Are You A One Speed Runner?

Why training at different paces is critical to improving your running
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one speed runner

By Coach Alexa, We Run Coach for Reading

There are some common themes I see with the runners I work with, and two of the top ones related to pacing, so I thought I’d visit the topic to explain. I often come across one speed runners; who’s long run pace doesn’t differ that much from short run pace. I also get lots of questions about breathing, why does breathing feel hard or uncomfortable?

One Speed Runners

When you start running, perhaps with a Couch to 5k programme, you’ll probably have one running speed. It will hopefully be a slower and gentler pace as you learn what effort level is sustainable, and to allow you to build up the time spent running. As you get more experienced and the length of your longer runs builds, you need to start thinking about doing your runs as a truly ‘easy’ or conversational pace. You can also then start playing with faster runs and different paces in your shorter sessions too.


Often when people ask me about breathing and why it feels forceful when they run. It’s usually because they are trying to run too fast right from the start of their run, or for long periods. Sometimes, runners are even trying to maintain much too fast a pace for their whole long run. Getting runners to experiment with different paces helps them learn what their sustainable “long run” pace feels like and how to stick to it. Practicing a pace that’s around 50% effort (where 0% is standing still and 100% is running from bears!) is handy; you should be able to hold a pretty full conversation with a runner next to you without too many gaps for breathing. This is a good “go to” pace if your breathing gets hard. Sometimes it’s a walk; especially up hills.

Introducing The Paces

There are, generally, 4 different effort level paces you can run at. I really like effort-level training as the pace in minutes per mile or km will vary depending on weather, food eaten recently, sleep, stress, hydration levels, hilliness of the route etc. You can do a great training session based on effort level even if your actual speed varies a little from usual.

The paces and some ways you can include them in your training are in the table below. Start by picking one shorter run a week as the run you are going to experiment with new paces and effort levels in.

PaceDescriptionExample Session
Easy/RecoveryFeeling very comfortable and easy, could hold a conversation with a runner next to you without too many pauses for breath in full sentences. 50% effort.This is your long run pace, also one to use for recovery runs and for the recoveries between faster paced intervals
SteadyCan talk in shorter sentences, but not a full conversation. Still comfortable but with slightly deeper breathing. 60% effortThis is a good pace to try to do longer sections of your runs at;
– A 1-2 mile section in a shorter run
– A 2-3 mile section towards the end of a long run
– You can build up to doing 30-40 minutes at this pace
TempoCan talk in words but not sentences, need to focus to maintain the pace, takes effort! 70% effort.A good pace for shorter intervals;
– Starting with a “by feel” speed session; running this fast to a tree/lamppost 20-30 meters further ahead, running easy until you get your breath back, repeat
– You can build into more formal sessions; e.g. 1 minute tempo, 3 minutes easy x6
Threshold/FastCan’t speak, 80% of your maximum effort. It’s a bit uncomfortable and breathing is forceful.A pace to do short efforts at. Once you are building the duration you are running your tempo sections at, then try the “by feel” run above but with threshold pace!


Hill training is speed work in disguise! You can do hill sessions at the different effort levels, just remember you’ll run slower 🙂

Why Is Speed Training Useful?

So many reasons! Let me give you a few. Speed training;

– Strengthens your heart and lungs
– Improves your running form
– Gets you faster
– Challenges your muscles so they grow stronger
– Raises the speed at which you can run for a sustained effort, and therefore improves race times
– Helps you to understand and learn how much you can push yourself
– Teaches your brain that you can run faster than it thinks – the brain is a big factor in whether you feel fatigued

How Does Speed Improve My Running Form?

I’m glad you asked! Generally when you run faster these things happen;

– Your cadence (frequency at which your feet hit the ground) improves and becomes more efficient
– Your glutes are more engaged
– Your feet pick up higher behind you
– Your arms drive backwards
– Your posture develops a gentle forward lean for efficiency

So speed work helps improve lots of aspects of running form.

What are you waiting for!? Try a speed session on your next run!

what you need to know
  • Many runners make the mistake of running all their runs at very similar speeds

  • Speed work and hill training can work wonders for fitness, technique and times

  • By focussing on your own effort level and breathing, you can learn the art of pacing yourself; both in training and in races

what you need to do
  • Change gears! Make one run a week either an interval, fartlek or hill session!

Share With Your Running Buddies!