marathon preparation

woman running with hands in the air and smile

Marathon pacing – it’s a skill that requires understanding, planning and practice. Pacing is a challenge that most marathoners have grappled with at some point.

As we explore in Master Marathon Pacing Part 1, a 2021 study revealed that 17% of women and 28% of men tend to “hit the wall” during a marathon. This struggle is not limited to specific ability levels or age-groups, making it a common hurdle for all of us.

As a fellow marathoner, I’ve grappled with the struggles of pacing so I understand the frustration and the many factors that can impact your ability to hold a consistent pace for the full 42.2kms. As we outlined in part 1, once you have gained a sound understanding of marathon pacing, it’s time to put it into practice. Here’s how:

Marathon-specific training

Incorporating specific marathon pacing sessions into your training plan can help improve your ability to sustain a steady pace over long distances. Alternating between high-intensity effort and recovery periods can enhance your endurance and develop a better sense of pacing. Running shorter distances at the marathon target pace is an easy way to do this.

Example 1. 10-12km at your target race pace.
Example 2. 30km run including 5-10km at target race pace.
Example 3. 30 minutes at target marathon race pace, 15 minutes at ½ marathon pace.

The key to race preparation is gradually building up your distances over 12–16-week weeks, including ample recovery between marathon pacing sessions, and avoiding overdoing key sessions.
The key to running your best doesn’t only hinge on your sessions. Adaptation to your sessions, overall stress levels and health are important factors to consider in a balanced marathon program.
Visualisation: Mental preparation is equally important to physical training regarding marathon pacing. Uncharted territory can be difficult for anyone to navigate.

A good sports psychologist can provide tools to help execute your pacing strategy. Visualisations can help build confidence and mental resilience, keeping you focused and disciplined on race day. I always had a mental race plan that I discussed with my sports psychologist and coach well before race day.

I frequently visualised a mental and physical race plan. This didn’t always result in my races going according to plan, but it certainly helped me get the most out of myself and maintain mental focus and determination even when things went sideways.

Normatec Ad Banner with 3 female athletes sitting in Normatec boots

Race-Day Rehearsal

Practice your pacing strategy during long training runs leading up to the marathon to familiarise yourself with all aspects of your race, such as nutrition, hydration, routine, and your target pace. Connect with how it feels to maintain your target pace over an extended period. Consider participating in shorter races or time trials as race-day rehearsals to fine-tune your pacing strategy and build race-day confidence.

In conclusion, mastering marathon pacing is essential for endurance runners seeking to achieve their goals and maximise their performance. You can confidently optimise your performance and conquer the distance by understanding your target pace, implementing effective pacing strategies, and utilizing tools such as marathon calculators.

At the Athlete Sanctuary, we encourage our athletes to listen to their bodies, trust their training, and embrace the journey toward becoming stronger, more resilient athletes.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or preparing for your first race, prioritising pacing can make all the difference in your marathon experience. If you are keen to better understand how to enjoy the thrill of crossing the finish line strong, contact us to discuss your next marathon goal.

 

References
Hanley, Brian, (2018), Pacing Profiles and Pack Running at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 36, no. 20, pp. 2339–2345.
De Leeuw, A. W., Meerhoff, L. A., & Knobbe, A. (2018). Effects of pacing properties on performance in long-distance running. Big Data, 6(4), 248-261.
Oficial-Casado, F., Uriel, J., Perez-Soriano, P., & Priego Quesada, J. I. (2021). Effect of marathon characteristics and runners’ time category on pacing profile. European Journal of Sport Science, 21(11), 1559-1566.
Renfree, A., & Gibson, A. S. C. (2013). Influence of different performance levels on pacing strategy during the Women’s World Championship marathon race. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 8(3), 279-285.
Smyth, B. (2021). How recreational marathon runners hit the wall: A large-scale data analysis of late-race pacing collapse in the marathon. PloS one, 16(5), e0251513.
Muñoz, Iker, et al. (2018). The Influence of Different Pacing Strategies on Marathon Performance and Fatigue: A Computer Simulation Study. European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 118, no. 9, 2018, pp. 1757–1769.

Woman athlete running with her arms above her head

Let’s face it, pacing is a challenge that most marathoners have grappled with at some point. In fact, a 2021 study revealed that 17% of women and 28% of men tend to “hit the wall” during a marathon.    This struggle is not limited to specific ability levels or age-groups, making it a common hurdle for all of us.

As a fellow marathoner, I’ve had my fair share of pacing struggles. Many of my earlier marathons were approached with a “go for broke” mindset, only to find myself dropping off my initial pace by over 30 seconds per kilometre in the later stages of the race. The final kilometres were a grind to keep my legs moving in the right direction. I understand the frustration and the many factors that can impact your ability to hold a consistent pace for the full 42.2kms.

Inadequate carbohydrate intake and glycogen depletion, dehydration, mindset and mental focus, physiological issues such as gastrointestinal issues or cramping and pacing strategies (or lack thereof) are all factors that can influence your finishing time.

With the right approach and understanding, you can optimise your pacing strategy and run the race of your life.

A well-paced runner outperforms those who start too fast or too slow.

In part one of this blog we explore your target pace using marathon pacing calculators, adjusting pace for race conditions and negative split concepts.

Understand Your Target Pace:

Before embarking on your marathon journey, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of your target pace. Utilise a marathon calculator to determine the pace required to achieve your desired finishing time. By knowing your target pace, you can establish a realistic pacing strategy and avoid starting too fast, which can lead to early fatigue. Some of our favourite marathon pacing calculators include Strava’s Race Pacing Guide and Garmin Connect’s Race Predictor.  Both provide a convenient way to gauge your fitness level and plan your pacing accordingly.

Estimating your target pace will be influenced by your overall health, level of fitness and experience, race conditions, and the marathon course itself. I have always found it useful to base my race pace on the feedback from key long runs and marathon-specific sessions.

Understand the conditions and racecourse:

Studying the racecourse, including undulations and likely race conditions, is always recommended to build confidence in your race pacing strategy. Going over the course prior to race day can be helpful, but if this isn’t possible, seek out videos of the course from previous years and speak to runners who have completed the course.

Practice Negative Splits:

One effective pacing strategy for marathon runners is to aim for negative splits, where the race’s second half is faster than the first. Research published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance suggests that runners who implement a negative split strategy often achieve faster overall race times and experience fewer performance declines late in the race.

By starting conservatively and gradually increasing your pace, you can conserve energy for the later stages of the marathon, enabling you to finish strong. Don’t forget to consider potential congestion in the first 5km if competing in a big city marathon.  Negatively splitting long runs can be a useful way to practice this strategy. Generally speaking, if you are competing in a flat marathon with limited wind, aim to run the second part of the race 1-2 minutes quicker than the first half.

At the Athlete Sanctuary, we encourage our athletes to listen to their bodies, trust their training, and embrace the journey toward becoming stronger, more resilient athletes.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or preparing for your first race, prioritising pacing can make all the difference in your marathon experience. If you are keen to better understand how to enjoy the thrill of crossing the finish line strong, contact us to discuss your next marathon goal.

 

References

Oficial-Casado, F., Uriel, J., Perez-Soriano, P., & Priego Quesada, J. I. (2021). Effect of marathon characteristics and runners’ time category on pacing profile. European Journal of Sport Science, 21(11), 1559-1566.

Renfree, A., & Gibson, A. S. C. (2013). Influence of different performance levels on pacing strategy during the Women’s World Championship marathon race. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 8(3), 279-285.