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Running by Feel vs Running by Pace

What is the difference between running by feel and running by pace? Is one better than the other? Find out why the subtle differences in these training strategies can make a huge difference in your training!

When I surveyed you all for your top training questions, many of you asked me questions about pace. I thought that I would do a little series on the blog over the next few weeks or months that breaks down pacing strategies for training and racing, ranging from determining the correct pace for particular workouts to pacing strategies for the races themselves to how to learn to “feel” a pace while running. Not a runner? I would still encourage you to take a look–these are universal training concepts (remember the concept of periodization from the common training terms post? I rest my case!)

Running by Pace vs Running by Feel: which is best for marathon training? Find out at @suzlyfe

Running by Feel

Insert meme of Ricky Bobby saying he thought he could feel it. And someone saying That’s what she said. 

For the purpose of this discussion, when I say “running by feel,” I am discussing running according to how your feel at the time.  There is another kind of running by feel which is running by effort, which is different from running by feel. 

suzlyfe chicago spring running

So what is Running By Feel? 

  • Listening to your body, your mind, you emotions, and being guided by those feelings over what is “appropriate”
  • “Intuitive Running”
  • Example: “I’m feeling good, let’s rip it up!” or “Ugh, legs are like lead, let’s call it in.”

Pros of Running by Feel:

  • By listening to your body, you develop a more developed ability to do so–you will be able to read your body’s signals and listen to what it is telling you. 
  • Running by feel makes you highly self reliant and more likely to respect your body’s cues.
  • Wooohoooo you will enjoy your run! You will do what you want, when you want, and each run will be what you “need” each time you go out.

Cons of Running by Feel:

  • Sometimes, our bodies send mixed signals–you might not realize how much you are overdoing it (ie running too fast, too often) until it is too late.
  • Burning out early in a race–WOOOHOOOO LET”S RUN omg I’m dying. 
  • On the other hand, you can find that you get stuck in doing what is “comfortable,” and find yourself stuck in a rut. Thus, you run the risk of missing certain milestones.

Coach Suz Training Marathon Training, Endurance Sports coaching, and Personal Training!

Running by Pace:

On the other end of the spectrum, we have what I will call Running by Pace. When I refer to Running by Pace, I am describing running by a pre-determined, or set pace. Bring out the Garmin and training plans, people!

What is Running by Pace?

  • Listening to your marathon training plan
  • “Meal Plan Running”
  • Example: “I have 8 miles today at 8:00 min/mile pace, with the last 3 miles at 7:30 min/mile.”

Pros of Running by Pace:

  • Provides structure and guidance during the course of the week. You will know what is expected of you the next morning, the next minute
  • The right plan with the right paces can get you to the start and finish lines happy, healthy, and not burnt out.
  • WOOOHOOO look at me! Running by pace offers concrete proof that you are improving!
  • This type of training will get you more personal best, PR Race “ready” by prescribing workouts BUT…

Cons of Running By Pace:

  • But… you will only be race ready if the proper paces are prescribed, and you know what paces are necessary to hit in order to reach your goals. 
  • Higher risk of burn out or injury by pushing yourself too hard, mentally or physically. Worried about runner burn out?
  • Numbers, numbers, numbers. You can get caught up in the numbers and feel discouraged if you aren’t improving the way that you feel that you should. 

Coach Susie running with pace group during Chicago Endurance Sports 20 miler at the end of Marathon Training!

Important Points to Keep in Mind:

We are dynamic individuals!

Setting paces is akin to setting the hours of time for sleeping, the number of calories that you are eating per day, etc. Thus, there are standards and “optimal” levels, but you must remember that we are dynamic individuals; some days we need more, some days we need less. And, as many runners find out, we may think that we are fitter than we really are!

It is important to focus on listening to your body (even though, as previously noted, they can be a bit misleading). There are going to be days when we are supposed to do speed work and lay it down, and it just. isn’t. there. or, even worse, you feel that you are getting a niggling injury. There will be times when we just need to cut ourselves some slack, or we just have a terrible run. That is OK. Quality is more important than Quantity. I would rather you skip a speed workout than burn out because you just can’t give it your all. That said, sometimes, you need to step up to the plate and work it out. That is where listening to yourself and your body comes in: are you just feeling blah, or are you blah? Will this turn around after 10 minutes, or is this a wash?

Running with Alex on the Lake Front Path

Running Strategy: When should you run by pace and when should you run by feel?

Coach Suz advice: In my opinion, the best strategy is the training plan that combines the two. I incorporate both feel and paced runs into my clients programs. I give paces for them to keep in mind for each of their runs, but I also talk about how those paces should feel, because, as I will discuss in later posts about choosing paces, sometimes, pacing is elusive!

I hope that you have a better idea of whether running by feel or running by pace is good for you and your workout! More training discussion to come!

Check out my other posts on pacing yourself!

All about that pace: Running by Feel or Set pace, which is better? #runchat #running #fitfluential Click To Tweet

What are some questions that you have for me?

What do you prefer: running by pace or running by feel?

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  • Reply Kim Hatting

    I am definitely a “run by feel” runner. I’m just too paranoid about injury. Most of my training is kind of a combination of “feel” and “pace.” I have a plan, but I’m also mindful (subjectively LOL) of modifying as needed. That said, I have always done my training on my own, without the advice and counsel of a coach. So……maybe I need an intervention (?) 😉

    February 2, 2016 at 6:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe


      February 2, 2016 at 8:59 am
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    I love how you said we are dynamic and our needs change. That can be something difficult to understand about our bodies. Sometimes we just need more of certain things. Our bodies are smarter mechanisms than we know and there’s always a reason!

    February 2, 2016 at 6:29 am
    • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

      Gah! I just realized my website address was wrong! Why doesn’t auto correct know this by now?

      February 2, 2016 at 6:31 am
      • Reply suzlyfe

        Well that is just stupid

        February 2, 2016 at 8:58 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And sometimes our bodies are silly and hide things from us lol

      February 2, 2016 at 8:59 am
  • Reply Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

    I’ve always been a run by feel kind of gal–Becky has worked with me on pacing and that has been a tough lesson for this old dog to learn. But very very valuable. Now I have an idea of pacing myself by feel? Is that a thing?

    February 2, 2016 at 6:35 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yep! I’m going to be talking about it soon!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:58 am
  • Reply Bri

    I was thinking about this on my long run on Sunday, and how I always run marathons by feel but burn out in the last 10 km. I think I need to stick to a pace group this time!

    February 2, 2016 at 6:47 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I have a post coming up about best pacing strategies for races–I’d love to know your thoughts on it!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:57 am
  • Reply Julie

    This made me smile when I read the title because I have no idea what my pace is. But there are times I feel like I’m flying and maybe I’m really slow!! This interests me because I feel I would not get as bored if I varied my pace but I am worried about feeling like I HAVE to make a certin time. I am someone who if I say I am going to run 5 miles I HAVE to run 5. I am getting better about this!!

    February 2, 2016 at 6:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It is hard to balance, Julie! I will talk soon about running by perceived effort, and I think that might be a really beneficial discussion for you.

      February 2, 2016 at 8:56 am
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    Great post! I like running by both pace and feel depending on what my goals are. If I’m training for a race with a specific faster time, I need some pace guidelines, or I will not push myself hard enough. However, I don’t like running like that all the time 🙂

    February 2, 2016 at 7:01 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I COMPLETELY agree. It all comes down to what your goals are, at that moment!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:54 am
  • Reply Annmarie

    I think I tend to “run by pace” too much and should “run by feel” more often but I tend to get stuck in that comfortable zone when I “run by feel” and not push myself when I probably could.

    February 2, 2016 at 7:01 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And sometimes that is ok! Especially when you are superwoman 😀

      February 2, 2016 at 8:54 am
  • Reply Michele @ paleorunningmomma

    I’m generally happier when I run by feel over pace. Sometimes it’s led me to faster times and others slower than I’d like, but at this point it’s the only way to go for me!

    February 2, 2016 at 7:08 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I am totally with you there!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:53 am
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    Since coming back from my foot injuries, I pretty much run by feel over pace and it works well for me. The downside for me is perhaps I don’t push myself enough sometimes but right now that is not bothering me. Good chat 🙂

    February 2, 2016 at 7:16 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And that is great! Coming back from injury is a great time to run by feel, as long as you are conservative.

      February 2, 2016 at 8:53 am
  • Reply Emily @ My Healthyish Life

    I’ve had the best success when I train with a combo of the two. Right now, post-injury, I’m running only by feel. Even then it’s not a concrete pace and every run is different! The tricky thing will be to decide when I’m ready to transition to running by pace.

    February 2, 2016 at 7:31 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I agree. It can be hard to figure out that transition. I would say to give it a few months for you to get back in shape, both mentally and physically. Let me know if you need more help!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:52 am
  • Reply Sarah

    Great post! Funny enough, I have a slightly similar post tomorrow that I’ve been sitting on this week. It is a great topic 🙂

    February 2, 2016 at 7:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Excellent! I think I’m going to change something around and do a follow up for tomorrow.

      February 2, 2016 at 8:50 am
  • Reply Mar @ Mar on the Run

    it’s easier for me to run by feel but know pace is important.I hate looking at my watch every 2 seconds and do sometimes think i’m running faster or slower than I really am! Case in point – I ran an 8:56 mile during my long run Sunday (oops, sorry Coach!) When I saw the time I was like oh, that’s too fast what happened there. But I was feeling good and didn’t realize it! Don’t worry, I slowed down 🙂

    February 2, 2016 at 8:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ok good. Don’t freak me out like that! Maybe something that we will work on with you is WHEN to look and check pace. That way you don’t have to look at it too much. We’ll work on that!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:49 am
  • Reply Michelle

    I think I am a combo of both. I try to be consistent with long run pace, and have trained my body to sorta just gooooooooo LOL!

    February 2, 2016 at 8:06 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahaha ain’t nothing wrong with that!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:48 am
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    I tend to run more by perceived effort, which I guess is by feel but also gives the trainig stimulus of running by pace. Since pace can vary so much based on external factors like wind and temperature, I’ll focus on my breathing and other cues. Usually the paces are consistent as well, much more than when I just focus on a number.

    February 2, 2016 at 8:07 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I have another post about running by RPE, which I think is even more beneficial than running by feel. I feel like being tied to paces can just pigeonhole us, often, but then so can running by feel. Breathing is such a telltale sign of fitness–including recovery.

      February 2, 2016 at 8:47 am
  • Reply Angie @ Pace with Grace

    Great information here! I would say I run by effort most often but definitely in training I am focused on hitting paces of the training plan because most often, I’m shooting for a certain finish time. How do you go about determining the appropriate pace for training runs? And if you’re training for a specific PR, how often should you be running at that goal race pace?

    February 2, 2016 at 8:38 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Great question! I will be coming back to that question, so sit tight!

      February 2, 2016 at 8:45 am
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I totally think a combination works best. I ran too long by pace only and it didn’t do me any favours. Once I started adding in some by feel runs and heart rate training, my running has improved and is more enjoyable.

    February 2, 2016 at 8:53 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Isn’t it so much better? I feel like it benefits both brain and body.

      February 2, 2016 at 9:25 am
  • Reply Kat

    I seriously love this post – even though Im not a runner. You really break it all down so well and even though Im not a “runner” I can still relate to one style over the other. Look at you making this meat-head feel like a runner! 😉

    February 2, 2016 at 8:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahahaha I love meatheads! I married one 😀

      February 2, 2016 at 9:24 am
  • Reply Tiffany @ The Chi-Athlete

    Thumbs up to *dynamic individuals*! I think that it’s crucial to cover up your watch (or don’t wear a running watch at all — I used to wear a Timex for my long runs; start and stop) for some runs. Go by feel. I really only care about hitting pace with speedwork.

    February 2, 2016 at 9:10 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Unless I am doing a long run or doing a specific workout, I don’t wear my garmin. But sometimes that has gotten me in trouble by not running easily enough!

      February 2, 2016 at 9:24 am
  • Reply Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    I am a big fan of listening to my body. I would love to be able to run at what I felt was a “Good” pace, but my body just doesn’t co-operate, so I just listen to my body and do what I can. A little bit it better than nothing.

    February 2, 2016 at 9:16 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Absolutely! There is nothing wrong with either of them, and you have to choose what is right for your goals!

      February 2, 2016 at 9:23 am
  • Reply Shawna

    such good thoughts and definitely something i need to consider more, as i’m so much of a “run by feel” person because i just LOVE it and my running story is one of a family legacy and a genuine love for being outside, on the road, having my own time. i don’t have much experience pushing myself to hit a goal or think about #s and i’ve been considering that more lately, if i want to push myself to be “a faster runner” or if i’m just content being so happy with where i’m at.

    February 2, 2016 at 9:24 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      To me, it is about your current goals and issues: not having issues, why change things?

      February 2, 2016 at 9:28 am
  • Reply Suzy

    Up until about a year ago I never tracked my pace. I didn’t own a Garmin and I didn’t carry my phone with GPS tracking on it. I’d run by feel! And now that I track my pace (about 50% of the time) I’ll notice that some days I feeeeel like I’m flying and I’m not, or other days my legs feel like tanker trucks but my splits are insane. It just goes to show that what you said is SO right: Our bodies are dynamic. It’s pretty incredible! Oh and to answer your question about who is doing the farting on the voice messages I send out to Jake and Andrew? So far it’s only been my mouth making the fart sounds, but they freak out thinking it’s my bum.

    February 2, 2016 at 9:24 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      bahahahahhaahah I can’t even respond to the first part of your comment because of the second hahaha

      February 2, 2016 at 9:27 am
  • Reply Erin @ Erin's Inside Job

    I would always just run by feel and would pretty much end up with the same pace every time so that was cool. When it’s longer races (like that death half I ran with you), I need to be smarter about actually pacing myself.

    February 2, 2016 at 10:03 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      If you ever run another half, you are training with me. MKAY

      February 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm
  • Reply Sarah @pickyrunner

    I pretty much only run by feel, except during races. I rarely wear a watch because I know how far most of my routes are, so the only time I know my pace is if I’m running a new-to-me distance or route. I think i need to work harder on pacing this year though so I avoid dying early in the marathon like last year.

    February 2, 2016 at 10:20 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m the same way–naked unless going long or new routes (it takes forever to get signal). Pacing is hard–it takes time to figure out the best strategy!

      February 2, 2016 at 4:54 pm
  • Reply Sara @ LIfe Between the Miles

    Thank you for this post as this is something I struggle with. I run by feel outside but run by pace on the treadmill–which just makes it easier for me since I can’t ever gauge without my Garmin what my pace is.

    February 2, 2016 at 10:52 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’ll be talking soon about developing “pace sense” or how to gauge your pace without a garmin 😀

      February 2, 2016 at 4:52 pm
  • Reply Heather@hungryforbalance

    In my (very limited) experience with running, I usually just ran by feel. I think, however, that if I had ever built up to distances of greater than 5 miles, I definitely would have tried the pacing method. Very interesting!

    February 2, 2016 at 11:40 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think you are right on it!

      February 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm
  • Reply Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine

    I definitely have only run by feel!

    February 2, 2016 at 11:54 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And if it works for you, that is great!

      February 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm
  • Reply

    Loved this post! I’m a perfectionist, so it’s really hard for me to get past a run when I’m having a bad day and my pace is really low, or I can’t make it for as long as I did the day before. I’m working on letting that crap go – but it’s the way I’m wired. I wish I could add some “Run by Feel” days into my training … I know it’s what I need to even things out. We’ll see what happens. 🙂

    February 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I would say to run by feel when you know that you are having one of those days. Just don’t even give yourself that option. Or change the display so that it shows distance, but not pace. There are ways that you can get around it!

      February 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm
  • Reply Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat

    I get obsessive about pace, and the desire to get “fast” (quotes because it is all relative) When I was coming back from the flare I just didn’t care I was so happy to be running. I was running pretty slow for the most part. Somehow the fitness and pace returned as I PR’d a lot in the fall season! Now I am actively trying to get that HM PR but I also try to not get too wrapped up in it. Most of my easy runs are done without my Garmin. I know in theory it is all those easy slow miles that help me progress but some times seeing that 10-11 min pace is like really? let’s get this over with! My two strict workout days are another story – I am trying to hit paces those days. I will say the one factor that I think hurts my training is treadmill running. I love the treadmill but you know what pace you are set at and at least for myself, my brain will tell me it is hard and that translates to my running. Like today running below 8:30 on the TM for 4+ miles – in my head I am like oh this is hard but the reality was a was just out of my comfort zone.

    February 2, 2016 at 2:00 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You can get away with a lot of relatively slow running and still kick ass in races, with proper training! I’ll be talking about that soon. Definitely don’t overdo having too many workout runs a week.

      February 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm
  • Reply Lisa @ RunWiki

    I have a love hate relationship with pace. I love to run by feel, but my mind is a 20 year old and my body is pushing 50, so that doesn’t always work out for me. In the end, I think having a balance of both is good for me personally. Great info here!

    February 2, 2016 at 3:32 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Me too. My problem is that when I run by feel, I tend to get hurt–because I don’t feel anything bad until it is too late. So from here on out, I’m going to need to do some more pace work.

      February 2, 2016 at 4:48 pm
  • Reply Cailee

    This is super interesting. I’m honestly not a runner, but it’s interesting to see the different approaches runners take! I’m such an intuitive person so I would def run by feel… but I think that’s why I don’t run… because I don’t ‘feel’ like it! ohhh man… now I feel like i need to go run! Hehe, great info! Thanks for sharing.

    February 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahaha there are may times when I don’t feel like running, until I start 😀

      February 2, 2016 at 4:47 pm
  • Reply Pam

    I’m a total slave to my Garmin but my sister is the exact opposite. She wears a Times watch (ordinary Timex with no run functions) and just runs by feel. She also crushes her age group at most races, so she must be doing something right!

    February 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      WHAT IS WITH THESE PEOPLE I need some of that juju!

      February 4, 2016 at 2:47 pm
  • Reply Anna @ Piper's Run

    Honestly, I’ve only recently started to run by pace last fall when I had to be a pace bunny and then just kept it up because my Garmin was set. I used it for my half and it worked like a charm.
    Right now I’m just running by feel, increasing/decreasing my speed as needed.
    Great tips!

    February 2, 2016 at 7:02 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is perfect for you! You know how to listen to your body, especially after last year. More power to you!

      February 4, 2016 at 2:48 pm
  • Reply Mecca

    Great post! I definitely prefer to run by feel as for me, running is definitely mind over matter. If I run by feel, I often find that I push myself to run harder and/or farther than expected. I tend to get more stressed trying to keep a pace.

    February 2, 2016 at 7:19 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It is great that you know you have the tendency to get stressed about the numbers, so you go with the flow. So many people would try to fight it, and lose the love!

      February 4, 2016 at 2:51 pm
  • Reply Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine

    I definitely agree that a combination of the two is ideal! For the past couple of months I have pretty much only run by feel, which I think at this point has led me to run almost the same paces day after day. Once the snow is gone I hope to add a little structure back into my running!

    February 3, 2016 at 4:28 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Isn’t it cool when you realize that you have idea of what “your pace” is? Such a cool feeling when you legs just know.

      February 4, 2016 at 2:49 pm
  • Reply lindsay

    a mix of both! i so agree. but right now, id be happy just to feel like running. Haha, haven’t since JULY!

    February 3, 2016 at 7:09 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      The two of us, we will get there!

      February 4, 2016 at 2:46 pm
  • Reply Kerri Mcgrail

    Love the running tips! I guess I do a bit of both- long runs/ mid distance/ tempo-isn runs I usually just run by feel. When I am doing an interval on the track/treadmill I try to hit pace, and the same with progressive runs. If my legs are dead one day, I usually just switch up my plan a bit, but lately I’ve just kind of been winging it!

    February 3, 2016 at 10:11 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      As long as you aren’t hurt and are enjoying it, go for it!

      February 4, 2016 at 2:46 pm
  • Reply Jess @hellotofit

    When I run (once a month), it’s normally by feel. Maybe that’s why I can only do 2-3 miles, since I start off so excited and def way too fast 😛

    February 4, 2016 at 7:40 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahahahhaa SO MUCH EXCite ok I”m done

      February 4, 2016 at 2:47 pm
  • Reply Eric Nette

    I run by pace for obvious reasons, as you know from my consult. If I run by feel completely I will burn myself out or injure myself. The most obvious example is when I messed up my pace on my last HM. I thought I had run 8:08 miles previously, so I was running that, finished the race, and looked at my time. Whoops! I had been running 8:48 miles previously. My body has been hurting or bugging me my whole life, if I’m not careful I forget to eat and sometimes go to the bathroom for hours if I get distracted/focused. Since I don’t spend most of my time in pain anymore it’s easy to ignore the little things. I have a strategy for my Marathon pace wise, I’m going to be holding myself back until mile 22 or so, then I’ll let it do whatever it wants for the finish as long as it finishes.

    February 4, 2016 at 3:33 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yes, I can definitely attest to this! But I also know that you are smart enough to listen to good advice, and to seek it out, which believe you me, is a huge part of the battle. I know so well what you mean to take a bit too much advantage of feeling good, feeling fine–I did that for my first marathon, and it got me in big trouble. But you are doing great, and I am so proud of you!

      February 4, 2016 at 3:37 pm
  • Reply Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes

    My coach for the marathon had me doing this pretty much. He wouldn’t assign me paces, but “gears” for my breathing. Sometimes I would be super speedy in one gear and other days I would be slower! It really worked for me!

    February 7, 2016 at 6:49 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know you had great success with this method! I actually thought about you while writing it!

      February 8, 2016 at 1:37 pm
  • Reply Katie @ Adulting Daily

    I’m a long time runner by pace and I’m currently trying to run more by feel. The problem is, I can’t stop thinking about pace! Even when I don’t wear a watch, I can’t stop thinking about how fast I’m going and I can never really slow down. I have a real problem actually making easy runs easy. Any tips?

    March 1, 2016 at 11:10 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Try singing a song to yourself, or use a song that is slower–you will be less likely to go all out! Do you have any friends that are a bit slower that can pace you? Most importantly, RELAX. Focus on your form, the scenery–slow down and take everything in. Breathe in and out with measured breaths–try 1 in, 3 out. Experimenting with methods like that might help! Let me know–I’ll be interested to know how you improve.

      March 1, 2016 at 7:10 pm
      • Reply Katie @ Adulting Daily

        Thanks for the tips! I think I’ll make an easy running playlist for slower runs. Part of my problem may be that I listed to the same fast and upbeat songs for all my runs. I’ll try the breathing tip too! Focusing on that instead of pace should help me slow down.

        March 2, 2016 at 9:29 am

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