Our expert for this article is Paul Miller, the Coordinator of the Nike+ Pace Team for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Having completed approximately 35 marathons himself and successfully pacing many times, Paul has been leading the largest marathon pace team in the world since 2007.
Pacing yourself during a marathon will make the difference between finishing the race strong with a smile on your face, or crashing at mile 22 and watching packs of people pass you by...along with your race goals.
I want to address the mental aspects of pacing, the benefits you can achieve and how it's a sound strategy for race day.
By now you've endured a long season of training, much congratulations for making it this far and it truly is a great accomplishment just to make it to the starting line (but don't worry, we're going to help you log in another 26.2 miles). You may have trained with a group, a training partner or simply by yourself. Regardless, no doubt you had a routine for your long runs, and a pace you would settle into after a couple of miles.
Stick to your plan and pace! You'll hear this a lot -- don't go and try something new on race day. If you've never tried salt tablets before, why make the marathon your first time? Same thing with eating something new the morning of the race, wearing a brand new outfit, and same thing goes with your pace -- if you've been running 9 minute miles consistently all summer on the long runs and picking it up a bit by doing 8:30's on your shorter runs, why decide this is the time to "try out" an 8 minute pace come race day to see how long you can gut-it-out? Sticking with your plan sets you up for success.
Mentally you're doing the same thing you've been doing for months now, same pre-race routine, same pace for your long run. But sticking with your plan is hard come race morning, and takes discipline, lots of discipline. This then brings us nicely to rule number 2.
Rule No. 2
You're not a Kenyan! At that start line you've got all the adrenaline in the world, surrounded by 40,000 of your closest friends and crowds cheering you on. Believe me, it's easy to clock in a 7 minute mile that first mile without even realizing it. And also believe me, you'll pay later. Think of yourself as a car at the start of long journey with a full tank of gas. One problem -- there's no place to refuel along the way, so you have to get your destination just on that one tank. If you use up too much gas early on, you'll never make it to your destination. Same principle, too fast a start will expend too much energy and you'll pay later.
And I'll throw in another tip for free -- early in the race, avoid running around too many people, jumping on curbs to avoid the crowds, etc. Not only are you opening yourself up to injury, but you're also adding extra steps to your race course. Same thing with taking wide turns to avoid crowds. Extra steps here and there could add up to an extra .1 or .2 over the course of 26 miles!
So back to Rule No.1, sticking to your plan creates a good race day strategy. For example, you've decided you want to break 4 hours (9:07 pace).
By sticking with a particular pace and staying within yourself, you're giving yourself the best chances of success. Nice and steady at the beginning, the field may be crowded for a mile or two, but will start to open up. Keep an eye on that GPS or Pace Team (more on that later) and fall into your routine early. It'll feel good to settle in for the long ride, no different than your 20-miler. You'll have to pick it up a little to account for water stops, I'm pretty sure they don't stop the clock for your water break like during a training run, but you'll SLOWLY make it up over the course of the race by slightly increasing your pace.
Is there any way to really take the guess work out of some of this pacing thing and fall in with a group doing all the same thing? So glad you asked and I'd be remiss if I didn't plug the Nike+ Pace Team! The Chicago Marathon has a completely free offering for all participants: The Nike+ Pace Team (Captained by yours-truly) has over 100 experienced pacers in every corral leading groups with finishing goals of 3:00 - 5:45. Sign up at the Pace Team booth at the Expo. Then tuck in behind one of these teams, switch on auto-pilot and enjoy the ride!
Have fun, good luck and stay on pace!
not a Kenyan!"
Paul Miller, Nike+ Pace Team Captain