marathon running pace

When aiming for a marathon, the most viewed metric becomes the pace. It directly impacts your total time for the 42.2 kilometers. And, from a mathematical perspective, it’s straightforward: if you maintain an average pace of 4:58 minutes per kilometer, you’ll finish the marathon in under 3 hours and 30 minutes. However…

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5 factors to consider calculating your marathon running pace

Athletes aren’t machines, and unlike cars, you can’t simply set a fixed pace, sit back comfortably, and enjoy the ride. Running a marathon requires constant monitoring of various parameters:

  • How do you feel overall? Is it too hot or too cold? Are your feet holding up?
  • Are you consuming enough, but not too much, food? How is your stomach handling it?
  • What’s your hydration status? Are you losing more or less fluid than anticipated, necessitating adjustments?
  • Are you maintaining your planned pace? Can you push a bit harder, or do you need to ease off?
  • And the list goes on…

So yes, it makes sense to have a general idea of what your body is capable of delivering in terms of marathon time (and average pace) on race day. But there’s so much more to consider when facing a marathon. Here are some valuable pieces of advice, gleaned from extensive experience:

  1. Pacing the First 10km: This is where many runners struggle (or even face a DNF). The excitement is high at the start, you feel fresh, and the adrenaline is pumping. It’s easy to set an unsustainable pace, only realizing your mistake when it’s too late. Two options: if you’re targeting a 3:30-hour marathon for example and there are 3:30 pacers (those with flags on their backs), stick with them until at least the halfway point, no matter how good you feel. If you’re without pacers, set a marathon-specific pace on your watch and stick to it for the first half. After 25km, assess how you’re doing and, if you’re still feeling good, consider picking up the pace slightly.
  2. Nutrition: Neglecting your nutrition is going to lead you to hitting “the wall.” Hoping things will magically work out or planning to figure it out on the course can result in a challenging final 10km. Our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbs, no matter how much carb-loading you do before the event. So don’t ignore nutrition. In very general terms, aim for at least 50g of carbs per hour (usually equivalent to 2 gels from most manufacturers every hour).
  3. Nothing New on Race Day: It’s a mistake many athletes make. The day before the race, a fellow runner shares their favorite new gel or the latest fast-running shoes, and you decide to try them out too. What could go wrong? Well, a lot. They’ve tested and adjusted these elements to suit their needs. There’s nothing wrong with trying new things, but definitely not on race day (trust me 😖).
  4. Course familiarity: Get to know the race course. Where are the aid stations located? What’s available at each station? Is the course hilly or flat? Are there any specific turns or sections to watch out for? What’s the expected temperature on race day (hot, cold, humid)? Are you allowed to receive nutrition from supporters? The more you understand what to expect on race day, the better prepared you’ll be. Make most of your decisions before the race, as it’s highly unlikely that after 30km, you’ll make better decisions about when to take a gel.
  5. Other Variables: Even if you’re well-prepared and all your training has gone according to plan (which rarely happens), consider external factors. Last-minute illnesses, travel stress, and more can all influence your race-day performance. Unless you’re an elite runner where every second counts, it’s usually wise to start a bit slower than your prediction and increase your pace after the first hour if you’re feeling exceptionally good.
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