The ability to properly pace a marathon or half marathon can sometimes feel elusive. We all know that the smart thing to do is start slower and finish faster, but actually executing that plan is a totally different thing.
Runner’s World broke down Desiree Linden‘s pacing from the Boston Marathon and she pretty much paced herself perfectly. Her last 5K split was only two seconds slower than her first 5K split. She ran even mile splits on a tough course in less-than-ideal conditions. The way in which she controlled her pacing is really impressive, a skill that takes a lot of mental and physical training.
Even if you’re not running 5:30 min/miles you can still execute good pacing, here are some tips for pacing your next marathon or half marathon:
Incorporate Race Pace Runs into your Training: Running at your goal race pace, the pace at which you need to run to reach your goal, is important to learning proper pacing. If you’re looking to run a 1:45 half marathon then your “goal race pace” would be 8:00 min/mile. You can incorporate race pace miles into your weekly long runs. For example if you training plan calls for a 10 mile run. Warm up with three miles at your easy run pace, then run four miles at goal race pace and finish off your run with three more easy miles. You can also “tune up” on race week with a 5K at race pace four to five days before your race.
Start Slow: Unless you have done extensive training at your goal race pace, then you really need to start conservatively in the first few miles. It can be hard to start slow, especially when you’re coming off your taper and have all the adrenaline and excitement of race day tempting you to let your legs go. But going a little slower at the start can make a huge difference with how you feel in the final miles of your race.
Half Marathon: Run the first two to three miles 10-20 seconds slower than your goal race pace.
Marathon: Run the first three miles 30-60 seconds slower than your goal race pace.
Break it Down: With long distance races like the marathon and half marathon it’s best to break down the race into manageable chunks. Often you can do this by studying the race course. The terrain can often dictate how you run the race. Here are few suggestions as to how to break down your next marathon or half marathon, however you should really consider the course.
Half Marathon: Miles 1-3 go easy; Miles 3-7 focus on steady effort; Miles 8&9 check in and gauge whether or not you’ll be able to pick up the pace for the last three miles; Miles 10-13.1 pick up the pace and finish strong.
Marathon: Miles 1-3 start easy; Miles 3-16 break these down by the course terrain: if it’s flat focus on steady pace. If it’s rolling hills focus on consistent effort on the up hill and recovering on the downhills; Mile 16 with ten miles to go this is the point at which you want to start breaking down the race into even smaller 2-3 miles chunks. Mile 20-23 often the toughest miles mentally you have run 20 miles but still have a 10K to run, this is where visualization prior to race day can really help. Miles 23-26.2 focus on a strong finish and pick up the pace or hold it stead if you can.
Don’t be a Slave to Your Watch: Sometimes when you’re shooting for a PR you have a specific pace in mind and your eyes are glued to your watch trying to stick to that pace. Most courses feature varied terrain, you’ll run up some hills and you’ll run down some hills. When faced with varied terrain it’s best to go by percieved effort for your middle miles. Yes, you want stay close to your goal pace, but if you’re struggling to keep that pace up a hill you’ll be hurting in the end. Your middle miles should be as consistent as possible, but guided by perceived effort.
Finishing Strong: The ultimately goal is to feel strong as you approach the finish, instead of slowing down. If you’ve started slow, paced evenly thorugh the middle of the race then you should still have something left to give in the final miles of your race. I’m not saying those final miles will be easy, you’ll probably have to fight and dig deep. But smart pacing for the first part of the race should allow you give more at the finish.
Half Marathon: Mile 10-13.1 try to pick up the pace with each mile. Choose a runner ahead of you and “real them in” one step at a time. Choosing small landmarks along the way can also help you to push for a short time.
Marathon: Mile 23-26.2 with three miles to go in the marathon, your legs can often feel dead. Focusing on an a steady effort or choosing small landmarks to push to can be helpful.
It’s important to remember that even the best pacing strategy cannot make up for a lack of training. If you’re shooting for a specific goal it’s critical that your training adequately prepare you, otherwise you’ll end up disappointed race after race. Your training should include the weekly mileage and pace-specific workouts to support your goal. And “training” doesn’t just mean running, it also includes the mental preparation required to perform on race day. Mental training can include visualization and mental rehearsal of how you want to run on race day. And that’s not just picturing yourself crossing the finish line triumphant, it’s picturing yourself dragging at mile 23 of the marathon and despite feeling tired, digging down deep and finding a way to run faster on tired legs. These mental pictures are the ones you can call on when the going gets tough on race day.
Have your run a marathon or half marathon recently? How was your pacing? What factors do you think influenced your pace?
Have more questions about training and pacing? I’m a certified running coach through the RRCA and USATF, I’d be happy to coach you toward your next goal!
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