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For long-distance runners, setting a steady pace is crucial for maintaining stamina and reaching distance goals. However, for runners who want to improve their speeds, setting a faster pace than usual can feel surprisingly hard. According to new research, there’s a biological reason why you have a natural running pace – and why it’s so hard to increase it. 

Whether you’ve just joined a new running group or you’re training for a race, there’s probably one thing on your mind – keeping up with the group and running just a little faster.

If you run frequently, you may have noticed that picking up the pace isn’t always as easy as it may seem. You might find yourself constantly settling back into the same steady pace again and again – even if you’re running vastly different distances each time.

New research recently published in Current Biology suggests that there’s a biological reason why we all seem to have our own unique natural running pace – and apparently, it’s all to do with evolution and conserving energy.

Why we all have our own natural running pace

Researchers from Queens University and Stanford University conducted a study in which they collected data from runners in labs and runners out on real-world jogs.

When they combined the two datasets, they were surprised by what they found. “We intuitively assume that people run faster for shorter distances and then would slow their pace for longer distances,” said Jessica Selinger, cheapest viagra super force online uk next day a neuromechanics researcher at Queens University. However, instead of runners changing their pace for shorter or longer runs, they discovered that runners tend to hit the same pace regardless of their distance.

The researchers hypothesised that the phenomenon occurs because of evolutionary biology. From a biological perspective, humans may be ‘programmed’ to run at a speed that naturally conserves their energy. Hundreds of years ago, this may have helped us stay alive.

Now, of course, we usually run for exercise and our need to conserve energy isn’t what it once was. 

Tips from the experts on increasing your natural pace

While running at your natural speed will help you save energy for long-distance jogs, it may stop you from reaching your goals when it comes to speed.

“We typically find a lot of runners we coach tend to run at their bodies’ natural speed,” says Lewis Moses, head running coach for Incus Performance and Runner Retreats.“This can mean they don’t give their body the chance to adapt in different ways in response to any variance in the training plan.”

If you feel like you just can’t up the speed, there are things you can try. Moses suggests incorporating specific training methods to help your body push its natural pace.

“Gradually increasing your pace is key, you can’t become Kelly Holmes overnight.”

“Interval, fartlek or hill training – with recoveries incorporated into the sessions – can help you to run at faster speeds, which in turn can help improve your performance quickly and get over your training plateaus,” Moses explains.

Lucy Canham, Founder of Run of a Kind, also recommends interval training. “Set your target time for a distance and work out what that equates to in pace,” she says. “Gradually increasing your pace is key, you can’t become Kelly Holmes overnight. Stick to that pace in races and resist the temptation to speed up and overtake other runners when your ego takes over.”

Should we all be embracing our natural running pace?

While finding ways to work around the biological inevitability of our running speeds may be important for some runners, for others, this new research may come as something of a relief. No, you’re not unfit or slow – you just aren’t as naturally fast as your running buddy.

In fact, in some cases, it’s actually healthier to accept a slower pace that suits your body than it is to try to push yourself beyond your natural physical limits before you’re ready. “‘Strava stalking’ and comparing your speed to other runners is the quickest way to kill your running confidence,” warns Canham. “Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who’s been lapped at a park run.”

Instead of focusing on beating your previous times, set other goals that allow you to embrace your natural pace. “Leaving your iPhone at home and running consciously will have you on the path to success,” says Canham. “Take time to look around you, notice the everyday things you’d usually run past. Stop to read history boards, admire flowers or explore cool buildings.”

Ultimately, biology knows what’s best for us. And while it can be fun and exciting to increase your pace and break personal time records, it’s also important to embrace your own body and listen to what it’s telling you. Maybe your normal pace is exactly what your body needs and wants out of your runs right now.

Images: Getty

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