How do you decide your race pace?

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01/04/2012 at 14:27


 I have been intrigued by this for sometime now and am really interested to know how others decide what there race pace is, particularly when you are relatively inexperienced.

To explain my situation. I am a 39 yr old male, started running August of last year. I guess I must have been reasonably fit although i didnt think it at the time. I ran 2 10ks one in late September in 53 mins and the second in late Nov in 48 mins 20 seconds. At that time I knew I pushed myself to the limits and there was nothing else in the tank (basically went out hard and managed to hang on to a consistent 7:43 min mile pace).

Since then I have been training for the Belfast marathon on 7th May gradually building mileage with one fast session each week. I have not raced and unfortunately have not manged to squeeze in a half marathon race. All my long runs have been completed at a pace between 9:30 and 10:15 min miles. I have at least one more long run and  have done 2x15, 2x16, 2x17, 1x17, 1x19, 1x21. I aim to do 22 next week. The focus for me in these runs has been to complete the distance and I have struggled with injuries, niggles and fuelling issues so until this weeks 21 miler I have not felt fresh at the end of any of them. This weeks 21.3 was meant to be a 20 but i added the extra as I felt good.

So, to summarise, this will be my first marathon. According to macmilian race calculator and based on my 10k time it suggests i could potentially do a 3:46!!. Now I think that is way out of my reach. My long runs suggest closer to 4:15-4:30... But what am I capable of? Would the race day adrenalin and experience enable me to go faster say 9 min miles rather than 9:40 min miles (training runs) or worryingly do i risk burning out? My first goal has to be to finish... I know people say to run the long run slower than race day but without knowing how others feel it is hard for me to compare how i feel at the end of my long run (which is really tired) compared to others. The other thing in my head is that whilst i am done at the end of my long run I am ok that evening and could run the next day, whereas I hear people advising that you should not run for a couple of weeks after the marathon, so perhaps how i feel at the end of the long run is not all i have in the tank. It might be helpful for me to add that i did yesterdays 21.3 miles at an average heart rate of  78%. Last 6 miles were about 80%.

So any views on how i should pace this? And how do you work out yours?

01/04/2012 at 15:13

THe pace convertors are very optimistic, but saying that, you 10k time was a long time ago ( in terms of your short running career). Your long runs sound good, and you still have a couple of weeks of good traiing before you taper. I would guess that you should manage 4hr, or faster. 4:15 sounds a bit conservative.

Pfizinger and Douglas has marathon pace as 79-88% of max hr, but you will probably drift more in the last 5 miles.

In summary- I wish I knew- but I think you're on for better than 4 hrs if all goes well.

01/04/2012 at 17:46

The above gives a rough guide of 3:37 to 3:47. 8:30mm pace

As tricialitt stats, converters normally get more optimistic as the distance increases.

It is also suggested to run your long runs 60-90 seconds slower than marathon pace.

I would suggest, if you run a mid week run of 10 miles. Maybe run the first five at normal pace and try and run next few at 8:30 pace and see how it feels (it should take about a mile to get into it). If it feels good run the whole five at this pace. If it feels good, maybe increase the marathon paced miles each week.

Don't forget when you get to race day, you will have a three week taper behind you.

01/04/2012 at 18:51

OP, you raise a freakily similar poser to the one I did in the "3 Runs Per Week Schedule" thread (I too am a 39 year old male, tantalised by a sub-4 but not quite there with my long runs).

However, I have been inspired by a half PB today so am going to go for it and seek out the RW 9 minute pacer for the VLM.


01/04/2012 at 19:08

Hi guys, thanks for the replies. Tricia and scooby thank you for the encouraging words, they are reassuring. Scooby that sounds like a plan which I will try this week.

 Hilden, I will look for that thread, but excuse me for being selfish... you are the week before me then.... i can't wait to hear how you go then..

29/04/2012 at 12:30

Hi Your 10k times sound similar to mine when I first started running in 2008 I did 50 mins then 49 mins.  I was 38 then I ran my first half in 1.54 September 2008. I then trained for a marathon in 2009 and all  my long runs were 9.30-10 min pace. I did my first marathon in April 2009 (Shakespeare) and had been running for about a year and finished in 3hrs 56 which is 9 min pace. I am sure you too will be able to run your marathon at this pace.

Good luck

29/04/2012 at 16:51

thanks little minx. I think the big difference between you and me is that you had a good base to run the marathon from. I would love to do sub 4 but really fear id risk blowing up and having a disaster so am thinking sub 4:30 is more realistic.

I have had ongoing problems with my knee which has hit my confidence and meant i have not hit the weekly mileage that i would have liked in the last 5-6 weeks. I seen a sports therapist who gave me a deep tissue massage on friday I ran today and have not felt so strong in weeks. I managed 8 miles in 1 hr 11 averaging 8:55 min miles and picked up in the last 3 going 8:46, 8:28, 8:14. I felt strong but it also made me realise that i have not been able to run like that for the previous 7 plus weeks.

I am in two minds but think sub 4 is definately achievable but probably not now.

29/04/2012 at 18:09

Good luck. Yes better to run slower and finish thinking I could do that faster next time, than starting too fast and blowing up and finishing like a snail which I did in my second marathon! 

29/04/2012 at 18:16

4:01:02 for me last Sunday and am delighted: only a one minute positive split and I don't think I could have squeezed out those 63 seconds.

Like everyone at London, I ran well over 26.2 and averaged 9.06 pace on my Garmin, official splits here:

HTH and good luck!

Edited: 29/04/2012 at 18:18
29/04/2012 at 19:24
Hilden, that is really helpful. Great running my friend, I really doubt i could hold that pace as well as you did. I will try and hold 9:45 I think.
30/04/2012 at 20:47

I was exceptionally lucky in terms of injuries not hampering training. 

I'm sure you'll have it covered but my one piece of advice would be to be as clear as possible about your final week and race plan.  There is an enormous psychological boost that comes in-race, from telling yourself you are well prepared and your body CAN cope, despite what the Central Governor is telling you.

Which marathon are you doing? 

01/05/2012 at 08:13

Hilden, I am running Belfast.

Good advice. My thinking is a little confused mainly because my training seems to have been so hampered with injuries. At the back of my head I still have doubts whether the knee will hold out and be pain free. I have done the long miles one 21.3, 19, 2x18, 4x 16 and averaged 35 miles per week apart from 4/5 weeks where it was half this due to injuries. But I haven't fully tested myself in a race situation so am unsure what i am capable of. The longest run was done averaging 10 min miles. I started off at 9.40 ish and drifted to 10.20 at the end, i felt tired at the end but wasn't dead on my feet and suspect i could have went faster in a race situation but dont know whether i could hold that to 26.... As you can see these dont sound like the thoughts of a rationale man................

I think as it is my first marathon i want to set out at 9.50 ish and listen to my body as I go around. I will work on that positivity as you suggest

01/05/2012 at 16:26

Hilden, I would be really interested what pace you ran your long runs at and how you felt at the end of those. Say on a scale of 1-10 how tired you were, did you feel you could have went on, did you have any drift in pace say after 16 miles?

01/05/2012 at 21:18

With pleasure! 

My training programme was taken from the book "Run Less, Run Faster", aka the Furman Institute's 3 + 2 schedule.  I mention that because with only three runs a week, the long run is deliberately set at a tougher pace than other programmes.

For all of my long runs, I would manage a target pace final mile but there would almost always be a drift in pace after 16 miles.  After the marathon, I was at a ten for tiredness- utterly drained and had to be ushered to one side by the St John's.  Post long runs, I would perceive my tiredness as about an 8, but calibrating it now in relation to the marathon's exertion I would go for 6-7.

In terms of actual paces:

Week 8 - 20m at 9:59

Week 6 - 22m at 9:38

Week 4 - 21m at 9:27

Week 3 - Race half at 8:19

Week 2 - 10m at 9:00

Week 1 - 26.2m (and the rest!) at 9:06

01/05/2012 at 21:56

Hilden, you are a gentleman. That is wonderful information.

I particularly like your description of perceived effort for runs compared to marathon, that is very helpful.

I would describe my effort for long runs around 8-8.5 (very tired and pleased to be stopping, but if my life depended on it could have went on).

As for race pacing, your week 6 and 4 are definately quicker than any long runs that I completed. I have averaged about 9:45-10 min miles for everything above 16 miles. I have done shorter stuff much quicker ie 8 miles at 8:50 pace.

I went out tonight for a slow jog with the club just to tick the legs over, I didnt even look at my watch and when i got back realised i covered 5 miles in a very comfortable 9:43 pace which felt really comfortable....

I have decided on my pacing. I am going to aim for close to 9:45 min mile pacing and see wherer this takes me. I am hoping that i can maintain this throughout but am hoping that if i really tire i can keep it within the 9:45-10.15 min mile range.

Hilden, thank you for the information, it is very helpful to have this kind of information from someone who has just done it. Thanks mate.

02/05/2012 at 18:41

I think that sounds a really good approach- being clear about your pacing for the first half will minimise the venture into the unknown that the latter stages represent. 

Early on, you may feel tempted to go faster than 9:45 but I would caution against that.  You will need to dig in from some point in the final third: that is inevitable and is what makes the marathon the challenge it is.  I felt able to grit my teeth and keep going not just because I knew the fatigue was inevitable; but far more importantly because I could quel the voices that said "Walk, you fool!".  I gained enormous psychological ballast knowing that I had run the first half at an appropriate pace and fuelled/ hydrated sensibly. 

The other mental strategy that worked for me was to create a personal narrative beforehand:  I looked back on races where I had finished strongly, or other life achievements where I had kept going whilst others faltered.  The pain of other runners, surrounds you in the final miles.  As I pushed on trying to pick them off, I would keep saying to myself "This is what I do".

I'm aware that much of the above might sound like unadulterated cheese but I do think there is enormous benefit from trying to prepare mentally once all the physical graft has been done.

The big proviso though for you will be your knee- I'll cross fingers for you on Monday.   

02/05/2012 at 19:26
Hilden, we have much in common.  I count my biggest strength as determination or some may call it sheer b****y minded. Your suggestion regarding pyschological preparation makes so much sense to me. Fingers crossed and I will let you know how it goes. Thank you for all of your words they have been a great help.
07/05/2012 at 18:45

How did it go?


07/05/2012 at 22:21

Hilden, a bit of a mixed bag my friend. Here is the race report.

The race had so many twists and turns, dramas, highs and downright terror to it. I have mentioned on here before that I had lots of problems with my knee (the it band) in the run up to this marathon which impacted greatly on the last 8 weeks of my training. In a nutshell the killer I suspect was that I just didn’t get enough long runs in and not as many miles on my feet as I needed as a newbie runner with less than 9 months running behind me. But I got to the start line today feeling good. I was confident my knee would hold out and I felt well hydrated and rested.

The weather was not good windy and rain, but in all honesty this did not affect me too much today. It was more problematic when I finished and had to wait to get my dry clothes.

I tend to analyse every run that I do over and over and I had different goals for today so I decided to just ignore my speed and to focus on feel and my heart rate. The first 6 miles were like a dream (I have never felt stronger). If you had asked me at the time I would have said I was running 10 min miles but I see from my Garmin stats that I completed them in (9.12,8.57,9.02,8.51,8.55,9.02) . I kept an eye on my heart rate and as I approached miles 8-9 felt I was a tiny bit ahead of where I wanted it to be but was still running strong and completed miles 7-14 in (9.17,9.18,9.08,9.29,9.16,9.38,9.41,9.44) . I was surprised to find the Antrim road relatively straightforward and felt good coming off it. Things changed in miles 15-17 as I felt noticeably more tired than before and knew I had to slow but just couldn’t it seemed that I was using the same energy however I ran them. I completed these miles in (9.15, 9.36, 9.40) despite trying to go slower. Before I got to Gideon’s green I knew I was struggling, but when we hit the cycle path and that wind coming straight off the Irish Sea I knew I was in trouble. The conditions were increabible and I didn’t have the energy to fight it as I needed to. I stopped for a drink and my knee started to throb and tightened up and my legs started to cramp. I limped miles 18 and 19 (10.05, 10.27) and then had to resort to a walk/run strategy and felt my world had caved in, knowing I had 8.2 miles to go. The cycle path and the industrial estate were hell. By now I was only thinking about getting home, my heart rate was now under control but I was cramping soo bad and my knee was aching so bad that it felt like I was running 200 yds., walking 200yds. Mile 20 seemed to take forever to come and my right hamstring went into an incredible cramp. It was so bad that I was convinced I had torn the muscles and my race was over in the middle of the industrial estate. At this point I couldn’t walk and was grounded for 4 mins. A kind lady runner stopped and asked me if I wanted her to get me an ambulance. Anyway, on I went with my walk/run strategy and I was living a nightmare. Miles 21-25 were completed in (11.48, 11.30, 11.37, 12.30, 13.18) the last two of those miles were pretty

Edited: 07/05/2012 at 22:25
07/05/2012 at 22:23

much up hill and I was doneI actually can’t believe they were that quick (relative I know) but it felt like hrs. So I get to mile 25 I am convinced by this point that I am well over 5 hrs. and just trying to gather myself to be able to run over the line and who comes along but the 4:30 pacers. My first thought was that they had a disaster also. I then realised 4:30 was still a possibility, I can grab something from this. But we still had just over a mile to go and my last complete mile was 8 miles ago. I started running and was struggling with cramps but the guys were amazing they kept an eye on me, encouraged me, and encouraged the crowd to cheer us all along. The last mile was completed in (9.40) and I crossed the line in 4:27 something, my Garmin time is 4:26:26 (and I forgot to stop it so my chip time will be around the 4.25 or early 4:26 I mark)...

Could it have gone better absolutely? So am I disappointed, No way? I am a marathonerand I turned what was a living nightmare into an achievement I am so proud of. Would I be feeling this way without the pacing guys? No! and I mean that. Someone was looking down on me. I would have hit another 13 min mile the last one and been outside 4:30 and felt frustrated (that is said with total respect to everyone else’s time, I know what it takes to complete a marathon, so complete respect to everyone, I just mean given my aspirations for the race).

Have I learned from the experience? Hell yes, I think I need lots more miles under my belt to build the endurance, I think I need to look at my fuelling in the race, it went bad..... I got stomach cramps and as I had only used gels once before I panicked and stopped using it. I had jelly babies but just couldn’t eat them after 15 miles. I know I got that badly wrong and I need to get this knee looked at. It hurts like mad tonight. So thanks to everyone for their advice along the way. Shades, I have crashed on my first marathon and I think I might feel a little afraid the next time knowing this experience but I realise that I need to focus more on my training and respect those runs more. Will I do it again? Absolutely, but I won’t be applying for anything tonight. I am looking so forward to some 10ks and a few halfs.

Edited: 07/05/2012 at 22:29
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