Pacing is not something a lot of runners are distinctly good at, and a race can often be left in tatters by simply running ten seconds too fast per mile as you chase a personal best.

The ten seconds too fast is often put down to adrenaline taking over in a race, but the truth is most runners haven’t taken the time to understand pacing or to develop the skill. Given its significance and the potential consequences during a race, it is a skill all runners should learn.

Pacing is not something you will naturally pick up and requires plenty of practice to get right, meaning lots of running – so it’s not all bad. If are patient and you master the art of pacing it can make the difference in setting a life time best or finishing your race in your target time.

To start you on the right track of mastering the skill of pacing, here are a few tips.

Running tech is great, but listen to your body and breathing

There is no doubting that GPS watches and heart rate monitors are fantastic tools for runners, but more often than not runners go straight for these gadgets before learning the technique of listening to their body to understand the changes in pace and effort.

This leads to runners becoming over reliant on technology and develops an obsession with checking the watch every 20 seconds during a race or training session.

The best way to understand the correlation between changes in pace and effort is by listening to your breathing as you run. So on your next run, keep an eye on the watch for three to five minutes to ensure you are hitting your target pace, then forget about the watch for the next three to five minutes paying close attention to your breathing, running stride, and the movement of your arms.

If you notice changes in your breathing pattern, check your watch to see how this matches up with your pace. Try this consistently over a few runs and you will soon understand the relationship between pace and effort.

Training runs

Add specific running sessions to your training schedule that require you to increase and decrease your pace throughout the session, such as pyramid runs.

During this type of session, you run at a high intensity, alternated with periods of low intensity to recovery, and repeat at varying distances.

An example of a pyramid session is: run 2×400m at high intensity with a 200m recovery jog, followed by 1×800m at high intensity with a 400m recovery jog, then 1×1600 high intensity with a 800m recovery jog, before dropping down in distance with 1×800 high intensity with a 400m recovery jog, and finishing with 2×400 high intensity with a 200m recovery jog.

With this type of run, aim to run the 2x400m 10% faster than your 5k pace, and run the 800m and 1600m at 5k pace. There is not a huge difference in a 10% adjustment of pace (depending on who you ask), but by mixing these close paces in a structured training session you learn to recognise the change when you unconsciously do it in a race, allowing you then react by increasing or decreasing your pace depending on your goal. This type of run will also enable you to differentiate and understand how your body feels with this change in pace.

Change your terrain

If you are having difficulty trying to hold a pace during a training session or race it could be down to the terrain – once you have developed your pacing skills you will understand the difference in slowing your pace correctly as you approach a hill and quickening your pace going down a hill. But initially, if you are still learning the correlation between pace and effort consider moving your running sessions to the track or a flat looped park where you have previously logged the distance.

By running the session under these conditions you will get consistent feedback without any other factors such as terrain interfering while you develop your pacing skills.

Remember to be patient, you won’t pick up the skill of pacing straight away, but practice it constantly over a few weeks in running sessions and you will start to develop a natural understanding of pace and effort.