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Use pacing activities to establish baselines, evaluate progress, and teach kids to monitor and control their speed for more efficient running.

Teaching runners the concept of pacing is one of the most important goals of a coach. Most young runners have a tendency to start too fast and don't plan for the later stages of their run. Before middle school, kids have little need for pacing as most of their activity is based on short bursts of energy alternating with rest. While that is wonderful exercise, runners may become frustrated if they try to run longer distances but are unable to pace themselves to complete those distances. It may be counterintuitive to middle schoolers, but pacing enables athletes to run further, as well as faster. Pacing is a fundamental skill for distance runners, but all kids should learn pacing and try both distance running and sprinting, just as they should try a variety of sports when they are young.

Key Guidelines

Pacing is as much a mental concept as it is a physical one and takes time for children to learn. By middle school students are old enough to begin understanding pace and will see tremendous improvement when they learn to control their speed.

Explain to students that pacing is about using your energy efficiently and follow these guidelines during practices:

  • Do a time trial early on to establish a baseline measurement so runners can measure their progress.
  • Do activities that help runners distinguish between different speeds.
  • Have students share how it feels to run at different speeds.
  • Help runners learn how to control their speed and run at a constant speed with constant effort. (Note: This is a little trickier for kids to do and the actual speed will depend on the length of the run and fitness of the runner.)
  • Work on pacing strategy. Break a run into smaller segments and strive to hit target times, or splits, for those segments. For middle school kids, working on running even splits (the same time for each segment) is a good goal.
  • Use the baseline time trial to calculate initial goal times, target paces, and splits.
  • Repeat time trials throughout the season to monitor progress.
  • Keep it fun. Pacing is a hard concept to learn. It will take time for kids to learn to control their speed.

Key terms:

  • Pace is time divided by distance.
  • Goal pace refers to the pace a runner would ultimately like to run for a certain distance by the end of the season.
  • A split is the time that it takes to run a specific portion of a race or workout.
  • An even split is when a runner consecutively runs equal distances in the same amount of time. Calculate even splits by dividing the race distance by the distance you want splits for. Then take the goal time and divide it by that number to get your even split goal. For example: if you want to run 4 miles in 32 minutes, then to get 1 mile splits you divide 4 by 1 and get 4. Then divide 32 by that 4 to get 8. That means you need to run 8-minute mile splits, or 8 minutes per mile.

Pacing Videos

Time Trials

A pacing exercise that establishes a baseline for each runner's fitness level and pacing skill, and provides an opportunity to practice pacing and monitor progress

Tags: middle school, pacing

Running Rewards

A pacing exercise and fun team competition that trains runners to identify the effort it takes to run at their goal race pace and teaches them how to monitor their speed

Tags: middle school, pacing