MAYO CLINIC -- Finding a running pace that is right for you and maintaining it during a marathon may be easier said than done, but there are steps you can take to make sure you do it right. Brent Larson, a Health and Wellness Coach at Mayo Clinic and an avid runner, shares insights from his professional and personal experiences. Brent completed his first 40-mile trail ultramarathon this year, and is currently training for a 50-mile ultramarathon in 2013. He has completed 13 marathons, and is looking forward to his next race in October.
Q: How can I ensure that I am setting an appropriate target pace for myself?
A: One approach you can try is to average out your last eight to ten long training runs to get a feel for the pace your body is used to running. Don't expect to perform too much better than this in the race, even with race day excitement adding fuel to your run. Another way to set an appropriate target is to use a key indicator. This strategy includes tracking the time it takes to run your best one mile, 5K or 10K and using it to estimate your finish time for the entire marathon. More information about this technique is available online.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, listen to your body. It will ultimately have the final say in what your actual pace will be for the race. Monitor your breathing and heart rate so you know when you are approaching your limit. In training, you should feel relaxed enough to carry on a short conversation without having to catch your breath. Be aware that heat, humidity and injury will seriously affect your pace. Former Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers once commented that the key to performing successfully is getting to the starting line healthy!
Q: What tips do you have for pace setting for a first-time marathoner?
A: Pace setting has a lot to do with your goal. Are you shooting for a time goal or are you just aiming to finish the race? Simply finishing the marathon distance is an awesome physical and mental achievement, especially if this is your first time. One of the common mistakes first-timers make is to get caught up in the excitement of the race and go out too fast. Run your race, and don't worry about all of the other people that are passing you up at the start. If you've trained correctly, you will likely be passing them around mile 18 or 20. Start in the back of the pack with folks who run at about the same speed as you (ask them what their pace is) and try to stick with them. If you have a time goal, there are often pace groups that are provided for the race that you can hook up with to make sure you stay on track. There may be some pace groups that run the entire time and some that run and walk. Just find the group that works for you and keep them in your sight during the race.
Q: Should I have different pace times for the first half and second half of the marathon?
A: Ideally, your pace should be fairly consistent throughout the race. If you're a first-timer, you may naturally begin tiring during the second half of the race. But if you didn't start out too fast, you may find that you have gotten into your running flow after the first few miles, and it just seems natural to keep that pace. By taking it a little bit easier in the first half of the race (say 5-10 seconds/mile), you may be able to keep some in reserve for the last six miles, and actually run the second half faster than the first! Keep in mind that factors outside of your control, such as terrain and weather, will also affect your pace.
Q: Are there any specific workouts designed to help with pace setting?
A: There are many different approaches to this. On one of my running days during the week, I like to mix it up between tempo runs, speed and hill workouts. On my cross-training days, I'll often bike and try to focus on increasing my cadence to help with running speed. Finding your most efficient stride length will also help you run better, so you may want to try a shorter, quicker stride and see what effect that has on your pace speed as well as pace sustainability.
If you are really uncertain about where or how to start, contact your local track or distance running club, ask other runners for advice, or join a running group you know has a goal similar to your own. Check out running web sites, and ask around to see which ones other runners tend to trust. Additionally, many individual marathons have web sites that will direct you to a suggested training regimen or to local running groups and clinics to help you with your preparation. They are as much interested in your successful finish as you are, and want you to enjoy the experience so you will be back the next year.
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