Marathon Pacing for Optimal Performance

Jan 15, 2012   //   by Neil Scholes   //   Triathlon And Endurance Coaching  //  No Comments

Run Pacing Part 2: The Evidence.

In a previous post we examined Run Pacing and suggested a methodology whereby, dependent on fitness at the time of the race, runners could achieve an even paced race.  We discussed this was even pace but effort had to increase to achieve the even pace.  It is important to note that this strategy is applicable to runners of all abilities and that optimaldistance performances are usually achieved when the time taken to complete the first half is equal to or greater than the time to complete the second.  Looking through the record books we see the World’s best runners are no exception.  When Haile Gebrselassie set his then world best time of 12:39:36 for the 5km, the first half was completed in 6:22:78 (ie 50.4% of the total time) and the second half was run in 6:16:58.  Similarly when he lowered the 10km record the same year to 26:22:75 he ran the first 5km in 13:11:53 and the second 5km in 13:11:22.

Marathon pacing can be more complex than the track as environmental factors such as runners spending longer into the wind than with it behind them or more uphill being present in one half of a race than the other will have its effect.  However the same year Gebrselassie set his world records, Renaldo Da Costa set a then world best time of 2:06:05 running the first half in 64:42 (51.3% of total) and a second half 3.3 minutes quicker.  The woman’s world best time was also set that year by Tegla Loroupe with a more even paced 49.9% first half 50.1% second.  When it comes to pacing the marathon as the last discipline in an Ironman Triathlon this pace awareness is of vital importance.

Whilst most of us can only dream of this level of performance, for runners trying to break a certain time, whether it be to break 5 hours in the marathon or trying to run a good for age time to qualify for Boston or Virgin London Marathon, trying to qualify for Kona or just trying to get close to our single marathon performance when running in an Ironman, pacing is vital to performance.  Runners must ensure they set realistic targets and adhere to a pre determined pacing plan.  The most common mistake, especially at the marathon distance, is starting too fast.  Race performance will generally be less optimal when a runner starts too fast and if a marathon runner does start too fast the adverse effect on performance will be dramatic!

If it’s good enough for Haile it’s probably good enough for the rest of us so sit down with your coach and plan those marathon pace times.

<< Read Part 1 – Getting The Pace Right

About The Author

Neil is one of the most knowledgeable endurance coaches you'll ever be likely to meet, both in terms of qualifications and valuable experience. He's well into his second decade in the sport of triathlon and third decade as a competitive runner.

In recent years Neil has worked with Runners, from those looking to complete their first 5k through to Elites racing the Olympic Marathon, and Triathletes, from those looking to finish their first ever sprint event, through Age Group medallists at World Championships, Ironman Age Group winners to the Elite Squad at University of Bath.

As an accomplished Ironman triathlete, Neil races for Royal Navy Triathlon and has represented Great Britain at Age Group Level across various distances.

2013 has seen him run a sub 3hr at the Rotterdam Marathon, then complete his second 56 mile Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa in June; he is now making his return to racing Ironman Triathlon.

Neil is available for Triathlon & Running Coaching.


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