Choosing a Marathon Pacing Strategy
Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.
While training for my fifth marathon, I have run my long runs all at the same pace I hope to run in the marathon. I know you say to train at a pace that is 30 to 90 seconds slower than marathon goal pace, but that seems too slow for me. Then in the marathon, I find myself full of energy toward the end. Invariably, I run the last several miles 1 to 2 minutes faster per mile than my overall pace.
This year I am interested in pushing myself more. But how can I run faster during the marathon without hitting the wall? Should I still start at my training pace and gradually pick up speed at various points? Or should I try to sustain a faster pace throughout the race? I need help developing a race strategy.
I’ll skip past the lecture, admonishing you not to run long runs too fast, because I suspect you already are doing your long runs slower than your race pace, but you don’t realize it. When you get into a race, you start so conservatively that you fail to maximize your potential. Nobody runs 1 to 2 minutes per mile faster in the last few miles unless they have run the earlier miles way too slow. You need to learn how to pace yourself better.
Let’s talk about pace. When runners go out too fast, they often lose time–a lot of time–during the closing miles. The most effective approach is even pace—each mile as fast as all others—but you can’t achieve this unless you know what your even pace might be. One way to find this out would be to run a test half marathon in the middle of your training program and use one of the prediction charts to estimate marathon pace. (Check out the charts offered by Greg McMillan.) Perhaps even better would be to consider your previous times and plan to start at a pace that would bring you across the line 5 or 10 or even 15 minutes faster than your PR.
This is risky. If you guess wrong, you may find yourself unable to maintain your planned pace. But this is being your fifth race, you probably can afford to take a risk. One final suggestion: If the race provides pace teams with experienced guides leading runners on a steady pace, you might want to join one.