminology and field names used by Garmin, since that is the brand of watch I use (I currently use a Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Fitness Watch Gray (Renewed)) and am familiar with. The terminology and field names may vary for other brands of GPS watch.
There are three main ways I determine running pace:
- The pace I’m running at that second: Pace
- The overall pace: Average Pace
- The pace for that mile: Lap Pace
Garmin ‘Pace’ field: the pace you are currently running.
This is what most people think of when they think of ‘pace.’ It is how fast you are running at that very second.
This number can vary drastically based on your actions and when you happen to glance at your watch. As far as I can tell, things like arm swing can impact your pace when you use this data field.
I’ve never been able to figure out all of the things that can impact this field. There are times when I’m running at a pretty consistent rate and one glace at my watch will tell me I’m running 7:15 (not likely) and the next moment it will be 13:12 (equally not likely).
- Responsive and easy to adjust
- It can be misleading. If you look at your watch at the wrong time, you may get the wrong impression about how fast you’re running since it varies so much
- It can be hard to gauge a longer run since there is no sense of scope or overall performance
- Track workouts
- Shorter runs
Garmin ‘Average Pace’ field: The average pace for your entire activity.
Your overall or average pace is your pace from the time you started running to wherever you are in your run.
If you are 1 mile into your run, it is the average pace for 1 mile. If you are 15 miles into your run, it is the average pace for 15 miles.
- Provides a great overall picture of your run
- Accounts for the usual speedups and slowdowns that naturally happen during a run
- The average pace isn’t very responsive and can be hard to adjust, especially later in your run. If you are at mile 18 of a 20-mile long run and find your overall pace is too slow, you’ll have to run really fast to average out 18 miles worth of too slow. This can often lead to your running way faster than you should
- For runs when you have a specific finish time goal
Pace Per Mile
Garmin ‘Lap Pace’ field: the pace you are going for that particular lap.
Garmins can be set to automatically mark and record a given distance as a ‘lap.’ It can be set to any distance you want, but mine is set to record each mile as a lap. (I think some Garmins come pre-set with a mile as the default lap distance, but I won’t swear to this. It has been a while since I’ve set up a new Garmin).
This pace field shows your average pace for that mile (or whatever distance you’ve set as a lap) and the pace resets every mile.
Lap pace is my favorite pace to use when running, especially when I’m pacing.
- You can effectively speed up/slow down based on this pace. Since the lap is a shorter distance, pace adjustments are more likely to be reflected in the lap pace measurement
- You can still lose some sense of scope. If you ran too slow (or too fast) earlier in the run, lap pace will not help you make up for that overall difference
- Everything! OK, that is my bias showing, but I think lap pace is the right combination of scope and responsiveness. It avoids the worst of the pace swings that can happen using current pace, but you can still respond and modify your pace effectively if you find you are off
- Lap pace can work for track work too if you change your lap distance to reflect your workout
I generally use a combination of these three:
- Lap pace: 80% of the time. It averages out the pace, but is still adjustable.
- Average/Overall pace: 15% of the time. Especially towards the end of the race when I’m trying to hit a particular finish time. I check in a lot to make sure that all my average laps add up to the correct overall time.
- Current pace: 5% of the time. I don’t find my current pace very useful over the course of a longer run. I really only check in on it occasionally if I’m trying to make up overall time to make sure that I am not going too fast.
What about you? Do you measure your pace in multiple ways?