Ask the Expert: Pacing with coach Martin Yelling

Catch up with the highlights from our pacing Q&A with coach Martin Yelling



Marathon coach Martin Yelling recently joined us for a webchat on how best to pace a race. 

Martin holds a BSc in Sports Science and a PhD in physical activity promotion. He's worked in departments at Loughborough and Demontfort University and has worked with runners at all levels, from seasoned marathon runners to complete beginners.

Q1) We know that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to pacing, but there's a generic template. However in my experience, it's mental strength that can override a lot on the day. So if you mess up a bit on pace, people need some help in coping with their mental strategy in the race. What's your advice on this? - Kittenkat

A1) You are spot on. Appropriate pacing is crucial, particularly at the start of a marathon. Mental strength comes in different forms during a marathon. At the start runners need to be disciplined to hold back when perhaps they might feel like going faster. Then, as the race unfolds, the miles tick on and the race gets harder so it becomes more important to be disciplined to stay on track and dig in.  Remember that tough moments do pass. Break a section down (e.g. just the next mile) focus on only that moment and your pace through it. Also remember that you may drop off your target pace a touch every now and again and not to panic and totally throw the towel in. Keep the effort level up, stay focused and keep moving.

Q2) My biggest issue is losing pace 3/4 the way through a race. I normally have beeps on my Garmin telling me when I’m too fast / too slow, but do you have any suggestions for pace games mentally? - Emmy H

A2) Losing pace mid way through a race can happen because you’re tired and are starting to feel the pace, have gone off too fast, or have lost focus!  If it’s the latter then the beeping GPS certainly helps you stay on track but ultimately you should be able to ‘feel’ that pace and judge it spot on. That way you can relax a bit and let the pace take care of itself mid race. To do this successfully you’ve got to practice in training. A cheeky little bit of electrical tape over the face of your GPS will stop you taking a sneaky glance as you try and run sections of your run at a target pace (remember to turn off the bleep!). Confidence in your ability to self regulate your pace will help you mid race to relax but still stay on track.

Q3) I'm relatively new to running, and I'm definitely a low tech runner and work my pace out at the end of a run, can you recommend a good entry level gadget to help me keep an eye on my pace whilst I'm out running? - Rebecca Atkinson 6

A3) Low tech running is great. An easy way to get a feel for your pacing is to know the distance of you run and then try and run it at a desired pace time. For example, if you know a route is 3 miles and you are running it in 30 mins then you are 10 min miling. You only need a stopwatch to look at to be do this. It doesn’t need to be fancy or high tech. That said, a simple, user friendly GPS that doesn't take a degree in astro physics to work (for example Garmin 110) will tell you the time, pace and distance of your runs as you run.

Q4) I'm doing my first Ironman in October, should I attempt to pace the marathon or just concentrate on staying alive? It's a flat course which I would normally do just under 4 hours. - KateF

A4) You should look to pace the bike to survive the run!  Correct effort level, pacing and nutrition on the bike leg plays a huge part on your ability to complete the marathon. Assuming you get the bike section spot on then pacing your marathon is still vital. Once you get into your running off the bike you might feel ok and be tempted to pick up the pace. Don’t Hold it back. Pace control at the start of the marathon is vital. If you hit a wall in an ironman marathon you know about it so respect the first half and stick to pace plan and strategy. There is also a real need to be flexible in ironman as plans rarely work out as you’d planned!

Q5) When going into a race, I often have a good idea of what pace I want to run. Lets say that my goal for a flat 10mile race is 60mins, so my goal pace is 6 min/mile. However, sometimes early on in a race, I might find myself alone, while there may be a group of 5 or 6 runners up ahead going at say, 5min50 /mile.  In such a situation, what is the better strategy?  Stick to my planned pace, running on my own in early stages and perhaps pick up the pace late in race if feel strong enough?  Or, join up with those ahead of me in early stages, running at 5min50 / mile, at risk of going out too fast but taking advantage of being able to work together in a group, and get "dragged along". 

What would you recommend, and would the strategy differ depending on the race distance? e.g. 5K  versus 10 miles. - sultan

A5) Even with the best laid pacing plans sometimes a race can throw you a curve ball. You have to assess whether you are prepared to take a risk and go with the group and the benefits of the competitive context or whether you’d prefer the control of running solo. A group can give you lots of in race benefits, it’s motivational, you get protection from the wind, and can ‘race’  -all help drag you to a better time. Yet, get it wrong and start too fast and get carried away and you could jeopardize your race goals. The longer the race the more important it is to settle at the start and control your own pace. Groups may change and runners come and go in the early stages. Ideally, in the second half of loner races (10miles and up) running with a group at (or close to) target time really works. For shorter races, the risk is less so get stuck in early!

Q6) I am really struggling to run slow enough on my long run days, I am nearly a minute quicker than I should be per mile. Help! - Ian Statham

A6) There could be a couple of things going on here, Ian.

1). You are fitter than you think you are and so your long slow runs can be a little quicker.

2) You are simply not being disciplined enough and need to hold back. The longer a long runs goes on the harder it’s likely to feel as it progresses. What feels ‘easy’ at the start certainly won’t as the miles tick by and then run gets longer. Get your head around holding back. If it doesn't feel easy – you’ve gone off to hard and back it off. Do that on marathon day and you’ll be in for a special 20 mile treat!

Q7) I'm hoping to hit 4.30 marathon so what paces do you recommend for long runs steady runs? Plus a half marathon in March please? - runbird

A7) I’m assuming what you really mean is that you’d like run UNDER 4hrs 30 so we’ll aim for 4hrs 29mins!  It sounds so much neater that 4hrs 30:01! With that in mind then you should look to complete your long runs at around 45seconds slower per mile than this – especially at the moment as you build your stamina. So, a 4:29 marathon is 10:16 per mile. 11:00 min miling seems about right for your long runs.  As you get stronger it’ll pay to include some sections (3-6miles) at your target 10:16 pace.  Steady runs can be done quicker than this. This will help boost your fitness and make your marathon race pace feel a little easier.  There is no hard and fast rule for this but if 10:16 is your marathon race pace then a steady run in the region of 9:15/30min miling. This would be faster than your target half marathon pace. 

Q8) I am running Rome marathon on 17 March - I really struggled with two marathons last year in last 5-6 miles - finished Munich in 2:53:01 and had to go on a drip I was so dehydrated!  I was at 2:03 at 20 miles and felt good until another mile down the road....  My PB is 2:49:58 but feel can do a lot better as training much more now and getting faster in all other distances.  I am really small and generally quite a cold thing who doesn't sweat so much and have a fear of needing to stop to go to toilet during race!  So don't drink anything after about 8 the night before the race and rely on what I get during the race.  In Munich I couldn't drink out of the cups without spilling it all over me!  Do you have any advice of what I can do in races to get enough fluids?  My boyfriend has offered to nip around the course with some Lucozade Sport but not sure how easy this will be in practice! - Nicola Duncan 2

A8) Good luck for Rome! Great PB and pleased to hear that your training is going well to this point. It’s pretty normal to have a fear of needing to stop for the loo during a race and when you’re aiming for a personal best a road side pit stop can be frustrating! You do need to train your body to get used to ‘timings’ with food and fluids before the race to give you confidence that you won’t need to stop. Finding out what works for you on you long runs is a good place to get used to this. If you are desperate to stop early on in the race then the likelihood is that you’ve consumed too much fluids before the run.  As you’ll already know, you don't need to over drink before you start but do need to make sure you are adequately hydrated. I’d say you should be looking to continue to hydrate after 8pm and on the morning of the race – but without over doing it. That way you’re giving yourself a better chance of staying on top of your fluid and energy needs in the later stages of the race. In the race itself, assuming you have hydrated the day before and morning of appropriately, then drinking to your thirst is a good strategy. Then use what’s on course or take a couple of gels to meet your energy needs. Having your boyfriend chase around the route will just throw your focus and concentration so I’d leave that!

Q9) I'm desperate to do a sub-4, which would put me in the "good for age" category. So far I've done 4.06.38 and 4.08.04, so I think it's possible!! I'm doing Manchester in April (very flat course) and have signed up for the 9.09 pacing group. My concern is that it leaves nothing to chance. Should I just stick with the group and then "go for it" in the last mile? I only need/want to do 3.59.59!! What's your advice? - Kate Mcintyre 2

A9) You should definitely stick with the pacing group. Pacing groups are there to get you round bang on target time. The key is not to panic. The 9:09 sub 4 group will mean that everyone is thinking the same as you. The group should set off at exactly the right pace – and so hold you back!  The further you go with the pacing group the more likely you are to stay on track and motivated. If you feel good in the last few miles (3 and inside) then is the time to see how far sub 4 you can go! If you need to practice running with a pacing group join one of the RW pace groups at the Race Your Pace Half marathon event.

Q10) Did the marathon last year in 4 hrs 13 mins, and want to beat my time this year. Seem to be on course for 3,45 (something bound to go wrong!!), but as I'm running further, obviously as last year time becomes a big factor. Running 8-12 miles is good at the moment, but I have an ideal run which is 8 miles; 4 miles, then rest an hour, then 4 miles back home. My question is, is this as good as an 8 mile run, or a lot worse because of the hour rest in between? - PIERS Jenkins

A10) That’s a decent chunk off last years time! Splitting runs does actually work for a training benefit and if you’re only doing it on a few runs whilst still maintaining a focus on your long runs of continuous running then I’d say that’s fine.  It fits with your schedule and it work so stick with it.  Just make sure you also include those longer continuous runs as they make your marathon.

Q11) I'm doing the Great North Run this year and I'm hoping to do it in 2:30 but I'm having a problem with building my speed up because the speed work is playing havoc with my calf. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. - Steph Wood-Gilbert

 A11) There are many factors that could be impacting on your calf Steph. Certainly an increase in ‘speed work’ could be one. Without knowing what the specific of your running history and the type of speed work you are doing and the footwear you are wearing, it’s hard to make a call. To run a half marathon PB you need to be efficient and strong. If the speed work is causing you problems and risking that consistency then I’d recommend dropping the intensity and sticking with strength style tempo and threshold efforts to push the pace and boost your PB cause!

Q12) My question is about whether training paces are equally valid and transferrable across the range of racing paces, e.g. a 2:20 marathoner can run a Long Slow run at 10-20% slower than race pace and still be running a pretty swift ~6:25 min/mile. But a 4hour marathoner (e.g. me) running 20% slower than race pace is chugging along at ~11:00 min/mile and at this pace struggling to maintain form and posture. It's hard to feel a sense of "flow" at this pace. Are the suggested training paces equally valid for slower runners as they are for faster runners, and do they confer the same training benefit? - AgentGinger

A12) I’d say that for more experienced runners who have spent years building their fitness, strength, running economy and ‘systems’ develops a better ability to run at a higher percentage of their maximum.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they are a faster runner per se but that they have a better ability to run for periods at a relative higher intensity.  To be on the safe side a more controlled pace, particularly in the marathon, and a more even pace throughout has been shown to yield better marathon results.  We are all individual and practice in training will certainly help you get a gauge on what works for you!  Include sections at % higher and see how you respond! Guidelines are only guidelines and nothing beats personal experience to find your own levels.

Q13) At the Race Your Pace Half should I run with pace group for my marathon time or go with the pace for half marathon PB? – Jeanette Low

A13) It really depends what you want to get from the event. If you want to get an indication of marathon target time and to run hard then go for the PB group. If you'd rather get confident in your ability to pace a half at target MP then roll with that pace group. Both are good strategies. 


Previous article
Speed play: How to pick up pace
Next page

 
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle


Discuss this article

A bit traumatised asking this question as everyone seems so fast...

i have only done one marathon the VLM in 5.42.... I did have to wait for the loo for 15 mins but my hips gave out at about mile 14 and I had to shuffle round . I had previously run 20 miles in 3..30 hours and so thought under 5 was a possibility. I have also done a number of halfs, all around the 2.30 mark and my 10k pb is a measly 1.06. I have had to cancel a number of races including the Brighton Marathon this year and all my spring halfs because of an operation on my knee but now that I am back to building up my running almost as a beginner so how do I build myself up so that I no longer run at snails pace?

I find that whether I am felling great or terrible as I go round I always end up with the same time and also I seem to be desperately slow. I do suffer from asthma and so whilst I CAN do a 10min mile I can't keep it up for much longer than 2 miles.......what can I do? Or do I just have to accept that I am slow...I was a sprinter at school and am coming up for 53 so I'm no spring chicken! 


Posted: 15/02/2013 at 11:29

Just realised that I misunderstood this and have missed the talkback and can't now delete!
Posted: 15/02/2013 at 11:31

If you factor up from your 10k then that predicts 5.04 anyway.

What about working on your 10k time to see if you can improve that ? You need to run faster if you want to beat 5 hours.

What is your training week - what do you do and what pace ? 53 is only young. You can't use that excuse !
Posted: 15/02/2013 at 23:54

that 20 mile race was a good time.......much faster than your half marathon times.......

when did you do that 20 miler.was it shortly before the marathon.......if it was near the end of the marathon raining that might be why you were slower than hoped for in your marathon as you must have raced your socks off for that and it would have taken quite a long time to recover from.......


Posted: 16/02/2013 at 08:01

Hi i am taking part in my first Marathon in Manchester on April 28 and have been  running regular and taking it more serious the past 5 years or so,entering 10k runs my personal best was 41 min. At the moment i am probably averaging about 25 miles per week with a couple of speed work sessions and am not sure this is enough the closer it gets to the Marathon itself.

All i think about is how far i can run when i am next out and want to push myself each time.

 

Can you give me some advice on how to prepare,how far i should be running each week etc???

 


Posted: 22/02/2013 at 11:43

i think you're a couple of weeks late for Martin's advice, Steven


Posted: 22/02/2013 at 13:38

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member
Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.