Pacing a Marathon
Pacing yourself can have a massive difference on how much you enjoy the race and how you feel towards the end and, if you have a target time in mind, can help you hit that target. Here are my tips!
As an example of the importance of pacing... The London Marathon app picks up your time from your timing chip as you run over a mat every 5km. I can predict with almost 100% accuracy how an individual runner of mine will do in the whole race by their time at that first 5k timing mat…! If they are running too fast, chances are they will have a tough time and slow down more later on.
So, the biggest bit of advice I can give anyone running a marathon (regardless of any goals they might have for the race) is run the first 5k gently!! It will be exciting, you might be nervous and because of that so, so many people get carried away and go out too fast. The challenge is there that you peak your heart rate early and peak your glycogen energy utilisation early, both are hard to get back down again - so you increase the risk of running out of energy before the end of the race (AKA hitting the wall). This will slow you down and make you feel a bit rubbish.
Most people around you will go charging off at the start, but stay calm, be in your own bubble and take it gently. It will really pay off later on, you’ll lose much less time going gently early than you would being forced to slow later on, you’ll see many of those speedy starters again later. And you’ll be much more likely to enjoy the whole race!
The benefits aren’t just around fuelling and energy levels, it’s also psychological as being able to feel good and maintain pace later on when most others are slowing down feels amazing :)
Be aware that the tall buildings of big city marathons mess with your GPS signal so if you want help evenly pacing or have a target time in mind use the race pacers if your marathon has then. It's a great way to take the pressure off and it means you don’t have to be glued to your watch. If you do have a target time in mind you are aiming for pacers can be handy there too, lots of people going for the same goal together. If the race doesn't have pacers you can also map out the time you should be at each mile or KM marker on a bit of paper, there are even temporary tattoo versions you can pop on your forearm!
Remember that statistically the best way to get a good marathon time for you is to “negative split” which means running the first half a little slower than the second. It works for fuelling and psychologically.
Running with a sense of effort level, breathing and/or heart rate can also be a great way to pace yourself. It's a technique that means you can easily adapt to changes in conditions on race day (like the weather) and also comes in really handy on a course with hills as you want your effort level to be consistent up and down hills, meaning your pace varies; slowing up hill and speeding up down hill. Keeping to the same pace up a hill will up your energy utilisation and effort level/heart rate making it harder to get it back down again.