When it comes to your marathon pacing strategy there area some major do’s and don’ts to consider, along with some pre-race planning that will help you finish strong.
26.2 miles is never easy.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a 3 hour marathon or a 5+ hour marathon, it takes guts and SMART running to get to the finish line with enough energy to smile and throw your hands up for that great race finish photo.
Marathon Pacing Keys
The key to a great marathon pace may not be what you think or even what you’ve often heard.Picture from jennyrunstheworld
Do: Run an Even Pace
That’s right, NOT negative splits.
Nope. That’s what articles tend to say, but I do not prescribe to that thought, nor do most elite runners.
- It’s easier to find and hold a rhythm with a consistent pace
- Relying on your mind and body to pick up the effort in the second half of a race when you’re fatigued is more challenging than we think
- Going out too fast and banking time in the first half can backfire because it shoots your heart rate up early on, burning fuel, and stressing leg muscles.
- Consider that the temperature will rise during the race and effort increases with temp. So if you’re planning to pick up the pace when it already feels harder, that maybe tougher to achieve.
Checkout more of my pacing secrets to not rely on your watch >>
Of the 108 men’s finishers and the 149 women’s finishers for the 2016 Olympic marathon trial, only 7 individuals ran negative splits – one of whom was Meb and only by 44 seconds.
Does that even count as a negative split?
Most runners I know aiming for it, are trying to hack more like 10-20 seconds off per mile in the second half and for the middle-of-the pack, that’s asking for disaster.
Don’t: Start Too Fast or Weave
Your first smile should be your slowest.
It rarely is, but at least with that mindset you don’t set off at a blazing pace, which will 100% catch you later in the race. You’ll burn through your carb stores super fast by spiking your HR and not allowing your body to ease in to the effort.
Staying calm in the crowd and avoiding surging around other runners will pay off in the long run (pun intended).
Crowds tend to disperse between the first half mile and mile, so practice patience and you’ll find your own space soon enough.
Do: Learn to Manage Your Thoughts
One of my favorite running motto’s is: Set Your Mind (Not Your Watch).
Long distance running is a mental sport. Weather, hills, nerves, etc. will play with your mind on race day. These are all factors that you cannot control.
Our ego is the loudest voice we hear during our training, and especially during the race. I call mine Margie in my book. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t keep up. That you won’t meet your goal.
Everyone experiences negative thoughts, and it’s up to you to learn to manage them. I use this tactic to overcoming negative thoughts while running with success.
Deena Kastor’s book is also a great resource to help train your mental during training. The book takes you through various exercises to help you flip negative thoughts and visualize your performance on race day.
Don’t: Get too fixated on your watch
Running watches can tell us to do just about anything running related these days. We can set a heart rate zone to stay within, a beep for certain paces and so much more….but sometimes all that data doesn’t help our performance.
If you are dead set on a goal, it’s easy to get caught up in obsessing over the numbers on your watch.
During your race, trust your body. Listen to your breathing and focus on how you feel, rather than check your pace every five seconds. This will just play with your mental game and take away your focus from your goal.
- Your pace will vary if it’s a hilly race
- You may be having a day where it all clicks and your watch could hold you back
- You may be having a rough spot and focusing on the watch will add to your stress
Do: Practice Fueling Enough
Tired of bonking during races? Then it’s time to get your fueling on point.
All the training in the world can’t save you from yourself if you don’t take the time to learn how to hydrate, eat prior to the race and then take in the right fuel for you during the event.
Tips to Keep You on Marathon Pace
All right, now the easiest part of marathon pacing: memorizing the pace for each of the 26.2 miles you will run!
There are tools for that.
Marathon pace bands
These handy bands place your marathon pace chart on your wrist, allowing you to quickly check your goal pace for every single mile of your marathon. They also show elapsed time for each split so you can quickly glance at your watch to make sure you’re on track.
These super cheap pace tattoos let you pick your marathon or half marathon goal and then it’s handy on your arm the whole race!
Create a marathon playlist
Listening to your favorite upbeat tunes on a run can certainly enhance your performance and keep you on goal. Matching your stride to a particular beat will take the guesswork out of your pace and just allow you to focus on the sounds filling your ears.
Several playlists already exist specifically for runners, featuring songs at 180 beats per minute, or the “ideal” running cadence. Or if you prefer to put together your own playlist, take a look at some of my favorite running songs to keep you pumped throughout the race.
Connect to a pace group
Most big marathons today feature pace groups to help runners with a specific time goal in mind run at a steady pace.
Pace groups are great if you want to let someone else do the thinking for you, you’re energized by running in a group, or want your own personal cheerleader throughout the race.
You’ll want to be sure to find your pace leaders before the race and talk to them about their race strategy. Knowing what to expect will prepare you for race day and help you decide if joining the group is right for you.
What’s a Good Marathon Finishing Time?
I know what you think a good marathon pace is because I watch you on Instagram thinking you’re slow, when in fact you’re very much NOT!
According to Marastats:
- The average marathon finisher is 38 years old and runs a 4:21:49 finish time with a +11:48 per mile pace.
- Women make up 38.2% of the field with an average age of 36 and a finish time of 4:39:09 and +11m43s split.
- Men average 40 years old and finish in 4:10:10 with a +11m51s split.
- The current world record is 2:01:39 held by Eliud Kipchoge.
The top three finishers for the men and women’s 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials ran the following times:
- Aliphine Tuliamuk – 2:27:23
- Molly Seidel – 2:27:31
- Sally Kipyego – 2:28:52
- Galen Rupp – 2:09:20
- Jacob Riley – 2:10:02
- Abdi Abdirahman – 2:10:03
Set Realistic Goals
Maybe your goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but you’ve been nursing an annoying niggling injury throughout your training. Selecting unrealistic goals will only set you up for a race day that falls apart.
Be honest about your performance during training and your current abilities and base your marathon finish time off that.
A few things to consider when selecting a marathon race goal:
- Are you recovering from a recent injury?
- What is the race course like? Is it completely flat or full of rolling hills?
- What will the weather be like on race day?
- Do you need a coach or running group to push you past your comfort zone to nail that stretch PR time?
- How long have you been running?
- Why are you running this race and why do you want to run a particular time?
Answering these questions will help you determine a realistic goal that is well within your reach.
How to Pick the Ideal Marathon Pace
Selecting the right marathon pace can be tricky, especially if this is your first marathon. If you’ve run a half marathon prior to this race, then you’ll have an easier time determining your predicted marathon finish time.
One way to pick a time is to use a marathon pace calculator. You simply plug in a desired finish time or finish time from a recent race and the tool will spit out the pace per mile necessary in order to achieve that goal.
The average person should expect their marathon pace to be about 30-55 seconds slower than their half marathon pace. This number is determinant on:
- Racing experience
- Number of marathons run
- Weather conditions on race day
- Preparation for the race
While these marathon pace calculators are helpful in determining a predicted pace, they are not always so accurate, as they tend to underestimate the timing. Plus, unless you can upload the course, they have no idea how to account for terrain.
They’re good to get a general idea, but don’t rely on them to a T.
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