How to run your perfect race

Yes, yes yes. I hear it all the time.

“I just want to get round.”

No, you don’t. I promise, you want more.

You’ll need to refine your ‘I just want to get round’ approach a little to make sure you give yourself the best chance of crossing the finish line. Let’s be honest here, it’s got the potential to get messy. There will most certainly be some super tough moments and you’ll be drawing on all your training (yes, that) and physical and mental strength to keep moving. Understanding what to expect on the big day and having thought about a plan for your race and how you’ll approach it is an important step to finish line glory.

Your pace at the start of the race directly impacts upon your pace at the finish of the race. A marathon isn’t about saying after the race, “I was going well, feeling great until halfway when the wheels came off.” It’s about staying strong for the full distance. Give yourself the best chance to do this by starting off at your planned pace. By the way, you should definitely know this in advance. Poor pacing at the start of a marathon is the most common cause of a super tough second half of the race.

Get your pacing right and you’ll have the run of your dreams. Get it wrong and your marathon could be a second half sufferfest. Marathons can be very tough in the final six miles as runners ‘hit the wall’ as a result of poor pacing, insufficient training and inadequate nutrition.

Don’t think only serious or speedy runners require a marathon target time and a race pace strategy. If your goal is to survive and get round, you should know your target pace as this will help guide your effort and spread it out over the entire race. Knowing this will also give you confidence that you are in control in the early stages of your race and are on track to reach your goals throughout the race.

Be the master of your race

Running too fast too soon in the race doesn’t just make the second half much, much harder but it also can jeopardise reaching the finish at all. Knowing your pace is about understanding what effort you can sustain for the duration of the marathon. 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.

Working out a strategy that matches your race aspirations and motivation (for example, do you plan to try to run the whole way, do you plan to have walking breaks, if so when?) really helps you have a much better marathon experience. Start by establishing a target finish time (for example 4 hrs 30 minutes) then work out what pace (or mile split) you need to run at to achieve that time (for example, a 4 hrs 30-minute marathon is 10 minutes 18 seconds per mile).

The best marathons are run at an ‘even pace’ that is, starting off controlled and feeling good and trying to hold the similar mile splits for each of the 26.2 miles. In reality that is very hard to achieve, as there will be some inevitable second half slow down. Your goal is to try and minimise the rate of slow down with a sensible strategy especially at the start.

  • 5:30hr marathon pace = 12:35 per mile
  • 5:00hr marathon pace = 11:27 per mile
  • 4:30hr marathon pace = 10:18 per mile
  • 4:00hr marathon pace = 9:09 per mile
  • 3:30hr marathon pace = 8:00 per mile

For the next couple of weeks you are hopefully putting some of the final touches to your training, especially your long runs, before you begin to do less and ensure you’re fresh and ready for race. To really understand what it feels like to run at your race pace you need to practice it in training. This doesn’t mean you have to go and run the 26.2 miles at race pace but it does mean that you should include sections (3 to 12miles) of training runs at or close to your ideal race day pace.