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Marathon Pacing Strategies

16MKT0158 postImage - Half Marathon Pacing Strategy

The Pittsburgh Half and Full Marathons are only a few weeks away, so hopefully you’ve been working out consistently to make sure that you can cross that finish line. This will be my sixth year participating in either the half or the full marathon, and I am amazed at how much it has grown in that past few years. Each year the Pittsburgh Marathon weekend has attracted many visitors to our great city of bridges, including elite professional athletes from across the globe. Having a couple of races under my belt, I get plenty of questions about the experience. I get questions like the following:

  1. How hilly is the course?
  2. Are there bathrooms along the course?
  3. Can I wear my headphones during the race?
  4. What should I wear?
  5. What’s the Vaseline for at the aid station?
  6. How should I pace for the race?

Believe me I get more questions than what I have listed and I try to answer them all as best as I can. Lately the main question that I have been getting is how should I pace for the race? To me, race strategy is one of the most important things you have to practice and also set before the race. So make sure you get out there and practice pacing. Here some tips for practicing.

Practice Pacing:

  1. Quit looking at your phone or your GPS watch to see what pace you’re at every 10–15 seconds. Looking at your watch or your phone could interfere with your running form and tempo.
  2. Turn off the music and head out on a mindful run. Sometimes having music can really distract you from what your body is telling you. Once you’ve turned off the music, you’re forced to be more mindful about how a run is supposed to feel. You might get a reminder that running is actually hard and will learn your body’s signal about your current pace.
    1. So pay attention to your breathing. The rhythm of your breathing can help you get a good sense of your pace without having to use your phone or GPS watch.
    2. Also pay attention to how your legs are feeling. Your legs can also give you a good gauge of your pace.
  3. Be very patient with yourself. Practice makes perfect, and the last thing you want to do is lose your patience. Learning how to control your pace is difficult, and everyone — even the best runners — had to learn too. So remind yourself that this is an important skill to learn, so you can race faster and improve your overall fitness level.

Tips for pacing in a half and full marathon for beginners:

  1. Remember, this is a longer race compared to a 5k or 10k, so don’t start off like a rocket ship or you will not have enough fuel to finish. These longer races are all about managing your energy. To put it in perspective, the faster you run compared to your goal pace, the greater the percentage of fuel and energy you have to use from carbohydrates. Believe me, there have been a few races that I started out fast and then finished walking due to hitting a wall.
  2. The beginning of the race is typically very crowded, so your pace will be slower than usual. Don’t worry about that. That will allow you to get into a good comfortable pace, and you will easily make up the few seconds you lost during the last few miles without fading in energy or crawling across the finish line. If you can, find a good pace group. You know those people who are holding up those sticks with a time goal. Those pacers are very good and they will help you manage your pace and meet your race goals.
  3. If you don’t want to follow one of those pace groups during the race, you can follow these two easy rules. For the first half of the race, whether it be a half marathon (7 miles in) or a full marathon (14 miles in), you want to be at an easy pace that can still allow you to have an easy conversation. If you can’t, slow it down so you don’t use up all your fuel in the beginning of the race.
  4. Turn up your pace after the first half of the race to a moderate effort. This is a zone where you can no longer have an easy conversation. Meaning, you should be able to start to hear your breathing, but you’re not totally out of breath. You want to try to be in this zone for about 8–12 miles for the half marathon and then 15-24 miles in the marathon.
  5. For the final segment of the race, dial it up to a nice controlled hard effort. You will not be able to talk in this zone because you are too busy trying to finish the last part of the race. You are almost done at this point, so continue to enjoy the moment especially when you enter the last straightaway to the finish line. Absorb the crowds’ cheers and high energy level and finish strong.