Posted by: Joe English | March 25, 2009

Racing — Even Pacing for Marathon Runners

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I’ve written many times here on the blog about the need for even pacing in a marathon — meaning running the same pace per mile from the start to the finish of a marathon. Even pacing is the optimal method to pace in a marathon at almost every level and marathon runners should make it their priority to learn their goal pace so that they can run every mile at their target pace in the marathon.

Even the most elite runners, who we sometimes hear run “negative splits” in races, run nearly even pace for much of the marathon. An elite runner clocking a negative split (the second half being faster than the first half) will most likely run the first 22-24 miles of the marathon at near exactly the same pace per mile and then might accelerate in those last 2-3 miles to get to that negative split. But for the most part, hitting those first 22 or so miles at the same pace should really be considered even pacing.

The trick to even pacing is to understand that even when running the same pace throughout the race, the perceived effort level will increase through the race. Because of the impact of fatigue and the repetition on the running muscles for such a long period of time, when running at a constant pace it will FEEL harder as the miles go on. That means that the first few miles may feel easy in a race, the middle miles will feel more challenging, and the last miles may feel very hard — all when those miles are being run at the same pace.

A runner said to me yesterday that in her marathon it had felt “really hard” starting only at mile 8 or 10, yet she had nearly hit her goal pace in the marathon. When I looked at her splits I saw something that I’ve seen many times. Although she had just about run her goal pace (meaning her average mile pace when figured across the whole race), she had done it by running too fast in the first portion, about her average in the middle, and then slower than her average in the late miles. This did average out to about her goal pace, but this is why the experience was so tough on her. Those fast first miles were too fast; the effort in those miles forced her to slow down; and then the later miles were a battle against fatigue to continue running after the early quick miles.

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