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Marathons can be a tricky business. Just getting through the training is hard enough and that’s before you even get to the dreaded taper, race day pacing and the inevitable post-race blues. Which is why we’re excited to feature Martin Yelling, a true marathon expert, as part of our ongoing coach of the month series. Experience coaching everyone from novices to elites? Check. Host of the UK’s number one running podcast? Check. Plus his wife Liz just happens to have competed in the marathon at the Olympics. As if we needed further proof that he knows what he’s talking about!

Here Martin shares some tips on how to pace yourself for success, because if you want to finish feeling strong a pacing strategy is essential. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom where we’ve linked to the rest of Martin’s tips on everything from dealing with the unexpected to making race reflections matter.

Me: What would you like to achieve with your marathon this year?

Aspiring marathon runner: “[hesitant pause] I just want to get round, I don’t care what time I run, really, I just want to finish”.

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

Trust me, even if you’re starting to feel the pressure as race day draws closer, even if you are having a few doubts about the miles you’ve run, (or the miles you haven’t run), even if some race day anxieties and worries are starting to creep in, it’s vital to keep your focus, to remain headstrong, motivated, committed and determined to finish what you’ve set out to accomplish. All the effort, anxieties, aches and pains will be worth it and getting your race day pacing right is a big tick in the success box.

Before you stand up and holler at me because you’ve no idea of your pacing or have zero desire to understand it because you just want to ‘get around, survive and finish’ then you need to listen up, read on and think again. Marathons are physically and mentally tough especially during the latter stages. You’ll certainly be witness to this as those that jetted off at the start detonate (the technical term for a full scale slow down after about mile twenty!) in the later stages. Having an understanding, awareness and control of your pace and effort can make the difference between you having a great day and or having a miserable sufferfest that can even jeopardize your ability to bag a finish at all.

A few thoughts on getting it right.

1. Knowing your pace is about understanding what effort you can sustain for the duration of the marathon and thus having a finish target time in mind. Know your target pace to the minute per mile / km. Nailing your pace is 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. Your goal is to try and minimize the rate of slow down with a sensible strategy especially at the start. Staying calm, being disciplined, controlled and thoughtful at the start really helps.

2. 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 full race distance at race pace but it does mean that you should include sections (4-10miles) of training runs at or close to race pace. Great pacing is learned and mastered.

3. When you run at different intensities your body sends you different signals to let you know how it’s feeling. For example, your heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, and how much your muscles ache. How you interpret these feelings during exercise and thus master the sensory signals will help you regulate your own race pace. Don’t be reliant on your GPS. Ditch the distractions and dial into how you feel, your rhythm, heart rate, cadence and effort.

4. Even paced splits (miles or kms) typically bring about the best results especially in marathon 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. Aim for smoothness, control and consistency in your effort to pacing your race for marathon success. At the same time, expect your target pace to feel much easier in the first part of the marathon than the second. Your effort will increase but your pace will stay the same. Your goal is to not slow down!

5. 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. It won’t always feel easy or straightforward to get your pace spot on. Just relax, bring your pace back on track, start to develop mental strategies in your long training runs to help you dig deep and keep going at your desired pace. Rehearse and refine these strategies during training so your mental armory is varied and strong ready for you to draw on what you know works for you on race day.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on pacing and how you’ve got it right and what happened when you got it terribly wrong!

Follow Martin and check out his other posts below.

Dealing With Pre-Race Jitters: Yes, You’ll Be Okay. Sort Of.
Tips for Racing in the Heat: Expect the Unexpected, Deal With It, Be Okay With It.
Dust settling: Making Race Reflections Matter