5 Tips for Marathon Pacing

Marathon-pace Run

1 mile easy

14 miles at marathon pace


Pre-fatigued Time Trial

10 miles easy

10K maximum effort

4. Run the First Half by Time, the Last by Feel

The marathon distance is so extreme that it somewhat exceeds your brain's calculative powers. Consequently, as I suggested above, you can't pace yourself entirely by feel in a marathon as you may do in shorter events. Instead you need to pace yourself initially by paying attention to actual pace data. Only after passing the halfway mark can you safely go by feel, running the remaining distance at the fastest pace possible and using pace data only to monitor your pace rather than to actually control it.

Do your very best to run the first mile at exactly your goal pace time. Don't run slower to "save energy" for the final miles, because it's very unlikely that you will be able to make up time at that point, and don't run faster to "put time in the bank," as this usually results in a precipitous decline in pace after 20 miles. 

At the one-mile mark, check your split and adjust your pace accordingly in the next mile.  Continue trying to nail your target pace perfectly throughout the first half of the race. At that point, you will be able to rely on your teleoanticipation mechanism to guide your pacing the rest of the way.

5. Know the Course

Even pacing is not the same thing as an even distribution of energy. Even pacing becomes a very poor pacing strategy for the marathon when keeping an even pace requires sharp fluctuations in your rate of energy expenditure. Hills, of course, are the complicating factor here. When you're running uphill you have to expend much more energy to hold the same pace you were holding on the level terrain that preceded the hill, and when you're running downhill you can go faster with less energy than you can on level terrain.

More: How to Get Ready for Race Day With Simulation Workouts

You should try to keep your energy expenditure relatively even throughout a marathon, which means you have to slow down when running uphill and speed up when running downhill. This is something you will tend to do naturally, but instead of just taking the hills as they come, you should study the marathon course beforehand so you can factor the placement of hills into your pacing strategy.

For example, almost the entire first half of the Boston Marathon is downhill, while the second half is not. Therefore you should plan to run the first half at a pace that's slightly faster than your target pace for the whole event. By contrast, the San Francisco Marathon is much hillier in the first half than in the second, so a planned negative split is definitely the way to go in this event.

Naturally, the hillier a marathon course, the slower you should expect your finish time to be. So if your main interest is running a fast time, choose the flattest marathon you can find, and then run it like a metronome!

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Active Expert Matt Fitzgerald is the author of several books on triathlon and running, including Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners (Rodale, 2005) and his newest, Brain Training for Runners.

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