When you run within your limits, every workout can be a pleasure. But start even a few seconds per mile too fast, and misery awaits: excess fatigue, loss of motivation, or even injury. That’s why it’s so important to know what pace is right for you. Happily, by doing a simple “magic mile” time trial, you can find the best speed for your runs, then set realistic goals and keep running—enjoyably—forever.
Run One Mile Hard
Go to a track and jog an easy lap or two for a warmup. Walk for three to four minutes. Then time yourself running four laps, which is about one mile. Don’t run all out; just push a little faster than you usually do. Record your time. By running on a track—which is flat and provides the most accurate measurement of distance—you’ll get a solid indication of your top speed. You can use it as a benchmark to determine what pace is appropriate for your current fitness level on daily runs. Do the time trial every two weeks or so; try to beat your previous time, and track your progress.
Slow Down Every Day
On your daily runs, aim to run two to three minutes slower per mile than your magic mile time. So if you do your magic mile in 10 minutes, aim to keep your pace around 12 to 13 minutes per mile on daily runs. At the perfect pace, you should feel comfortable and relaxed—like you can finish a sentence without having to catch your breath. If you’re huffing and puffing, ease off. Don’t worry about going too slow.
Set Race Goals
Signed up for a race? Use the magic mile to set realistic goals for different distances. Add 33 seconds to your mile time to determine a pace for a 5K. Multiply your mile time by 1.15 for a 10K, 1.2 for a half-marathon, and 1.3 to predict your marathon potential.
Get Used To It
At a race, you’ll get the best results if you try to maintain a steady pace from start to finish. Here’s how to practice: Once a week, try to run your goal race pace for a half to three-quarters of a mile. Each quarter mile, check your pace and adjust if you need to. Each week, run a little farther at your goal pace until you’re running one-third to one-half of the race distance.
If you can run one mile in 10 minutes, here’s your pace for other distances.
Pace per mile: 10:33
Pace per mile: 11:30
Pace per mile: 12:00
Pace per mile: 13:00