How do you decide your race pace?


 I have been intrigued by this for sometime now and am really interested to know how others decide what there race pace is, particularly when you are relatively inexperienced.

To explain my situation. I am a 39 yr old male, started running August of last year. I guess I must have been reasonably fit although i didnt think it at the time. I ran 2 10ks one in late September in 53 mins and the second in late Nov in 48 mins 20 seconds. At that time I knew I pushed myself to the limits and there was nothing else in the tank (basically went out hard and managed to hang on to a consistent 7:43 min mile pace).

Since then I have been training for the Belfast marathon on 7th May gradually building mileage with one fast session each week. I have not raced and unfortunately have not manged to squeeze in a half marathon race. All my long runs have been completed at a pace between 9:30 and 10:15 min miles. I have at least one more long run and  have done 2x15, 2x16, 2x17, 1x17, 1x19, 1x21. I aim to do 22 next week. The focus for me in these runs has been to complete the distance and I have struggled with injuries, niggles and fuelling issues so until this weeks 21 miler I have not felt fresh at the end of any of them. This weeks 21.3 was meant to be a 20 but i added the extra as I felt good.

So, to summarise, this will be my first marathon. According to macmilian race calculator and based on my 10k time it suggests i could potentially do a 3:46!!. Now I think that is way out of my reach. My long runs suggest closer to 4:15-4:30... But what am I capable of? Would the race day adrenalin and experience enable me to go faster say 9 min miles rather than 9:40 min miles (training runs) or worryingly do i risk burning out? My first goal has to be to finish... I know people say to run the long run slower than race day but without knowing how others feel it is hard for me to compare how i feel at the end of my long run (which is really tired) compared to others. The other thing in my head is that whilst i am done at the end of my long run I am ok that evening and could run the next day, whereas I hear people advising that you should not run for a couple of weeks after the marathon, so perhaps how i feel at the end of the long run is not all i have in the tank. It might be helpful for me to add that i did yesterdays 21.3 miles at an average heart rate of  78%. Last 6 miles were about 80%.

So any views on how i should pace this? And how do you work out yours?


  • THe pace convertors are very optimistic, but saying that, you 10k time was a long time ago ( in terms of your short running career). Your long runs sound good, and you still have a couple of weeks of good traiing before you taper. I would guess that you should manage 4hr, or faster. 4:15 sounds a bit conservative.

    Pfizinger and Douglas has marathon pace as 79-88% of max hr, but you will probably drift more in the last 5 miles.

    In summary- I wish I knew- but I think you're on for better than 4 hrs if all goes well.


    The above gives a rough guide of 3:37 to 3:47. 8:30mm pace

    As tricialitt stats, converters normally get more optimistic as the distance increases.

    It is also suggested to run your long runs 60-90 seconds slower than marathon pace.

    I would suggest, if you run a mid week run of 10 miles. Maybe run the first five at normal pace and try and run next few at 8:30 pace and see how it feels (it should take about a mile to get into it). If it feels good run the whole five at this pace. If it feels good, maybe increase the marathon paced miles each week.

    Don't forget when you get to race day, you will have a three week taper behind you.

  • OP, you raise a freakily similar poser to the one I did in the "3 Runs Per Week Schedule" thread (I too am a 39 year old male, tantalised by a sub-4 but not quite there with my long runs).

    However, I have been inspired by a half PB today so am going to go for it and seek out the RW 9 minute pacer for the VLM.


  • Hi guys, thanks for the replies. Tricia and scooby thank you for the encouraging words, they are reassuring. Scooby that sounds like a plan which I will try this week.

     Hilden, I will look for that thread, but excuse me for being selfish... you are the week before me thenimage.... i can't wait to hear how you go then..

  • Hi Your 10k times sound similar to mine when I first started running in 2008 I did 50 mins then 49 mins.  I was 38 then I ran my first half in 1.54 September 2008. I then trained for a marathon in 2009 and all  my long runs were 9.30-10 min pace. I did my first marathon in April 2009 (Shakespeare) and had been running for about a year and finished in 3hrs 56 which is 9 min pace. I am sure you too will be able to run your marathon at this pace.

    Good luck

  • thanks little minx. I think the big difference between you and me is that you had a good base to run the marathon from. I would love to do sub 4 but really fear id risk blowing up and having a disaster so am thinking sub 4:30 is more realistic.

    I have had ongoing problems with my knee which has hit my confidence and meant i have not hit the weekly mileage that i would have liked in the last 5-6 weeks. I seen a sports therapist who gave me a deep tissue massage on friday I ran today and have not felt so strong in weeks. I managed 8 miles in 1 hr 11 averaging 8:55 min miles and picked up in the last 3 going 8:46, 8:28, 8:14. I felt strong but it also made me realise that i have not been able to run like that for the previous 7 plus weeks.

    I am in two minds but think sub 4 is definately achievable but probably not now.

  • Good luck. Yes better to run slower and finish thinking I could do that faster next time, than starting too fast and blowing up and finishing like a snail which I did in my second marathon! 

  • 4:01:02 for me last Sunday and am delighted: only a one minute positive split and I don't think I could have squeezed out those 63 seconds.

    Like everyone at London, I ran well over 26.2 and averaged 9.06 pace on my Garmin, official splits here:

    HTH and good luck!

  • Hilden, that is really helpful. Great running my friend, I really doubt i could hold that pace as well as you did. I will try and hold 9:45 I think.
  • I was exceptionally lucky in terms of injuries not hampering training. 

    I'm sure you'll have it covered but my one piece of advice would be to be as clear as possible about your final week and race plan.  There is an enormous psychological boost that comes in-race, from telling yourself you are well prepared and your body CAN cope, despite what the Central Governor is telling you.

    Which marathon are you doing? 

  • Hilden, I am running Belfast.

    Good advice. My thinking is a little confused mainly because my training seems to have been so hampered with injuries. At the back of my head I still have doubts whether the knee will hold out and be pain free. I have done the long miles one 21.3, 19, 2x18, 4x 16 and averaged 35 miles per week apart from 4/5 weeks where it was half this due to injuries. But I haven't fully tested myself in a race situation so am unsure what i am capable of. The longest run was done averaging 10 min miles. I started off at 9.40 ish and drifted to 10.20 at the end, i felt tired at the end but wasn't dead on my feet and suspect i could have went faster in a race situation but dont know whether i could hold that to 26.... As you can see these dont sound like the thoughts of a rationale man................

    I think as it is my first marathon i want to set out at 9.50 ish and listen to my body as I go around. I will work on that positivity as you suggest

  • Hilden, I would be really interested what pace you ran your long runs at and how you felt at the end of those. Say on a scale of 1-10 how tired you were, did you feel you could have went on, did you have any drift in pace say after 16 miles?

  • With pleasure! 

    My training programme was taken from the book "Run Less, Run Faster", aka the Furman Institute's 3 + 2 schedule.  I mention that because with only three runs a week, the long run is deliberately set at a tougher pace than other programmes.

    For all of my long runs, I would manage a target pace final mile but there would almost always be a drift in pace after 16 miles.  After the marathon, I was at a ten for tiredness- utterly drained and had to be ushered to one side by the St John's.  Post long runs, I would perceive my tiredness as about an 8, but calibrating it now in relation to the marathon's exertion I would go for 6-7.

    In terms of actual paces:

    Week 8 - 20m at 9:59

    Week 6 - 22m at 9:38

    Week 4 - 21m at 9:27

    Week 3 - Race half at 8:19

    Week 2 - 10m at 9:00

    Week 1 - 26.2m (and the rest!) at 9:06

  • Hilden, you are a gentleman. That is wonderful information.

    I particularly like your description of perceived effort for runs compared to marathon, that is very helpful.

    I would describe my effort for long runs around 8-8.5 (very tired and pleased to be stopping, but if my life depended on it could have went on).

    As for race pacing, your week 6 and 4 are definately quicker than any long runs that I completed. I have averaged about 9:45-10 min miles for everything above 16 miles. I have done shorter stuff much quicker ie 8 miles at 8:50 pace.

    I went out tonight for a slow jog with the club just to tick the legs over, I didnt even look at my watch and when i got back realised i covered 5 miles in a very comfortable 9:43 pace which felt really comfortable....

    I have decided on my pacing. I am going to aim for close to 9:45 min mile pacing and see wherer this takes me. I am hoping that i can maintain this throughout but am hoping that if i really tire i can keep it within the 9:45-10.15 min mile range.

    Hilden, thank you for the information, it is very helpful to have this kind of information from someone who has just done it. Thanks mate.

  • I think that sounds a really good approach- being clear about your pacing for the first half will minimise the venture into the unknown that the latter stages represent. 

    Early on, you may feel tempted to go faster than 9:45 but I would caution against that.  You will need to dig in from some point in the final third: that is inevitable and is what makes the marathon the challenge it is.  I felt able to grit my teeth and keep going not just because I knew the fatigue was inevitable; but far more importantly because I could quel the voices that said "Walk, you fool!".  I gained enormous psychological ballast knowing that I had run the first half at an appropriate pace and fuelled/ hydrated sensibly. 

    The other mental strategy that worked for me was to create a personal narrative beforehand:  I looked back on races where I had finished strongly, or other life achievements where I had kept going whilst others faltered.  The pain of other runners, surrounds you in the final miles.  As I pushed on trying to pick them off, I would keep saying to myself "This is what I do".

    I'm aware that much of the above might sound like unadulterated cheese but I do think there is enormous benefit from trying to prepare mentally once all the physical graft has been done.

    The big proviso though for you will be your knee- I'll cross fingers for you on Monday.   

  • Hilden, we have much in common. image I count my biggest strength as determination or some may call it sheer b****y minded. Your suggestion regarding pyschological preparation makes so much sense to me. Fingers crossed and I will let you know how it goes. Thank you for all of your words they have been a great help.
  • How did it go?


  • Hilden, a bit of a mixed bag my friend. Here is the race report.

    The race had so many twists and turns, dramas, highs and downright terror to it. I have mentioned on here before that I had lots of problems with my knee (the it band) in the run up to this marathon which impacted greatly on the last 8 weeks of my training. In a nutshell the killer I suspect was that I just didn’t get enough long runs in and not as many miles on my feet as I needed as a newbie runner with less than 9 months running behind me. But I got to the start line today feeling good. I was confident my knee would hold out and I felt well hydrated and rested.

    The weather was not good windy and rain, but in all honesty this did not affect me too much today. It was more problematic when I finished and had to wait to get my dry clothes.

    I tend to analyse every run that I do over and over and I had different goals for today so I decided to just ignore my speed and to focus on feel and my heart rate. The first 6 miles were like a dream (I have never felt stronger). If you had asked me at the time I would have said I was running 10 min miles but I see from my Garmin stats that I completed them in (9.12,8.57,9.02,8.51,8.55,9.02) . I kept an eye on my heart rate and as I approached miles 8-9 felt I was a tiny bit ahead of where I wanted it to be but was still running strong and completed miles 7-14 in (9.17,9.18,9.08,9.29,9.16,9.38,9.41,9.44) . I was surprised to find the Antrim road relatively straightforward and felt good coming off it. Things changed in miles 15-17 as I felt noticeably more tired than before and knew I had to slow but just couldn’t it seemed that I was using the same energy however I ran them. I completed these miles in (9.15, 9.36, 9.40) despite trying to go slower. Before I got to Gideon’s green I knew I was struggling, but when we hit the cycle path and that wind coming straight off the Irish Sea I knew I was in trouble. The conditions were increabible and I didn’t have the energy to fight it as I needed to. I stopped for a drink and my knee started to throb and tightened up and my legs started to cramp. I limped miles 18 and 19 (10.05, 10.27) and then had to resort to a walk/run strategy and felt my world had caved in, knowing I had 8.2 miles to go. The cycle path and the industrial estate were hell. By now I was only thinking about getting home, my heart rate was now under control but I was cramping soo bad and my knee was aching so bad that it felt like I was running 200 yds., walking 200yds. Mile 20 seemed to take forever to come and my right hamstring went into an incredible cramp. It was so bad that I was convinced I had torn the muscles and my race was over in the middle of the industrial estate. At this point I couldn’t walk and was grounded for 4 mins. A kind lady runner stopped and asked me if I wanted her to get me an ambulance. Anyway, on I went with my walk/run strategy and I was living a nightmare. Miles 21-25 were completed in (11.48, 11.30, 11.37, 12.30, 13.18) the last two of those miles were pretty

  • much up hill and I was doneI actually can’t believe they were that quick (relative I know) but it felt like hrs. So I get to mile 25 I am convinced by this point that I am well over 5 hrs. and just trying to gather myself to be able to run over the line and who comes along but the 4:30 pacers. My first thought was that they had a disaster also. I then realised 4:30 was still a possibility, I can grab something from this. But we still had just over a mile to go and my last complete mile was 8 miles ago. I started running and was struggling with cramps but the guys were amazing they kept an eye on me, encouraged me, and encouraged the crowd to cheer us all along. The last mile was completed in (9.40) and I crossed the line in 4:27 something, my Garmin time is 4:26:26 (and I forgot to stop it so my chip time will be around the 4.25 or early 4:26 I mark)...

    Could it have gone better absolutely? So am I disappointed, No way? I am a marathonerand I turned what was a living nightmare into an achievement I am so proud of. Would I be feeling this way without the pacing guys? No! and I mean that. Someone was looking down on me. I would have hit another 13 min mile the last one and been outside 4:30 and felt frustrated (that is said with total respect to everyone else’s time, I know what it takes to complete a marathon, so complete respect to everyone, I just mean given my aspirations for the race).

    Have I learned from the experience? Hell yes, I think I need lots more miles under my belt to build the endurance, I think I need to look at my fuelling in the race, it went bad..... I got stomach cramps and as I had only used gels once before I panicked and stopped using it. I had jelly babies but just couldn’t eat them after 15 miles. I know I got that badly wrong and I need to get this knee looked at. It hurts like mad tonight. So thanks to everyone for their advice along the way. Shades, I have crashed on my first marathon and I think I might feel a little afraid the next time knowing this experience but I realise that I need to focus more on my training and respect those runs more. Will I do it again? Absolutely, but I won’t be applying for anything tonight. I am looking so forward to some 10ks and a few halfs.

  • dprovan

    Huge 'well done' and a great report. I think all marathoners can relate to your highs and lows of the physical and mental challenge. Only thing I can throw in is that I've found cycling and regular stretching has helped massively with regards to injury and recovery from long runs.. I'm a total believer in cross training now and wouldn't even consider another marathon without cycling as well.

  • Great report, it reminded me of VLM last year (my first marathon) where I eventually limped home in 4:50, having cramped badly at mile 16 and walk/ran the last 10 miles.  Like you, I learned so much, changed my running shoes (Newtons now), running style, fuelling, and I take salt caps on long runs to stave off cramp.  I also did many more long runs, including getting 3 x 20 milers in. With all this, I completed VLM 12 months later in 4:10:58. 

    And I also agree with NfS above, cycling is a terrific alternative and an absolute joy in the summer when it gets too hot to run!

  • thanks guys, yes with my knee problems i think the cross training and cycling may have added benefits.

    Great improvement phatboyrunning, I am raring to build my strength and experience and have another go.

  • Great report and well done for toughing it out and finishing. As the others have stated we can all relate to when the wheels come off the wagon. It is good you can take the positives and you will learn a lot more from the bad ones than the good ones. However, we need the bad ones to make the good ones even better.

    Rest well and revel in the fact you are now a marathoner.

  • Really impressive and that's not just empty praise- I can tell you quite specifically why I think you should be incredibly proud. 

    When I got to eighteen miles I felt pretty dreadful.  Nowhere near as bad as you but I felt utterly despondent that the only two options were to bail out or keep going.  And the trouble with keeping going was that is that it wasn't just going to be a few minutes more of pain, but well over an hour of feeling broken.

    Every cliche associated with marathons comes alive when you are tested and find the inner resources you never really knew you had.  And although I hate the song, (and stand by with the sick bucket), it is a case of searching for the hero inside yourself.  Or strapping on the Man-suit as the Marathon Talk guys would describe.  When I emailed my sponsors to thank them I said

    "I won’t be doing another.  I was tantalisingly close to running under four hours but chasing a time would seem to trivialise the whole experience.  I was pretty much at my limit at the finish and felt like death.  I am not as big a wuss as I have always assumed and that’s enough for me."

    As I mentioned earlier in this thread, I didn't have any significant hiccups in my training or on race-day so am happy to bow out of this marathon m'larky.  You though, sound as if you've identified a handful of variables that are amenable to change, and I suspect you'll address them and get a sub-4 next time around.

    So, as for this thread's starting point:  what are your thoughts on your race-day pacing?  


  • Tim R2-T2Tim R2-T2 ✭✭✭
    I think the main thing to take away from the marathon is it is all about experience. I'm doing several halfs a year and each time I learn something about myself. My pace, my endurance, my fuelling strategy. These all prepare you for the big one in a way that long slow runs cannot.

    I still think I can push my half pace up by a few more heart beats a minute. My race on Sunday was 3 or 4 beats up on average to my previous race. From this I'll calculate my pace for a November marathon. LSRs should be slow and are not an indication of what your marathon pace should be. Other than you should be running them at least a minute slower than marathon pace.

    Without knowing anymore about your running I would guess that most injuries are due to ridiculously high mileage at high paces without a base of years of running.
  • Hilden,

    thank you. That means a lot. I won't lie I do feel quite emotional today. The whole experience was mental (as they say where I come from). Despite knowing that my body was knackered and I just couldn't run for periods I still went to bed last night wondering if I had whimped out somehow. Part of me feels unsatisfied that I did not run the distance and another part feeling proud that I had got something of a time from that scenario. I was delighted when I awoke this morning and could barely walk with the pain in my knee and that is swollen, so that I had physical proof.

    I was going to ask you what your plans were now? I don't know, I want to do more running, I am a 39 year old newbie and want to do some more. I think I will need/want to do another marathon and yes the 4 hr thing might become a bit of an issue if im not careful. I do however think the wise move would be to build a lot more mileage, experience and learning before trying again. This experience means that I wouldn't want to face an all or nothing scenario in a hurry and whilst I understand that a marathon will never have any guarantees I will want to go into the next with fewer uncertainties.

    I tend to waffle, in case you didnt notice. So to the question about pacing. As you know I ran all of my long runs somewhere between 9:20-10 min miles. I am amazed that i never once looked at my watch to check my pace or time in the marathon. I decided to run it by feel, I set out at what felt easy/comfortable and when i came to the hills i deliberately shortened my stride. I was cruising, I went through 6 miles thinking I have covered that for nothing ie no perceied effort, it felt like a warm up. I now know I was averaging 9-9.10 min miles. But then all of a sudden around 11 miles I became more aware of effort levels and consciously decided to ease back a bit. My pace then moved to 9.20-9.30 ish. I then maintained this reasonably well until the real problems kicked in. I believe that my early pacing had a direct contribution in my knee problems and subsequent cramping which so hampered me. I also believe that other factors contributed ie my fuelling and the fact that I didn't get as many long runs in as i should have.

    But in terms of pace, I am convinced that I could have maintained 9-9.10 min miles off long runs of 10 min miles as the perceived effort did not seem noticeable. I would do some things differently though and i think you did this far better than me. I would have forced myself to run even slower for the bulk of my slow runs (say 10-10.10 min miles) and threw in a number of 9 min miles at the end or throughout. Also I only had one session per week that had faster stuff. Therefore I would definately do more 4-8 mile runs at marathon pace. I think i missed a couple of tricks here.

    One final observation related to my original question. I used the example that I ran a 10k probably faster than i was physically ready to do, simply because i went out quick and just hung in there. It will sound obvious, but it smacks me in the face that i am able to get away with that in a 10k, maybe to some extent a half but a marathon is a different beast. The only way I was going to get through that run without 'blowing up' would have been to really went out very slow. So there is learning for me. If i was ever in that situation again pre marathon I would either withdraw or go extremely conservative and show it more respect.


  • Tim R2-T2Tim R2-T2 ✭✭✭
    Your LSR training runs are far too fast then.
  • Tim, I agree. I would now do LSR at 10-10.10 min mile pace maybe even 10.30 pace (I would go slower if i could but i find it near impossible to run any slower it would be walking) with faster miles or more hills thrown in.

    Hilden, I meant to add in my earlier post, you have my respect for being able physically and mentally to rattle out 26 consistently paced miles as you did. That takes huge strength.

  • Tim R2-T2Tim R2-T2 ✭✭✭
    Just remember that you are building different type of muscle for a marathon to the muscle you already have for your 5k and 10k. You have lots of fast twitch muscle but little slow twitch. Even if you have to walk you need to get out and do a couple of hours a week with your heart rate below 70% WHR or 60% max. This is what develops your ability to burn fat rather than glycogen, and teaches your body to store more glycogen. After a month or two you'll notice the difference. It's not about speed, it's about heart rate.

    The half marathon and marathon are not called the 20k and 40k.
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