Would you like to learn more about how slow or fast to run on race day?
Proper pacing is a key skill—and one that can make the difference between a successful experience and a complete failure on race day.
While training properly matters, pacing is definitely the most important as it impacts your energy levels, running technique, and mindset.
In this article, I’ll unpack what pacing is all about in a little more detail. Then, I’ll share a few tips and strategies on how properly pace during shorter and longer distances up to the marathon.
What’s A Pacing Strategy
First things first, what do I mean by a pacing strategy?
Pace strategy is your speed for the duration of the race—the speed which achieves your goal finishing time.
Pacing strategy can vary drastically depending on the distance of your race, your fitness level, running experience, running goals, and mindset. Every run serves a purpose, and sticking to the right pace makes it one step closer to achieving that goal.
Running your best race requires a mix of elements that must work in tandem on race day.
Common Pacing Strategies
Overall, everyone follows three standard pacing strategies every time they race, whether you’re aware of it or not.
All in all, most recreational runners run a positive split as they feel that they have more energy in the beginning,
However, efficient runners aim to run an even split or subtle negative split—depending on race demands and distance.
The Golden Rule
Mastering the art of pacing comes down to practice—and a lot of it. Practice, after all, makes it perfect.
The cardinal rule of proper pacing is to start slower than you think you should.
Most runners go out too fast on the day.
However, you’re more likely to run a better race if you can gradually speed up throughout the event than if forced to slow down.
The key to finishing most race distances strong is to complete the second half of the event faster than the first. You start off conservatively, change your pace as needed, then cross the finish line strong.
As you can already tell, this strategy is what’s known as a negative split, and by far, it’s the most reliable pacing strategy among runners.
When you start slow, you’ll give your body time to warm up, allowing your muscles and joints to work at their full capacity in the second half of the event.
Now let’s look at specific race examples and the optimal racing strategy for every event.
Pacing Strategy For Sprint Events
Overall, the pacing doesn’t look the matter in shorter races, such as the 100m and 200m.
Since the race is short, you can simply sprint at your fastest speed for the duration of the event. That’s why, for example, most 400m events at the elite levels are regularly run with a positive split strategy. This means that the racers run the first 200m faster than the final 200m.
Pacing Strategy for a 5K
The 5K, or 3.1 miles, is the shortest event among road races.
5K races are run close to maximum effort or within the red zone. On a perceived level of exertion of 1 to 10, a 5K race falls within the 9 to 10 range.
Choose a finish time, then break it down to an average minute/mile pace. Strive to run, even splits throughout the event.
I’d recommend running the opening mile at 10 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace, then hitting the goal for the second mile, and then running faster than the goal pace—or your fastest—in the final mile. Of course, this requires practice.
Fueling during the event isn’t needed. But depending on weather conditions, having some water at least once during the race can help.
Pacing Strategy for 10K
Although the event is only twice as long as the 5K, most 10Ks are typically run about 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than the 5K race pace. This can make 10K events pretty challenging.
Most 10Ks are run below maximum effort. On a scale of 1 to 10, you should run your 10K in the 8 to 9 range.
Once you figure out your average min/mile pace, kick off the race at no more than 5 to 10 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. Then start to incrementally speed up until you’re running at goal for by miles three or for, then run over your goal pace in the final miles.
A negative split may also work well on a 10K racecourse. Run the first 5K conservatively and then pick up the pace in the second half. This should help prevent you from starting out too fast and allow you to finish strong.
Since the 10K is a relatively short distance, fueling on the go isn’t required.
Yet, you might need to rehydrate a couple of times during the race for optimal performance, especially if the event is taking place on a hot day.
Pacing Strategy for A Half Marathon
Starting out slow is a smart strategy. Begin by determining your average minute/mile goal pace, then kick off the race up to 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower for up to two to three miles of the event.
Then slowly switch into your goal pace for the next 6 to 7 miles.
As soon as you reach mile 10, speed it u a bit and run the final three miles faster than the goal pace.
During a half-marathon race, hydrating and fueling are important as they can drastically impact the result of the race.
As a guideline, shoot for 200 to 250 calories per hour. Determine the exact amount of calories you need by experimenting during your training.
You also need to figure out what type of fuel works the best way before race day. Race day isn’t the time to try out a new fueling strategy.
Ideally, your fuel should come from a mix of drink/water and/or a sports drink. Ideal food options include bars, gels, and chews. Once you find what works, stick to it on race day.
Pacing Strategy for a Marathon
The marathon, or 26.2 miles, is one of the most challenging distances. All in all, the same pacing strategy for the half-marathon applies to the marathon.
Since it’s such a long event, a lot can go wrong—in fact; you’ll have plenty of time to make mistakes but still have the chance to catch up.
The most effective strategy for a marathon is simple, and it revolves around patience. Yes, slow and steady wins the race and all that. Even if you have iron willpower, it’s virtually impossible to run hard for 26.2 miles.
A marathon is run below the half marathon pace, or about 45 to 60 seconds slower. You should race your marathon race in the 5 to 6 range on a scale of 1 to 10.
To make the most out of the event, start the race at no more than 20 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. During the first 13 miles, run as relaxed as possible and get your mind ready for the second half. Next, slowly pick up the pace to the goal race as you reach the midpoint.
Find yourself behind? Don’t try to catch up and make up for “lost time” at once, as doing so can exhaust you and may force you off the race.
Around mile 20, try to run faster than your goal pace—if you still have anything left in the tank—then stick to it until you reach the finish line.
Proper fueling cannot be overstated for the marathon. Follow the same fueling strategies explained in the half marathon section.