Race Week ….. Pace Setting Tips

Posted: January 20, 2010 in Training

Today’s workout was a mid-week 6-miler to be run at/near race pace for this weekend’s 3M Half Marathon.  Now, normally I would have taken this week easy with a race looming on Sunday.  Had this been a marathon weekend we would actually be in the final week of a 2-3 week taper.  I will be writing about the strategy of “tapering” prior to the Boston Marathon in April.

This week is a bit different however as we are not trying to “peak” for this weekend’s 3M Half-Marathon – we are really using this race as a “training run” to ascertain as best we can what pace we should begin training for to complete the Boston Marathon and Pittsburgh Marathon within 13 days this spring as we Run for Dom.  Normally I would be able to rely on my previous spring marathon, my last 5K and my training log to develop a sound pace strategy for Boston.

However, having had shin splint issues this December, taking a full three-weeks off of running recently and reducing the number of my weekly training runs from 5 days per week to 4 we are flying a bit blind here in trying to find the right pace for Boston.  There are a lot of “pace predictors” that will extrapolate a time that you post at a shorter distance to predict what your marathon potential is.  For example they state that if you take your time from a 10K (6.2 mile) run and multiply it by 4.7.  This will estimate your potential marathon time.  For example a 40 minute 10K performance would lead to a 3:08 marathon, while a 50 minute 10K would predict a 3:55 marathon.

"Pace Tat" - ingenious

Keep in mind that these tools are predicting a “potential” marathon time – meaning they are estimating your potential based on your aerobic level – without considering your endurance level.  Unless you are an experienced marathoner with adequate endurance training, you will find it difficult to run a marathon at your “potential” this is due to the specific physical and mental endurance requirements that are unique to covering 26.2 miles.

I believe that you can however use these forecast tools to arrive at your pace if you try to minimize as many variables as possible.  Step one for me is to use a longer run as the basis for your “formula”.  What I mean by that is I believe a half-marathon or 13 mile training run will be a much better predictor of your marathon potential than a 5K or 3-mile training run.  I also believe that using a run that is within a few months of race day run under similar conditions will also prove to be a much more accurate predictor.

For example – a 13 mile training run 3 months before race day run in 45 degree temperatures on a hilly course will be a better predictor for a spring marathon in the Northeast on hilly terrain than a 13 mile run 8 months before race day at 65 degrees over a flat course.

McMillian Running has what I would consider to be an excellent predictor that takes into account the length of your workout, your age, gender and how many miles you typically run per week:


The tool will even provide you with pace recommendations for your endurance workouts, tempo runs and speed workouts.  Keep in mind however – these are simply recommendations – only you can determine the right pace for you – tools are simply helpful predictors as there is no magic formula.

So a valid question at this point would be – why can’t I just wait until closer to race day and determine my pace based on how I’m feeling that morning.  Well, I do think there are race day “variables” that need to be considered such as whether or not you are under the weather, nursing a minor injury or the temperature.

However, I like to know my target race pace 90 days prior to an event.  Now last year this pressure was removed from me as the Boston Athletic Association was kind enough to set my race goal at 3:20:59 for the Pittsburgh Marathon or a 7:37/mile pace to make my qualifying time.  But even in that case I still looked at the splits from my training logs and made sure I arrived at my “potential pace” that I felt I was capable of accomplishing and I “practiced” running that pace during my shorter “pace” workouts.

That is why I feel it is critical to arrive at your target pace a full three months prior to race day.  You need time to “practice” running that pace over and over again so that your body can more or less feel what it is like to run that pace – virtually without thinking about it.  For me last year I knew that 7:30/mile was my target for Boston.  I was capable of the pace and it would allow some “wiggle room” to have a few things go wrong at Pittsburgh and still make my Boston time.

I trained myself to know what a “7:30” felt like – so that when your body starts to betray you a bit you don’t have to fixate on your GPS and chart quarter mile to quarter mile how fast you are going, how fast you need to be going, are you losing time, gaining time etc.  This is all just added pressure and mental gymnastics to perform when you should be focusing on positive imagery, encouragement coming at you from the spectators on the course, your next water break and simple things such as “running tall” or “lifting your knees”.  The last thing you want to be doing is to find yourself dividing 73:27 into 9 miles and determining if you are on pace or not  …. Mathematics should be the last thing on your mind at that point.

Marathon Pace Band

During training I like to run a mile without looking at my GPS and then waiting for the “beep” to let me know I have completed a lap (on my Garmin a lap is a mile).  I will then predict how fast I ran the last mile before I look at my watch.  “I bet that last mile was a 7:35” – when I have my pace just right I am usually within just a handful of seconds away from exactly right.  There are times in fact when I have predicted several miles in a row within: 05 +/- without looking at my watch.  That is when I know I am dialed in to my pace and can duplicate it under most race-day circumstances.

A great tool that you can also implement to help guide you on race day is a pace wristband.  There is an example at: http://www.clifbar.com/play/pace_band/

 where you enter your target race pace and it will break each mile into even intervals.  You can cut and laminate this band to wear on race day so that at a quick glance you can reference where you “should” be at that point on the course.  This comes in handy on race courses where there is a total time elapsed at each mile marker.  Although that time will not be synching perfectly with your own race time based on how long it took you to start the starting line – again it serves as a great guide.

So race pace for Boston will become much clearer based on our results this weekend at the 3M half-marathon.  Check back after the race for pictures and a race report!  Today – 6-miles at 43:34 (7:17 pace), be well everyone!

  1. Martin says:

    I completely agree that these races help you establish your target pace for the goal race. They also boost your mental confidence that the training is having the desired effect. Good luck with Sunday’s race!

  2. joerunfordom says:

    Thanks Martin! You are so right – the mental side for me is as valuable as the physical. Take care and good luck with training!

  3. Lara says:

    Excellent break-down on how to figure out your pace, and practice it until it happens automatically. I learn a lot from you, Joe!

  4. onelittlejill says:

    I would love to find a race pace tattoo! I always type them out and carry them in my lil fanny pack and by mile 5 they are gross and no good! This was seriously an awesome post. I found you at JillWillRun (she is swesome!) and look forward to following this awesome journey you are on!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Jill – thanks so much for the comment and for following. You are right JillwillRun is absolutely awesome. I really do like knowing where I am during a race without the mathematics equations running through my mind …. Running for “fun” this Sunday – but hope to put up a decent time. Stop back for a race recap and some pics etc. – should be a lot of fun. Thanks again! Joe

  5. James says:

    Good stuff!!!! Great information for everyone!

    • joerunfordom says:

      James – thanks for stopping by – will be visiting your blog more fully this weekend. I see you are training hard for the Mercedes Half – good for you! Still with Hal’s plan – he got me to a Boston time – I’m a big believer. Best of luck! Joe

  6. Sam Holland says:

    Hey Joe. Are you running the Austin marathon on Feb. 14? Love your site and what you’re doing. Thanks for the info on pace tats.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Sam! I’m going to miss Austin on the 14th as Boston looms about 60 days later and I didn’t think that would be wise with Pittsburgh 13 days after Boston – I have never run Austin (how ironic is that?) – but I do have it on my list for 2011. In fact I’ve never run a “hometown” marathon – always traveling for the race, so Austin is something I’m really looking forward to. Best of luck if you are racing on Feb. 14th! (although luck doesn’t really have much to do with it as you know – only with the weather). Thanks again for stopping by – looking forward to keeping up with you – Joe

  7. […] Let me just say, thanks to everyone who is following me on Twitter. I love it! It also gives me a chance to see what other runners are doing out there. For example I am now following (and being followed by) a guy named Joe who is “kicking cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time”. I officially have a new hero. Check out his blog. […]

    • joerunfordom says:

      You are the greatest – thanks for the kind words – love your blog by the way. Best of luck at the Austin Marathon on the 14th – you are going to rock the half. I’m actually going to be volunteering at the race – hopefully I can help you along the way with a drink or encouragement! Best of luck with this last bit of training and enjoy that taper!

  8. connie says:

    If your running a race today BEST OF LUCK


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