How to maintain pace and finish a marathon like a pro

When race day comes and  you're surging with equal parts nerves and adrenaline, it's easy to make one of the most common running mistakes – getting swept up in the moment and losing touch with your ideal pace. The longer you plan to run, the more important it is to know your pace, as well as our how adjust it so you don't fall short of your goal.

Australian marathoner Jessica Trengove is a pro at pacing. In 2018, she set a new person best (2:25:59s) at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and on 5 May she'll join more than 500,000 runners in Melbourne and around the world in the Wings For Life World Run.  

In this unique worldwide run, everybody starts simultaneously, and 30 minutes after the race begins, a moving finish line, the 'Catcher Car' chases runners along the course, gradually getting faster until each one is caught. If you want to beat the current record of running for 92.14km before getting caught, then pace is everything.

Race pace

After racing three tough marathons in 2018, Trengove is in a lower intensity phase of training, and plans to just enjoy the race.

"This year, I'll be running with some work colleagues, so I don't think I'll quite make it as far as I have in the past!" says Trengove.

She says appropriate pacing is the key to lasting in any event.

"It's important to utilise your energy systems (aerobic versus anaerobic) in the most efficient way. Running at a speed that feels comfortable early is likely to serve you best for the long run," she explains.

Pace yourself  

Having a time goal with no pacing strategy will almost always set you up for failure. Training helps you to get a feel for which pace is most appropriate for you. Trengove says wearing a GPS running watch or checking the pace through an app on your phone will help to keep your one kilometre splits in check.

"Your perception of speed can be skewed when running with others - especially on race day - so it's useful to check your pace in the early stages of the race with a tracking device rather than rely solely on feel."

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Trengove also suggests dividing your ultimate total running time into thirds. Run at a relaxed pace for the first third. If feeling good, slightly increase the pace for the second third, and check in again at half way mark. If the pace feels too fast, revert back to the initial pace but if your body is responding well, speed up a little as you enter the final third of your race.  

Keep in mind that hilly courses or windy days will require you to adjust your pace.  The key is to maintain the same level of effort throughout the run. If you do this, you'll naturally go slower than goal pace on the up hills (or into the wind) and faster than goal pace on the downhills (with the wind). Use your breathing to help you gauge effort on the up hills. If you're huffing and puffing, slow down until your breathing returns to normal.

Up the ante

If you want to increase your current pace, Trengove recommends concentrating on gradually increasing your leg turnover (cadence) or the power of each stride. Use breathing rate and fatigue to gauge how your body is responding to the faster pace. "To increase overall pace, I recommend adding little bursts of faster running, like fartlek session, in one to two of your runs per week," adds Trengove.  

When training to increase your pace, choose a course that has a good surface and preferably no traffic so that you don't have to slow down for cars or bikes. Athletic tracks or loop courses are an excellent choice for getting into a good rhythm.

Pacing takes practice, so spend time getting to know your pace, and on race day, choose a pace that's comfortable and stick to it, regardless of how fast the people next to you are running.

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

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