Pacing masterclass with Martin Yelling

Coach Martin Yelling gives us the low-down on perfect pacing.



by Annie Rice



Last week I was lucky enough to be put through my paces - quite literally - by Martin Yelling, marathon coach and co-founder of Yelling Performance alongside his wife, Liz Yelling, who just happens to be one of Britain’s top female marathoners, (with an impressive 2:28 marathon PB). Tough competition. Still, eager to please and learn, it was time to hit the track.

The session was held at Paddington Recreation ground on the brand new track and hosted by Human Race in conjunction with their new 'pacing series' of events. It consisted of various 400m reps each with different intentions.

From the first lap which resulted in us all getting our half marathon pacing hideously wrong – I ran the pace for a 1:30 half, a little ambitious to say the least, and highly unsustainable for anything beyond a few laps of the track. Still, you live and learn and the early reps created a building block for us to work from as we started to gauge the seemingly complex practice of race pacing. Learning to ‘dial into’ different paces. That old just cross the start line and run to the finish line as quick as you an philosophy didn’t really wash with Yelling.





Yelling summarises correct pacing as: “understanding what effort you can sustain for the duration of your event. It’s about having the patience at the start, feeling in control, feeling confident and the master of your race and being ready to face the demands of the final stages of your race fresher, stronger, more focused and bang on target.”

This all sounds very well and good - we all want to nail each race without losing control but how I hear you ask? Here are Martin’s top tips top revent yourself being hit by the perils of pacing:

1. KNOW YOUR PACE. You don’t have to be super fast or super professional to have a ‘race pace’. Knowing to the second your pace per mile (for example, 9min miles) means you actuallyhave a clear target finish time to aim at. Having a clear target and a pace structure to achieve it helps you stay on track from start to finish. Know your target finish time and work out what this equates to for each mile or km of your race.

2. PRACTICE To really understand what it feels like torun at your race pace you need to practice it in training. This doesn’t mean you have to go and run the full race distance at race pace but it does mean that you should include sections of training runs at or close to race pace. On routes you know are accurate distances, e.g, a 400m track, or a measured 1 mile, practice running at targetrace pace.

3. LISTEN to your body When you run at different intensities yourbody sends you different signals to let you know how it’s feeling. For example, your heart rate, how hot you feel, your breathing rate, how much your muscles ache. How you interpret these feelings during exercise is known as your ‘perception of effort’ (or RPE – rating of perceived effort) and mastering your sensory signals will help you master yourown race pace. Use your perception of effort to gauge and monitor intensity and pace. Don't be reliant on your GPS. Ditch the distractions and dial into how you feel, your rhythm, heart rate, cadence and effort. As a guide, the faster you are breathing the harder you are trying.

4. RACE IT. Try your pacing strategy in a practice race.A race presents challenges to overcome. Other participants, weather conditions and nerves. Stay calm. It's easy to start off too fast and be pulled along byother runners. Be patient. Be disciplined at the start and in the first few miles. Don’t get sucked in by the paceand speed of other runners and be drawn into blasting off too quickly. Youwon’t thank yourself in the later stages of the race.

5. BE CONSISTENT. Even paced splits typically bring about the best results especially in longer races. When practicing pacing aim for consistency. Give yourself a parameter either side of your target time to aim at that keeps your pace on track. For example, if your target pace is 8.15 per mile you might allow yourself a range of 8.10 to 8.20 – if you’re within that you’re on track. Avoid ‘yo-yo’ running and speeding up then slowing down to hit target paces.

6. BE POSITIVE. Pacing your race right is a positive andmotivational way to approach a race. Feeling strong and coming through the field in the second half is better than blowing up, going backwards and shuffling to the finish. Practice your pacing mindset in training as it wont always be straightforward.

7. PLAY WITH PACE. Play with pace in your training. Dial in to different paces. This not only helps you avoid being a 'one-paced plodder’ but really boosts your fitness. Explore running faster than your target pace (this helps race pace feel easier), but also running slower than race pace (this helps you recover). A mix of varied paced workouts helps you understand the spectrum of running speed, broadens your experience of training, keeps you motivated and develops your fitness,efficiency and running economy.

8. PACE IN HARMONY. The best pacing comes from experience, practice and training. Effective pacing works in harmony with many other factors that make up a great race. When working on your pace strategy remember that keeping your pace where you want it for the entire duration of the race isa balancing act. Training status, fitness, motivation, race day nutrition and hydration, the course, the weather and your concentration all play in part inpacing your race to perfection.

The Human Race Pace Series allows runners to join a pace group to run their perfect race. Sign up to an event in the Human Race Pace Series


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