How To Pace A Marathon

How to ace your marathon race pace
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how to pace your marathon pace

By Coach Tim, We Run Coach for Cardiff and the We Run Online Running Clubcoach tim circle

Running 26.2 miles for the first time (or second time or third time) is quite daunting. You don’t tend to run that far in training, so how do you know what pace to run? If you go too slowly you might underachieve, and if you go too quickly you might blow up spectacularly and face a nightmare last six miles or so. Here are a few tips on how to pace a marathon.

Marathon Pacing – Don’t Expect To Get It Right First Time

Until you’ve run 26 miles for the first time, you don’t know how your body is going to react. You could get to 20 or even 22 miles with no problems and then everything could fall apart very quickly. In your first marathon, your best bet is to read this blog on How To Predict Your Marathon Time and don’t attempt to go quicker than your target pace until at least 20 miles in. Once you’ve experienced 26.2 miles you’ll know how your body should feel at each different point in the race, then you can judge whether you’re running at the right speed and whether your legs can sustain that speed until the end of the race.

Pace Your Marathon: Ignore Everyone Else

At the start of a marathon you might look around and judge the people around you, thinking ‘I could run as fast as them,’ or ‘I could beat them’. Then when they go off slightly quicker than expected, you feel you ought to go with them. Don’t! Firstly, they might be a faster runner than they look. Secondly, they could be setting off quickly through nerves or the magnitude of the occasion – either way they’ll pay for it later on in the race. Just stick to your own plan and don’t let it bother you if people go past you in the first few miles.

Marathon Pacing Tip: Chat!

If your marathon target time is anything more than three hours, you should be able to carry out a conversation during the first twenty miles. To ensure you can do this and you aren’t running too quickly, have a chat to the people around you. This will also pass the time more quickly, and you might even make a friend or two.

Check Out The Course Profile – And the Wind Direction

To help decide on the correct pace your marathon, have a look at the profile of the marathon course. You will need to allow yourself some extra time for hillier miles.

If the wind is in your face, these miles will take longer too.

But remember, the benefits of a downhill mile don’t equal the hardships of an uphill mile. Similarly, you don’t get as much help from a tailwind as you do hindrance from a headwind. Life isn’t that straightforward!

How To Pace A Marathon: Practise

Practise running at marathon pace; that’s an obvious one. Also practise working hard later in your long runs. Throw in a few miles at quicker-than-marathon-pace in the last quarter of your long runs; get used to not plodding your way to the finish.

what you need to know
  • It’s very difficult to get marathon pacing right first time. You won’t know how your legs will feel on miles 25 and 26 until you’ve done it for the first time. Every marathon you run will teach you more about yourself.

what you need to do
  • Read this blog on How To Predict Your Marathon Time to get an idea of what target time is realistic for you

  • Ignore what other people are doing. Focus on yourself and don’t follow anyone else’s marathon pace

  • For the first 20 miles try to chat to people – this will stop you going too quickly

  • Check out the course profile and allow yourself extra time for uphills. If the wind is in your face allow extra time for that too

  • Practise training at your marathon pace

  • Practise working hard at the end of a long run by throwing in a few faster-than-marathon-pace miles in the last quarter of the run