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How To Stay On Pace During a Run or Race

How to stay on pace during a race

What’s the benefit of pacing your race?

In all of the excitement of race day it’s easy to get carried away and start your race at a pace you can’t maintain for the full distance. This can deplete those much needed energy stores and increase chances that you slow down and hit the dreaded wall towards the end of your race. For most runners, going at an even pace is the most efficient way to run, and so knowing the pace you need to run at and how to maintain it is really important.

How do I know what pace I need to run at?

If you have run the distance in question before (e.g. you are running your second half marathon) then you can generally use your previous run time as a guide, and adjust depending on how training has gone and whether you want to aim for a PB.

But what if it’s your first time running that distance and you have no idea how fast you can do it? Well, you can translate almost any other run race time to calculate an estimated time for a longer or shorter race. For example, when I signed up for my first half marathon I had no idea how long it would take me. The longest timed race I had done was a 10k. So, I plugged my 10k time into a race pace converter, and it gave me a prediction of how quickly I should be able to run a half marathon. Now, it’s certainly not an exact science, and there a lot of other factors at play, particularly to quality of your training, but it gives you a starting point. The more similar the two run distances are that you are converting, the more accurate the prediction – for example a half marathon time is a better predictor of a marathon time than a 5k would be.

You might have a flagship time in mind, such as a sub 4hr marathon or sub 2hr half marathon. In that case, there should be a pacer for you to look out for and follow (see below for more info on pacers)

What is a race pacer?

A Pacer is an experienced runner who takes part in long run races to help other runners stick to a certain speed throughout the race duration. Typically they will carry a flag or other identifier that can be spotted easily within the crowd, which will display the finish time target. This then means that anyone running who has that time in mind can stick closely to them throughout the race, rather than having to follow their watch the whole time.

What if my race doesn’t have pacers?

The last marathon I ran, London Marathon 2021, did not have pacers due to caution around covid (much to my disappointment!). If this is the case then you are more reliant on having a fitness watch (which I would recommend also tracking even if you follow a pacer). The overall pace predictor on watches isn’t always that reliable, so I find it helps to know your split times too so that you can check you are hitting the distance markers within the required time (if you are running for a specific time).

Image: Example split times by distance in km/miles

When I ran the London marathon, my target mile and km paces were awkward (not on a nice round minute) and so working out split times would have taken too much mental strain during the run. So I wrote the time at which I needed to pass every mile mark on a tiny piece of card and kept it in my pocket during the race. This way I knew how long I had to hit the 3 mile mark, 8 mile mark, 20 mile mark etc. and could pick up the pace if I fell behind or slow it down if I was running too quickly.

My partner thought it was all a bit extra but I relied on it a lot, and I’m glad I had it! This would also be a great method if you don’t have a smart or running watch and want to track your pace on a regular watch.

Would you like help with your running? Perhaps you are looking for support from a running coach in East London, or online? Drop me a message and I’ll be happy to answer any questions!


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