Running your best marathon: Pace is the key

It can be a hard concept for the eager, tapered marathoner to grasp, but in order to have your best marathon result it is often necessary to run a much slower pace than you feel you are capable of when the start gun sounds.

How you manage the first four or five miles of your marathon can have a huge impact on how the last third of your race turns out.

If you burn just four words into your memory and live by them on marathon race day you could well have your best result ever.

“Pace is the key.”


If you have a projected finish time that is within (or very close) to your level of ability than your marathon race plan should revolve around giving yourself the best possible opportunity to realize that goal.
pace is the key to  best marathon
From the moment the gun goes off your focus should be on running a pace that is sustainable for most of or all 26.2 miles of the marathon.

It does you no good to go out so fast that you end up walking most of the last six or eight miles. This is not the key to success and it is definitely not the way to get the most of all the training you put in to get to the start line.

It is also very doubtful that it will get you the personal best or Boston Marathon qualifying time you are looking for.


Say for example your goal is to run under the 3:30 marathon mark. You have put in all the training and you are certain it is within your grasp to realize this lofty goal.

When the gun goes off you are so pumped up with adrenaline, the atmosphere, and the days of rest that you get swept up in the emotion and take off with the crowd.

At the one mile mark your time is 6:30.

It that was a sustainable pace for you than you would be looking at a time of around 2:50. That might even get you into the top ten overall, except for one thing.

It is obviously a time that is beyond your current level of ability if you trying to break the 3:30 barrier for the first time.

From that very first mile you are in trouble and things will just cascade downward from there as the races progresses. Most likely you will hit the wall around mile 18-20 and be part of the marathon death march.

You have used up all your glycogen stores by running at an anaerobic level in the first half of the race and you have completely run out of gas.


If the very same runner goes into the race with a pace in mind that is sustainable and he “sticks to it” come Hell or high water, it will make all the difference in the world and that 3:30 personal best marathon suddenly becomes very doable.

When the runner reaches the first mile the elapsed time should be very close to an eight-minute-mile.

That is far more reasonable and by maintaining this much more sensible pace it is much more likely that the runner can sustain it over for the duration of the 26.2 miles. A eight-minute-mile computes to about a 3:29:45 finish time.

Hey! Isn’t that below 3:30!

Even if that same runner held a 7:45 pace for the first few miles in order to allow for a bit of slowing down(not walking) in the last stages of the race, he is still running at a pace that is reasonable.

Yet the pace is a full 75 seconds slower than going out at a 6:30 mile.

So……basically this runner has run slower in order to finish faster.

Once you can grasp the concept of sustainable pace you will no doubt have a better chance of not just realizing your time goals, but you will have a far more enjoyable marathon experience.


By running a more sustainable pace you will most likely be in your “fat-burning” aerobic zone and the average person has enough available fat for fuel to run four or five marathons and that’s the key to endurance success, whether it’s a marathon or an Ironman Triathlon.

marathon pace is the key to success

There is a very limited amount of glycogen available and runners who insist on setting too fast a pace early on will be using up their glycogen stores and hit the proverbial “wall” before they can reach the finish line.

The runner who burns fat for fuel and conserves glycogen stores for late in the race will also have a psychological edge.

When many others are hitting the wall and walking the smart runner who realizes “pace is the key” will be charging past all those who took off like a shot at the beginning of the race and failed to have a workable race plan in place.

The absolute best way to ensure that you are running within your means is to incorporate a heart-rate monitor into your training.

If you learn how to use it properly and wear it race-day and let it keep you from wandering out of your aerobic fat-burning zone you will become a more successful endurance athlete and will have a much better chance of realizing your goals.

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