The Importance of Practicing Running at Target Race Pace

The majority of exercise and sports scientists agree that even pace running is a sensible way to run a distance race for all those perhaps with the exception of elite runners.

However, even-pace does not mean even effort.  It means increased effort as the race progresses!

We may, in a 5km run of a sprint triathlon, handle the first 400m in 80 seconds with some ease, we can also maybe reach 800m at the same pace, but for the third 400m and thereafter we have to increase our effort to remain on time and at the same pace.

When we step up to the marathon distance or an Ironman triathlon then I believe that this pacing or rather lack of it can have clearly a more negative affect proportionally.

I think by learning to pace correctly then a race will be like watching the tide. At the start of the race, a great number of runners will go away from you, you can rest assured that like the tide a great number will have gone off too quickly and you’ll see them again! It is mentally more rewarding to be passing runners rather than being passed in the last phase of the race.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve been there and can tell you that is not the way to record your best time and in an event like Ironman you are going to suffer.

Get to know then what 8 minute mile pace  (or approximately 120secs/400m) feels like, what 7 minute mile pace feels like (approximately 105 secs/400), and 6 mins per mile (approximately 90 secs / 400m) or appropriate paces for yourself.

This way you will quickly understand a pace that is too fast or hard and one actually that is too easy. To do this you have to practice these different speeds –  or speeds within your own performance envelope.

Doing sets such as 10 x 800m at your marathon race pace after a warm-up will start to hammer home this pace and have you intuitively feeling what that pace is like.

A very important skill if your GPS loses signal or there are no mile markers in the race!

Part 2: The Evidence >>
Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.


  1. This thought came to me last week from doing intervals on the track. While doing the “on” laps at a high effort, the recovery laps felt incredibly easy, but were still at a fairly brisk pace.

    Would using this change in the perception of effort be a usable strategy for races? Using a 5k for example, do the first .25 or .33 mile slightly faster than goal pace, and then back it down to goal or slightly slower. The key is backing down before you feel the NEED to slow down. Going out at a 5:50 for a quarter mile will make a 6:05 pace for the next two miles feel easier than if you were to just do a flat 6:00 pace for those first two miles.

    Purely hypothetical, but thought I would ask your opinion.

    1. Kyle
      Really great question! I believe that with some athletes it will make a difference I’ve always said that even pace is increased effort and increased effort both physiologically and psychologically is a tough thing to achieve. Runners often go off too hard so why not part hold that back so you don’t blow up and part embrace it and therefore psychologically allow your mind to relax that as you slow down as the k’s click by that is what you planned. I’m not saying this will work for everyone and clearly even in a relatively short race if you go out too hard you will run the risk of a significant slowing down but with the pace, effort and distances you talk about I suspect that this is very much worth a go.
      Let us know how you get on!

      1. Thanks for the reply! I actually only got to run a single race after posting that question. Due to horrible weather I decided to bail on the rest of my season 🙁 Ice and 5k’s don’t mix!

        I did not get a chance to test my hypothesis during the one 5k. The weather was brutal and the wind was mostly coming right at the runners for the latter portions of the run. Regardless to say, the entire race was hard!

        With the right type of course and conditions, I think it could definitely work. Especially for a shorter race that is relatively flat.

        The key as I said, is to go out fast but slow down BEFORE you get fatigued and think “oh shit, I started off too fast!”

  2. Great post Neil, very informative. The splits offered are food for thought and I look forward to trying them out. I’d be interested to hear how you think this may or may not still be applicable at Ultra distances though? Its fairly common for most ultras for people to run fairly big positive splits since, however good you feel at the outset, sooner or later you will slow down and therefore not uncommon for the last miles to be a walk/run affair. On Saturday I ran a 33 mile race with a view to getting in under 6 hours and failed spectacularly! Probably as a result of going out too fast. But concious of the effect of the longer distance and a good few hills in the later part of the race I felt I had to get something in the bag early on.