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.
Looking toward my first half marathon next year, I would like to know your thoughts on pace. Everything I’ve read and everyone I talk to says you need to start out slow during your race. But how slow? If my pace is 12:00 for my long runs, how fast do I run in the race itself: 12:30? 13:00? 13:30? And if you do start slow, how do you make up time lost? Is it better to keep a steady pace or start slow? I’m just confused.
The most efficient way to run a half marathon—or almost any other race distance is perfect pace. Each mile exactly as fast as the one before and the one after. So if your perfect pace is 12:00 per mile, it is okay to run this mile in 11:59 and that mile in 12:01, but don’t get too far off your chosen pace if you want to maximize results.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and in marathons we often encounter hills and winds and sometimes that obnoxious guy cuts you off going into a turn forcing you to break stride and lose a second or two. More the problem, if your half marathon of choice has tens of thousands of other runners crowded together with you on the starting grid, you may find it difficult to hit the first mile or two spot on pace.
So we do the best we can. The best strategy seems to be to relax for the early miles and be willing to give away a minute or two off perfect pace, knowing you can regain lost time as crowds around you begin to thin. That was the strategy I used while leading pacing teams at races like Chicago, Honolulu and Disney, and it seemed to work. I can’t tell you whether you should run 12:00 or 12:30 or 13:00 or even 13:30, because conditions differ from race to race. I do know that if you relax and let the race carry you along, at some point in your running career, you will achieve that perfect performance.