5 Tips on Marathon Pacing

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The marathon is long enough to test your endurance limits, but short enough that you still have to run fast. Some ultra-marathoners have remarked that the 26.2 mile race is actually harder than the 50 mile distance. This is because the marathon requires both speed and endurance. Endurance alone will not get you into Boston.

So, how do you finish with a decent time and avoid blowing up at mile 20? You need to know your limits, listen to your body, run with discipline, and finish with determination. The marathon requires everything you have in your bag of tricks.

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5 Tips on Marathon Pacing

1.  Set a realistic goal and stick to the plan.

You have spent months training for this race. You know if you’re on track to hit your goals based on your recent workouts. Now is not the time to be overly ambitious. Think about your fueling strategy, your race gear, your goal pace, and visualize success in meeting your goals on race day. When the cannon fires and the crowds cheer, be disciplined and stick to your race plan.

2.  Steady as she goes.

Try your best to be consistent in your mile splits. If anything, you want your first miles to be slower than your last. There is nothing worse than running out of steam with 6 miles left to go. Check your pace every mile and adjust accordingly. The first half should be easy (green light), the next 7 a bit tougher but still not hard (yellow light), and the last 6 define your race.

There is no such thing as “time in the bank.” You can’t run 6:30 for the first 13.1, and assume that the next 13.1 will be an easy 7:30 pace, to result in an overall race pace of 7:00 per mile. It doesn’t work that way. Your spending your retirement savings in your 20’s and hoping it’ll be fine. It won’t be. The fatigue is cumulative and the miles get harder as you continue towards the finish line.

3.  Adapt to the terrain.

If your marathon course isn’t flat as a pancake, you’ll have to account for a change in pace when you run up and down hills. Try to maintain the same level of effort as you run. You may slow down a bit on the inclines, but you’ll also speed up a bit when you coast back down the other side. Be careful to give yourself enough wiggle room to account for terrain changes.

Each course is different. Do your research ahead of time by looking at the course maps, visiting the course for a preview, or by talking to others that have run the race before. If you’re running Chicago, Boston, New York or any other big race, you’ll find tons of information online to help you develop the right race strategy.

4.  “Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

Thank you Kenny Rogers for your marathon wisdom. Sometimes things just don’t go well. Life happens. If it’s not your day, and you know it before you hit the halfway point, consider shutting it down. You don’t have to throw away your training. Count your effort as a tough workout, and sign up for the next marathon you see. Or, just walk and jog, and enjoy the spectacle of the marathon without the pressures of racing.

Bill Rodgers, 4-time winner of the New York City and Boston marathons, dropped out of the 1973 Boston Marathon at mile 21. He said “You want to be one of those runners who can succeed and not be in the medical tent after the race.” (Yankee Magazine)

5.  Where the mind goes, the body will follow.

The mental aspects of running a marathon would take entire volumes to cover adequately. Let’s just say that to run 26.2 miles takes concentration, willpower, and extraordinary mental toughness. Tanzanian marathoner Juma Ikangaa once said “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” Toughness comes from training and believing in yourself.

Many runners have mantras that help them when the race becomes difficult. The Kenyan runners are known to use the phrase “Keep going, lion.” Think about why you wanted to run a marathon in the first place, and that may help you come up with your own meaningful mantra to use on race day. Good mental discipline will help you stick to your pace and meet your race goals.

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