Race Day: How to Pace Your Marathon

Race Day: How to pace your marathon | 20 of 26 Marathon Series

Setting the correct pace for your marathon is a crucial task. It can lead to a lot of anxiety for many runners, as the fear of failure takes hold. Your marathon success relies a lot upon your pacing, but there are two simple rules to follow for a successful pace plan.

1. Listen to your body

Listen to your body

So many runners get so caught up with researching, reading, testing and seeking out the latest gadget or system to help with their race planning; that they fail to take advice from the most sophisticated and personalised “computer” out there…their body!

Your body knows exactly what is going on with every muscle fibre, every mitochondria and every single cell in your being. It is a super sophisticated feedback system, that gives you all of the information you need to run a successful marathon; if only you listen to it.

Yes people can break the rules on what seems physically possible, and yes there may well be no gain without pain, but most of the time it really makes sense to listen to what your body is telling you. Your body generally knows best, because let’s face it, this isn’t a survival situation or a special forces training camp; you are running for your own reasons, not because you have to.

This also means taking the environmental conditions into account. If it is hot and dry then you’ll need to be prepared to reduce your target race pace by a good percentage, it’s just one of those things, so there’s no point getting annoyed about it.

Trust your body and it will serve you well.

2. Follow a Pace Plan

Running Pace

So just listening to your body is half the equation and whilst you could technically just simply run a marathon based on the way you feel; there is always the risk of laziness or stubbornness kicking in and you could end up running too slow or fast (respectively). So having a good (well tested) pace plan in place, will help keep you on the right track. Going off too fast is the classic mistake that so many first timers make!

The two most successful pacing strategies are:

  • Run even splits – Simply finding your target marathon pace in training and running even splits (the same minute per mile pace throughout the whole race) to achieve this.


  • Progressively slowing down – By reducing your pace by a few seconds per mile for the second half of the race. This will offset for the changes in physiology that occur in your body throughout the race.

Running even splits, is an easier approach to calculate on the day. As you can set a target minute/mile pace and track it each mile; adjust this as necessary by listening to your body and it can be a powerful strategy. Just remember to account for both the naturally slower times in the first few miles as the pack thins out and you warm up, plus any inclination (up and down incline) changes during the race. This is normally the easiest and most successful approach for new marathoners.

Progressively slowing down, accounts for the shift in your body’s lactate threshold, that generally occurs in the second half of the race (this is not to be confused with “hitting the wall”). Because the body is effectively being damaged from the running, it slowly becomes less efficient throughout the race, so by slowing down you are offsetting against this. If you are in the 2:30 to 4 hour club, then it may help to adopt this pacing strategy.

So in summary…

Listen to your body, and test your pace strategy during your training. When you test your projected race pace during a long training run, don’t underestimate the physiological drain this will have on your body. Make sure you have a couple of days rest before the run and a couple after to recover; otherwise you’ll risk an injury or serious fatigue. Stick to your guns and don’t get all worked up in the hype of the event and end up changing what you know works!

if you have any other advice for our readers on how to pace for a marathon, feel free to add your comments below.

Here is the next blog article in our marathon series:

21. Race Day: Do Energy Gels Work?




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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.