Whether you’re running your first marathon or your 100th, finding your pace is key to a successful (and enjoyable) race. I’ve run 13 marathons and have pretty much done it all — positive split, even split, and even the elusive negative split. In this blog, I break down all my favorite do’s and don’ts to pacing!
Tried and True Pre-Race Tactics
The pacing game starts with your training. It’s important to play with your pace and train in a way that you’ll be set up for success. Here are my top three tips for pre-race pacing!
- Find Your Pace. First things first. Identify your goal time. From there you can start to figure out your pace per mile. As you calculate your target pace, be sure to account for the unexpected — bathroom emergencies, water stops, start line congestion. Give yourself a good buffer so you can avoid panic on race day!
- Train Your Pace. Once you know your pace, you need to train with it! The worst thing that can happen is waiting until race day to run your pace for a prolonged period of time. Training at race pace will not only give you the confidence to quickly settle into your pace on race day, but it’ll also get your body used to it so on race day the muscle memory just takes over. You don’t (and shouldn’t) run the entirety of your long training runs at marathon pace, but definitely add those race pace miles in. I recommend running your faster miles at the end of your long run to simulate a positive split.
- Push the Pace. Another great way to ensure that you’re confident and ready to rock your pace is by running faster than your goal pace. Doing speed workouts like Yasso 800s is the perfect way to test your speed and kick confidence into gear.
Race Day Strategies
When it comes to pacing, runners tend to fall in one of two camps — running solo or with a group. I’ve done both and I can tell you without a doubt that running with a group is typically more enjoyable. But it does have its pitfalls, just as running solo has its advantages.
- Run Your Own Race. Whether you run solo or with a group, keep your goals top of mind and know your race plan. Even if you start with a group, you may lose them along the way, so always be equipped and ready to run solo.
- Use Tools. Most watches these days can be programmed easily to beep or vibrate when you’re going too fast or slow. If that works for you, go for it! I find too much vibrating distracting and prefer to take the more old school route — the pace band or tattoo. Look for these at the expo and grab band or tattoo that matches your target pace.
- Ask the Experts. Most major marathons have pace teams to help you reach your goal. I love that CIM’s pacers are set to run about 2 minutes faster than the BQ qualifying standards to help get you to your goal. Most pacers are around at the race expo so you can meet them in advance and make sure their race plan aligns with your goal. As a general rule, know that most pace teams try to even split.
- Plan Your Playlist. If you run with music, make sure your playlist is curated in a way that it doesn’t get you too amped, too soon. Start with slower songs at the beginning of the race, then gradually build up the energy as you want to go pick up the pace.
Pacing is a tricky thing, but if you get it right, you’ll have the race of a lifetime. Avoid these pacing pitfalls on race day so you can focus on having the best race ever.
- Starting Too Fast! Going out faster than your planned pace is really easy to do, but remember — banking time is not a thing. If you’ve paced it right, you can always push it at the end, but if you go out too fast you won’t have any gas left in the tank.
- Or, Too Slow. In the same vein as above, there is such thing as going out too slow. If you start out too much slower than your target pace it can be difficult to gain momentum and catch back up.
- Not Knowing the Plan. Running with a pace group (or even a random stranger) without knowing their plan can be an easy mistake, too. If you don’t have a chance to meet the team at the Expo, try to head to the corral early to chat. Stick with people that have similar goals and race plans and you’ll be good to go!
- Psyching Yourself Out. It’s really easy to get in your head during a race. Stay calm and steady and stay focused on your own race. Just because Sally from your Sunday long run group took it out fast doesn’t mean you’re not going to reach your goal. Stay on course and stick with your pace plan.
- The Early Pick Up. Hopefully you get to a point in your race where you have a surge of energy and can pick up the pace. Beware of picking it up too early or too fast — if you still have 10 miles to go, it’s probably too early for a sprint!
- Lack of Research. When you’re planning your race pace, make sure you account for course terrain or elevation. Make those adjustments and do your research so you aren’t caught off guard (and off pace) during race day.
- Lack of fuel or hydration can make you bonk and drop your pace. Stick with your fueling plan and stay hydrated, especially on warmer days.
- Relying on Your Watch. The race doesn’t stop when your Garmin says 26.2. It stops when you cross the finish line. So base your pace on the mile markers not your watch to account for extra mileage from tangents and early weaving.
At the end of the day, a great race is one that you were able to finish strong without a ton of leftover energy. When you run a well-paced race, you’ll find it’s probably a lot more enjoyable, too!