Pace wisely in a long distance races

Pacing is crucial for running long distance races especially racing a half marathon and longer. You must fight the temptation to get caught up in the crowd and get out too fast. Everyone has been there thinking, “I should slow down… but I feel good!”. If you have had a good training cycle you should feel good the first half of a race. Like it is a breeze. Like you could run faster. And you most likely could for a few miles… But for how long?

In a marathon the dreaded ‘wall’ is said to be 20 miles. It has been said that the marathon is two races: a 20 mile race and a 10k race. If you can conserve your energy for the first 20 miles and feel good it can help you really race the last 10k well. If you go out to fast the last 10k can be more of a death march. A point where your legs are not responding and hope that it still looks like you are running or at least shuffling to the finish.


Coach Ben Jacobs- 1:08 Half PR

At my best, I ran a smart race starting off around 5:20 pace per mile. I had run one half marathon before as a workout but this was my first race. I ran with only a timex watch and split my own miles. It was a huge field with many talented runners. About half a mile in I was off the pack and on my own. Since I had never run a half I talked myself into running slower and just letting the other pack of runners go ahead of me. It was hard. To be in a race 1 mile and already say “well I am not racing with those people today”. But I told myself this race is for me. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.

I ran the first five miles averaging low 5:20 pace. I could see people falling off that pack ahead of me, but still I remained within myself. I began to increase the pace slightly as I could see one of my teammates ahead in a small pack. For the next 5 miles or so I ran just under 5:20 pace per mile. I was slowly gaining on that pack but was still a little ways off.

At the 10 mile mark, I was feeling good and increased the pace slightly again. I believed that I could finish stronger than I had ran the first 10 miles. I was able to run my last two miles in near 5:05 pace per mile. It felt great to finish stronger. That is still my half marathon PR.

Like all runners, I have also done races in the opposite way. Hoping for a PR, I have allowed myself to run someone else’s race. I have known that my training was good and went out and ran with the pack hitting the first mile in 5:05. Then maintaining 5:10 pace for the middle miles and running much slower at the end. It is much better to negative split a race and to run your own race without getting caught up in the crowd

Advice for Pacing

I would advise to start out 10-15 second slower than your A goal pace for the marathon. Break it into parts and focus on how your feel. It is far better to feel strong the last few miles and think “man I started to slow” than to crawl the last few miles saying “why did I get so carried away”.

A half marathon or marathon are never easy. If you are a new runner running to finish strong and feeling good is a great goal. If you are trying to improve your time keep in mind it is never easy to run far distances. A lot will depend on the day. But if you have been training smart and run a smart paced race you will have more fun and have a chance to run that PR!!

Pacing Plan Examples:

Half Marathon
Miles 1-4 Marathon goal pace or 10-15 seconds slower than half marathon goal pace
Miles 5-10 Half marathon pace
Miles 11-13.1 See what you have left. Increase pace slowly and smart.


Miles 1-5 . Slightly slower than goal pace. 10-15 seconds
Miles 6-10 . Inch pace slightly. 5-10 seconds slower that goal pace
Miles 10-20 Goal pace
Miles 20-23 Maintain pace. Remain calm.
Miles 24-26.1 See what you have. Increase pace slow and smart.
Mile 26.2 . FINISH

Obviously terrain and temperature will play into this.

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