Pacing yourself during a marathon

 

Choosing and sticking to a marathon pace which is right for you can mean the difference between a comfortable run throughout and an agonising last few miles. In the first half of the race in particular, with the buzz of the crowd and hundreds of other runners around you, the adrenaline can get the better of you and encourage you to go faster. But, as any experienced runner knows, consistency with your marathon pace is vital – from the first mile to the last.

 

Let’s look at how you should go about choosing your marathon pace, plus tips to ensure you stick to it.

Treat your first marathon as an experiment

While you may have done half-marathons and other long races before, a marathon is a different prospect to other endurance runs – setting your pace expectations based on shorter runs isn’t always the best idea due to the sheer length and difficulty of a marathon. By and large, your best bet is to treat your first full marathon as an experiment of sorts – getting a feel for the nature of the run and focusing primarily on completing the marathon, rather than logging a fast time. You can use this experience to inform your future marathon times.

Use ASICS’ marathon pace chart

Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can start setting specific targets for your marathon time using the simple formula as follows:

 

Speed (i.e., pace) = distance/time

 

Say you want to complete your next race in 4.5 hours (i.e., 270 minutes): divide your target time by 26.219 to figure out the pace you’ll need per mile (in this case, your pace would be around 10 minutes and 17 seconds per mile).

Use the following marathon pace chart as a rough guide for setting your personal pace:

Target time

Pace required

5.5 hours (330 minutes)

12:36

5 hours (300 minutes)

11:25

4.5 hours (270 minutes)

10:17

4 hours (240 minutes)

09:09

3.5 hours (210 minutes)

08:00

3 hours (180 minutes)

06:52

Once you’ve figured out what your target time is, you can then work out what your target pace per mile should be, using the marathon pace chart above.

Set yourself a marathon pace target

The most important thing to remember about your chosen pace is to stick to it.

In the first half of the marathon, it is easy to get caught up in the buzz of the race as you see runners around you surge ahead. However, if you run faster than necessary during the first few miles, there’s a high chance you’ll burn through your reserves and end up going a lot slower in the second half of your marathon – and that means you risk missing your target time.

It’s therefore worth choosing a running watch and a running phone app which records splits and is easy to use to help you regularly monitor how you’re doing against your target pace.

How to keep to your marathon pace

Sticking to a pace sounds all very well in training, but when you’re slogging through the 21st mile, it can be harder to follow. Here are some techniques you can use to give yourself a better chance of keeping to your chosen rhythm:

  • Get to know the course in advance

    There will always be hills or challenging bendy sectors in most marathon courses. The best thing you can do is to prepare yourself mentally for these – perhaps slightly upping your rhythm at the start of a tough mile to prepare for an upcoming hill, for instance. Spend some time studying your marathon’s course in advance, remember where the hills and difficult sections are and remember which landmarks to look out for along the way.

  • Practice sticking to your pace in training

    Once you’ve figured out your planned pace, help your muscle memory by training at your chosen pace. During your weekly long training runs, try and run at your marathon pace so you start to get used to it and can perform at that speed consistently.

  • Keep hydrated and energised

    Last, but not least, don’t miss out on opportunities throughout the course to grab a much-needed drink or energy-boosting capsule – these are so important for giving you an extra push when your energy flags.

Remember, you can’t control for everything

While having a pace and a target in mind is important, remember that you can’t control things like illness or the weather. If you’re recovering from a cold or it’s especially rainy for instance, it’s going to be difficult to stick to your planned pace. Make adjustments for these kinds of unexpected factors to avoid overstraining yourself or letting your morale take a hit.

Marathon pace is all about preparation

There’s nothing like planning to help ensure you achieve your target marathon time – and setting yourself a realistic and achievable pace is so important in helping you accomplish your goal. With the right preparation in place, you’ll find it much easier to stick to your target pace and reach or surpass your targets.