Pacing. It’s one of the most difficult areas of racing to master. No matter how many times I resolve to myself that I will run even to negative splits (negative splits are running the second half faster than the first), I frequently abandon that idea when I start the race and feel better than ever. It’s difficult to hold oneself back during the first half of a race because you’ve tapered and are energetic from all the excitement so it’s natural to feel like pushing a bit harder will only lead to a faster finish time. It’s important to know the difference between pushing hard because you’re having a good day and feel like you can sustain a faster pace than you expected and riding on adrenaline to the point that you’re likely to fall apart during the end of the race.
I can’t tell you how many marathoners have hit the wall at 20-22 miles, and for as many of them hit it due to undertraining, there are equally as many who did everything right during training and just went out too fast.
The first step of proper pacing is to establish a goal time, from which you can establish your proper pace. The best way I’ve found to do this is to race a shorter distance a few weeks ahead of time in order to gauge your fitness level. It is very difficult to translate times from training into racing times because of the various factors which make us run faster on race day. If you have a time from a shorter race, there are several online calculators which will help you predict your time for the longer race.
Once you’ve established what time you think you can run, try to go out in even splits, so divide your total time by the number of miles. Resist the urge to shave even 10 seconds a mile off because you will pay for that in the later miles of the race. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t feel like you’re going out too slow, then you’re going out too fast.
If you notice yourself running faster than goal pace in the first half of the race, scale it back until you are hitting your goal pace. Once you hit the 2/3 mark, if you’re still feeling good, then you should be okay to pick up the pace. This way, you will finish feeling strong rather than slogging across the finish line. Isn’t that what we all want?