Strategy and pacing for your running level

It's important you start thinking about pacing from the earliest days of your marathon training plan.

Strategy and pacing for your running level

Decide upon your race strategy

If this is your first marathon, it can be quite daunting trying to work out what time you think you’ll do it in. Some marathons ask this of you when you register. The reason for this is to put you in the correct starting pen, as there is nothing more disconcerting than feeling pressured to go faster than you’d naturally like to go.
You’ve got four scenarios when deciding upon your finish time.

  1. The 'I just want to get round' approach. After all, who cares where you finish? It’s about the journey, right?
  2. 'I want to run a PB.' If you’ve already got 1 or 2 marathons under your belt, you’re going to want to beat your time. Simple. And you’ll have a better understanding of how to do it.
  3. 'I’ve heard getting under four hours is fairly respectable.' - If you’d rather run alongside runners than people in rhino suits, this is a decent time to aim for but only about 30 per cent of competitors achieve this.
  4. 'Unless I get sub 3 hours, life’s not worth living!' If this is the case, you’re going to have to be either a natural runner or put some quality training in. Only about 2 per cent go under the magic 3hr barrier.

Whichever type of marathon runner you are, you must ensure that your choice is realistic - based on the amount of time you have available to train, your genetic ability and ultimately the amount of weight you're carrying. Indeed, it’s a well-known fact - the lighter you are, the faster you’ll go.

Commit to your goal

The next step is to actually commit to your goal. What you’re aiming to do is consistently run at the same speed throughout your medium to long runs, and of course at the race itself. And it’s only during your training that you’ll be able to find out what speed you’re comfortable running at for a period of time - and ultimately whether or not your goal is realistic/achievable. Set an achievable goal using the SMART goal setting system.

To help you, it’s not a bad idea to look on the web for an online pacing calculator that you can use to determine your pace per mile. You’ll be asked to add your distance, the time you want to finish in and it will then give you your splits. But be wary of ones that predict your finishing time based on your 10k PB. They aren’t always accurate.

Speaking of splits

The holy grail of splits is what’s called a ‘negative split’. This is where you run the second half faster than the first half. The theory being that if you manage to do this - then you’ve done a great job at pacing yourself.

However, although negative splits are where records are broken, it’s not that common for the rest of the field, as we all have a natural inclination to go off too quickly at the start, which you MUST avoid doing at all costs. We’re going to touch on nutrition on another occasion - but unless you get your pacing right whilst managing your intake of carbs, then you’ll bonk or, as it’s more commonly known - ‘hit the wall’. Not a pleasant experience!

For the super keen

For those who are determined to get a PB or compete with the fast guys, then you might want to look into getting a VO2 Max and Lactate Profile Fitness test done.

Used by almost all elite athletes, it’s the ultimate way to find out what your aerobic capacity is and the point at which lactate acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream.

Events that help you practice pacing

Unless you’ve not already entered the odd half marathon, if you’re quick to act, you will find there are a few half marathon/other distance events between now and your marathon, with places available. Use them as a chance to practice your marathon pace and give you a warm fuzzy feeling that the training is paying off.

Good luck with your training. Don’t forget to log your training on The Running Bug for support, motivation and inspiration from your fellow bugs!

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