Pacing – How Fast To Go And What To Do To Get There.

How many paces do you have?

When I first started I had just one – slow.

But with practice and race experience I know these days there is more than one pace. The trick is knowing when to be employing which pace.

In this post I’m going to hopefully help you work out what your race pace is and then set tactics in place to make sure you stick to it.

For everyday runners like you and I we will have a variety of paces depending on if we are running a 5km race or a long Sunday endurance run. The difference between these two can be as much as two minutes per kilometre.

When you are running a 5km you can push yourself to be faster as the distance is much less than in a marathon, so don’t be afraid to go all out. You should be running hard so that you can’t talk, if you try you can maybe get one or two words out between breaths.

In a marathon training run you should be able to easily maintain a conversational pace. Too tired to talk? You’re going too fast.

Working out your paces

I’m going to use an example here of a 30 minute 5km runner who wants to race further, a 10km, half marathon and marathon pace.

This runner has splits of 6 minutes per km.

Using a pace calculator (I like to use the one at McMillan Running), this runner should run the following:

10Km: 1:02:33 (6:12/km)

Half Marathon: 2:18:00 (6:32/km)

Marathon: 4:47:44 (6:49/km)

I used the Cool Running pace calculator to work out the paces.


Now that you have these times you can start to train using these predicted paces – but you don’t want to running these paces for every run.

In some runs you will be asked to run at what is termed threshold or tempo pace. These runs are run around 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate.

It is described as comfortably hard running about 16 to 19 seconds per kilometre slower than your 5km pace (or 25 to 30 seconds per mile).

So our 30 minute 5km runner will be running splits of 6:16/km instead of the 6:00/km they would run in a 5km race.

In your long weekend runs (usually called LSD, long slow distance, or LSR, long slow run) you want to be running slower than the predicted pace for your race.

This is more important in a marathon, our runner in this case would run around 7:49/km splits, so a whole minute slower than race pace. This helps to build up endurance but without the risk of injury.

Your body adapts very strictly to the specific exercise demands that are placed on it, which means that if you train at your target pace you will achieve greater efficiency and better fatigue resistance at this pace. It will also help with the mental side of training.

So our runner should be doing a mix of sessions – some long slow runs to build up endurance, but also some higher intensity work to practice race pace.

There are a few ways to achieve this:

Long runs: In the early part of training (the first 4-6 weeks for example) you can scatter some marathon pace segments into a long run every other week. These should be only for a few minutes at a time.

As your runs get longer increase these segments too, 1 to 3km. In your final weeks you can have 5km sections at marathon pace.

You can also run a moderately long run mid-week entirely at marathon pace.


So you’ve done the work, now to make sure you stick to your pace, or other race strategy.

One of the easiest ways to ensure that you are on pace is to run with a GPS watch with your pace easily viewed on the main screen. At a glance you can check to see if you’re running too fast, too slow or on the money.

This is especially important in the first few kilometres of a half marathon or marathon as it is easy to get swept along in the excitement and go too fast.

If you don’t have a GPS watch, but you do have a stopwatch with a lap counter function then you will benefit from a race band. These are a DIY option that you can find on Runners World.

As most races have kilometre markers around the course you will be able to press your lap button on your watch at each split and check that it is still on target.

Here are some other tips when it comes to pacing in a race:

– If you are in a race where there are pacers ask them what their strategy is. Some keep an even pace throughout, which is helpful on a flat course but not so good when you want to take the up hills slightly easier and accelerate down.

– Take the first 10km of a marathon slow and easy. Unless you are keeping track of your pace you are still likely going too fast and it will come back to haunt you 20km down the road.

– An increased pace of just 10 seconds per kilometre could make or break you.

– Know the course. Learn where the hills are, where you will need to rein yourself in or where you will have to run more conservatively.

– Run the first 35km by time and the rest by feel. If you get to 35km and you’re still feeling good you can probably start to run a bit faster. If you feel as though you are giving it everything then try to hold that pace.

– Race more. The more you race the better you become at knowing your pace. If you are running your first races this autumn then treat them as an experiment.

– Pace yourself cautiously but not fearfully and see what happens, knowing that, no matter what happens, you will pace yourself better in the next marathon for having done the first.


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