Marathon Pacing Strategies for Optimal Performance

In a previous article I discussed the importance of selecting the correct run pacing strategy and suggested that with appropriate pacing and, sufficient training in the bank, an evenly paced race was achievable.

I made the point that even pace was increased effort – in other words, the first few miles at your goal pace will feel proportionally easy and the last few miles will feel proportionally harder.

This aim to even pace a race is one that novice and elite runners alike can employ and indeed an even pace or indeed a negative split where you run the second half of the race quicker than the first is a strategy that has been used to good effect to set a number of world best or world record times and to take the win in distance races.

Typically world records are set with slight negative splits where runners perhaps run the second half in around about 49.5% of the total. If we look at Mo Farah’s 2nd Gold Medal which was gained in the 5000m at the London 2012 Olympic Games, we can see how his speed increased through the race.

I’ll grant you that track racing is often a game of cat and mouse as opposed to the time trial type efforts those of us who have nowhere near Mo’s ability put out. However his 1km splits were 2:55; 3:01; 2.46; 2:38; 2:25 and his final 400m was a 52.94.

He went through half way in 7:19 (52%) with his second half being a 6:22 (48%).

What about the longer distances, for example the marathon?

I feel that whether your goal is to break 5 hours in the marathon or trying to run a good for age time to qualify for Boston or London marathons, 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.

Once a coach and runner have set a realistic target based on current fitness and recent race times then they can put in place a race pacing plan.  The most common mistake that is often seen, especially in the longer distance races such as a marathon, is starting too fast.

This often dramatically affects the result especially in these longer races however even in shorter races such as your local ParkRun 5km try going out as fast as you can and see how you are going at the 4km marker – it won’t be pretty.

So race pacing is a skill to practice and if you do you can have a more ‘comfortable’ race and achieve those goal times. If it’s good enough for Mo it’s probably good enough for the rest of us, so sit down with your coach and plan those marathon pace times.

Part 3: How to Predict Your Pace >>
Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.