Pace bands, pacers, goal marathon pace? How to navigate race day pacing

Marathon season is quickly approaching. Once you reach the taper, typically 2-3 weeks out from race day, the ‘hay is in the barn’ for your marathon fitness.

The 2-3 weeks leading up to your race should have a new focus: Marathon Pace & race execution.

By now, there should be no surprises. You know your fitness. You know how training went. It’s time to develop a pacing strategy.

Should run with a pacer/pace group?

Before you commit to running with a pacer, know what you are getting yourself in for. ‘Pacers’ at races typically go out exactly on pace or slightly ahead of pace. Pacers are significantly faster than the goal pace they are pacing for. A pacer who is not experienced can easily botch the first mile by going out too fast. This can be problematic for athletes who have the goal to run exactly the pace of the pace group. Going out too hard ‘on accident’ even just one mile can have a significant negative impact on your race.

If your goal for the race is to run 8:15 pace, you absolutely do NOT want to run with an 8:00 pace group for the first mile. If your goal is to run 7:50 pace, the 8:00 pace group is a great starting point for you.

Pacers can be beneficial because they set the pace and give you an idea where you are on the course. You absolutely do not need to be running with a pacer to reach your goal.

Do not force the pace to have people to run with. If a race only has a 3:50 and a 4:00 pace group, but your goal is 3:55, you should start with the 4:00 pace group and go from there. Conservative start is advantageous in the marathon

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What if your GPS loses signal?

(Philly, NYC, Chicago)

The Chicago & NYC marathon courses are run through major metropolitan areas. The large skyscrapers in downtown areas are notorious for sending GPS signals haywire. During the Chicago Marathon, many athlete reported their GPS clocking in 2-3 min per mile faster than their actual pace.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. Do NOT count on your GPS to be the source of truth. You might finish the race with 28+ miles on your watch due to incorrect readings and have a GPS map that looks something like this:

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Our solution:

Turn off “auto-lap” on your garmin and lap manually at the mile markers or go off elapsed time instead.  



So your goal is to run a 3:40 marathon? You need to know EXACTLY what 8:24 pace feels like. In the final weeks leading to your race, you should incorporate workouts that fine tune this muscle memory.

You want your body to know this pace so well that is becomes the natural ‘go to pace’ on race day. Marathon Pace workouts in the final weeks should not be too physically taxing, but they may require mental training.

Spend time focusing in on dialing into MP. You want to know exactly what it feels like on fresh legs. Especially the taper, it is CRITICAL that you hit GMP right on the correct pace. There is ZERO BENEFIT to doing MP workouts too fast. If you run too fast for MP during your training runs, you will make the same mistakes on race day. Proper pacing is ESSENTIAL to optimal performance. Feel free to obsessively look at your watch during these MP exercises if you are having a hard time pacing yourself. It is VERY important you learn this pace! Muscle memory we are building.


Know yourself! Some athletes might benefit greatly from the use of pace bands and others could have negative impact on their race. Here is why:

Are you a numbers person? Do you obsess over pace, time, distance? Can you do math in your head? Do you judge yourself even if you are slightly off a prescribed pace?

If that sounds like you: no pace band needed.

You might benefit from writing down your elapsed time goal to be ‘on pace’ for your A goal at miles 5,10,20 & 25. Just as reference points, but there is no need to have a mile by mile pace band.

Are you the type of person who never does math in your head while running? Do you struggle with knowing where you are on the course? Do you not know what pace is associated with your A,B,C goals?

You might benefit from a pace band! This can give you an idea of where you are on the course. You never want to feel ‘lost on the course’ or have no reference point.

Essentially ask yourself, are you someone who already knows the paces/where you want to be or do you have no idea and don’t think about numbers or paces at all during a run?

They work amazing for some people. Other people don’t need them

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