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How to Set a PR Using a Running Race Pace Calculator

by Zach Nehr

Blog ▸ How to Set a PR Using a Running Race Pace Calculator

Choosing the right running race pace can mean the difference between blowing up and smashing your PB. You might only have seconds between paces, but once you go over your limit, there’s no going back.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to use our Running Race Pace Calculator. It’s a bit more than plugging in the numbers, and we’ll give you all the tips and tricks you need to perfect your pacing strategy.

Enter Your Numbers into the Running Race Pace Calculator

Suppose you don’t already have the numbers you need to plug into the Running Race Pace Calculator. In that case, we have the testing protocol for you.

How to Find Your Running Race Pace

To calculate your running race pace, you must do a maximal run effort test such as an all-out 3km. The 3km distance is ideal for testing because it doesn’t require a considerable taper or recovery afterward. It is great for new runners since it is a challenging workout that can be inserted into any rest week.  

The 3km run test doesn’t take a lot out of you, and it’s easier to retest frequently than a longer and harder test. 

That said, there is a time and a place for a more extended test, such as a 10km run test. The 10km test is excellent for any athlete looking for more accurate pacing guidelines for a marathon distance or longer. A test of this length can help you find your marathon pace or training paces for longer tempo runs. 

Whether you are entering marathon training or gearing up for your next race, the 10km test can fit into the training plan of many runners training for longer races. 

Read on below to learn how to complete a running race pace test for a given distance:

How to Find Your Running Race Pace

Use a GPS watch or fitness tracker to get accurate data during the following test:

After the run, plug your fastest 3k time into our Running Race Pace Calculator.

This test also provides valuable heart rate (HR) data that you can use to dial in your training zones. Read more about our Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator. You can use these per kilometer or per mile paces to guide your training for a 5km, half marathon, full marathon, and more.

How to Use the Running Race Pace Calculator

Once you have completed your running race pace test and plugged in your results to the Running Race Pace Calculator, it is time to utilize your newfound knowledge.

The Running Race Pace Calculator provides a range of paces for different lengths of races, and you can narrow down these ranges through training at “race pace.” These ranges will apply to all types of run training and distances including tempo runs, easy runs, speed workouts, and half marathon or marathon training.

Pay attention to how you’re feeling during these “race pace” workouts. It won’t be long before it ‘clicks.’ You will know your ideal running race pace when the pace feels challenging but sustainable – you are running very hard. However, you are still in control of your effort and breathing.

Race pace workouts can into your weekly mileage as you increase both your endurance and training intensity. Save race pace workouts for shorter runs at first. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can start adding race pace intervals to some of your long runs.

Next, you need to know your heart rate and RPE at your race pace. You can fall back on these numbers in racing or training. Running race pace is key, but you should check in with your body and mind to ensure those paces are correct during race pace workouts.

Here is what we’re going to cover in the rest of this article:

  • Drawbacks of Traditional Running Race Pace Calculators
  • The Quarter Method for Running Race Pace
  • Other Performance Factors

Drawbacks of Traditional Running Race Pace Calculators

Many coaches and schools of thought recommend calculating running race pace using a certain percentage of your running threshold. For example, let’s say you recently ran a 10km PB in 30 minutes flat. A traditional running race pace calculator might ask you to plug in that number. Their calculator will spit out a recommended race pace of 3:00min/km.

That’s not very insightful nor provides any wiggle room for positive or negative adjustments. Perhaps you ran that PB on four hours of sleep, or it was 35°C that day.

Our Running Race Pace Calculator provides a range of paces that allows you to adjust your pace based on your overall feeling. And that is how you achieve your best performance on race day.

Therein lies another element of race day performance: the execution of the target race pace.

It is easier said than done, but we have another method to help you get the most out of your legs on race day. It’s called the Quarter Method, and it’s as simple as it sounds.

The Quarter Method for Running Race Pace

Nothing is worse than blowing up in the latter half of your run and stumbling to the finish line. Pacing is the most critical aspect of a running race. Still, it is also one of the most challenging aspects to execute.

Introducing the Quarter Method, the best way to stay on top of your race strategy and run your way to a personal best. The Quarter Method breaks up your run into four equal parts, with a specific pacing strategy for each section. Let’s jump right into it.

Quarter 1

The #1 rule of the Quarter Method is that you cannot go above your running race pace in the first quarter of your run. Remember that everyone feels good for the first quarter of the race – that’s because they aren’t tired yet!

Don’t get sucked into the adrenaline rush of the event and follow the faster runners off the start line. Stick to your goal pace and you will save yourself from blowing up later in the race.

You may be incredibly excited, nervous, or pumped up on caffeine at the start of a race. All of these factors can significantly affect your heart rate, making it difficult to use heart rate as a reliable metric for racing. Crucially, the Quarter Method uses pace instead of heart rate to help guide your effort.

Quarter 2

Check in with how you feel as you approach the race’s halfway point. In the second quarter of the race, you can push up to your target race pace and maybe go a teensy bit over it if you are feeling good. You should also use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to help measure your effort at this point of the race.

Quarter 3

Once you enter the third quarter of the race, your race pace shouldn’t change. If you have accelerated a little bit, then you should be holding that acceleration. And if you’re still at your target race pace, keep it there.

Quarter 4

You lay it all on the line in the race’s final quarter. If you’ve paced your effort well and stuck to your race pace, you should be able to hold on to the very end. Most people will slow down in the race’s final quarter, but the runners who slow down the least are the fastest.

Why the Quarter Method Works

Studies (1) have shown that the fastest races are not negative but slightly positive splits. In other words, the fastest runners go out hard and barely slow down.

Those who pace their efforts the best will typically lose 1-10 seconds per kilometer in the final quarter of their race.

Put it all together, and the Quarter Method for Running Race Pace will look like this:

  • 1st Quarter: DO NOT go above your target race pace
  • 2nd Quarter: gradually increase your pace to your target race pace, and maybe a tiny bit over
  • 3rd Quarter: maintain your current pace
  • 4th Quarter: leave it all on the road and expect your pace to drop a tiny bit

Other Performance Factors

People are not robots; there is so much more that goes into running performance than plugging in the numbers. It would be easy (and boring) if we could run the perfect pace on race day, but there are many other factors that might affect our performance.

Work, traveling, life stress, and a poor night’s sleep can considerably impact our race-day performance. Check out this study for the complete list (2).

To summarize, these are some of the conditions that can lead to slower races:

  • Poor pacing (i.e. large negative or positive split)
  • Lack of pacers and fewer runners
  • Headwinds
  • Warm or hot conditions (i.e. >10°C / >52°F) (3)
  • High altitude (>1200m / >4000 ft)

Interestingly, men and women seem to prefer different temperatures for running (4). Multiple studies have identified this phenomenon, though some studies suggest men prefer hotter temperatures while other studies say that women prefer hotter temperatures. For the moment, it is inconclusive. 

Conversely, here are some conditions that can lead to faster races:

  • Better pacing (i.e. slightly positive split)
  • Pacers and drafting
  • Tailwinds
  • Cool conditions (i.e. 7°C–11°C / 44°F–52°F)
  • Running at sea level (<1200m / <4000 ft)

Interestingly, men and women seem to prefer different temperatures for running. Multiple studies have identified this phenomenon, though some studies suggest men prefer hotter temperatures while other studies say that women prefer hotter temperatures. For the moment, it is inconclusive.

High altitude and heat can seriously slow you down, and that’s why it’s so important to have more than your Running Race Pace in mind. Pay attention to your heart rate and RPE in each quarter of the race, and adjust your effort if something feels off.

This is another reason that the Quarter Method is so effective. Staying under race pace in the first quarter of the race will give you time to check in with your body. You will learn what you are capable of that day, whether it is smashing your marathon PB or staying with the leading pack.

Conclusion

The Running Race Pace Calculator is the best method for finding your ideal race pace because it is both precise and flexible. In this range, you will know what is possible to achieve on race day. But you will also have the wiggle room to adjust your race pace given certain conditions such as heat, altitude, or taper quality.

Combine the Running Race Pace Calculator with Rate of Perceived Exertion and the Quarter Method to execute your best performance on race day.

Here’s the magic formula for finding your Running Race Pace:

Sources and studies

1.  Are negative splits faster in the marathon? An analysis

2. Factors Affecting Training and Physical Performance in Recreational Endurance Runners

3. Impact of Environmental Parameters on Marathon Running Performance

4. The role of weather conditions on running performance in the Boston Marathon from 1972 to 2018

Zach Nehr

Zach Nehr

Zach has a degree in Exercise Science and Psychology. He is a certified coach, Cat 1 cyclist, and is a freelance writer having been published in many of the worlds largest endurance sports publications.