There are many different ways to race a successful marathon or half-marathon, but in my experience as a runner and a running coach, a surefire way to ruin one is by starting your race a lot faster than your goal race pace during the first few miles. The most common lament from runners who end up blowing up in a blaze of glory over the final 5K of a half-marathon or 10K of a marathon is “But the first few miles felt so easy!”
When you’re on the starting line of the race you’ve been training for, with pent-up energy and thousands of people all around you, the hardest thing to do is hold back in those early miles. But that’s exactly what you have to do. Remember, an even pace doesn’t mean an even effort. If your goal run pace is, say, 8:00 minutes per mile, it will likely feel very easy for the first half of the race. Expect to put forth a greater effort in the second half of the race just to maintain the same pace.
The Best Way to Pace Your Race
The best and most efficient way to maintain your goal pace on race day is by running consistent even splits from start to finish (e.g. 8:00 minutes per mile for every mile!). Trying to “bank” a few minutes in the first half of the race is almost always a recipe for disaster.
Another sound pacing strategy involves running negative splits, or completing the second half of your race faster than the first half. The idea is that by starting slightly slower than goal race pace and finishing slightly faster, you’ll hit your target time. By starting out 5–15 seconds slower than goal race pace for the first 10K of a half-marathon or the first half of a full marathon, you can come back even faster because you were conserving energy early in the race. Furthermore, you can gain a lot of confidence from passing people over the second half of the race.