The Challenge of Pacing
Running. We humans have been doing it as long as we’ve been humans—always running from someone, something, running to save ourselves from becoming some predator’s next meal or, as is more often the case these days, running to prove it to ourselves that we can—and for the most part, it’s this simple thing.
One foot in front of the other.
The thing about running though, and especially when it comes to endurance events, like the half or full marathon distance, is that it behooves us to consider how we’ll actually pace the run.
Yep—sometimes we actually have to think about running in order to run well… or to run better.
Of course, it all boils down to the basics of running—that “one foot in front of the other” thing I was just talking about—but it’s also really important to consider exactly how we want to go about covering the 13.1 or 26.2 distance on race day.
You can read a flurry of running-related literature out there, information related to training programs, VO2 maxes, threshold work, intervals, recovery runs, and everything else under the sun about how to get better (read: more efficient) at putting one foot in front of the other, but I’d venture to say that pacing is one of the most challenging things to master and, for the most part, is something that requires a ton of practice—and patience—to be able to control like a ninja.
There are three different “camps,” if you will, about pacing, and they all refer to your splits, which compares how you ran the second half of the race to the first. In a nutshell, they are as follows:
• positive split: signifies that you ran the second half of your race slower than your first. In a marathon, for example, this means that you covered the first 13.1 miles in 2 hours and your second 13.1 miles in >2 hours. In other words, you slowed down over time.
• negative split: signifies that you ran the second half of your race faster than your first. Again, using a marathon as an example, this means that you covered your first 13.1 in 2 hours and your second 13.1 in <2 hours. In other words, you got progressively faster as the race wore on.
Most runners would agree that negative (or even) splits are preferable to positive. After running 21 marathons, I can promise you when I say that few things suck more than to start off a race feeling super fresh and strong and then to sloooooowly and sureeeeeeeely death march it in, zombie-style, because you went out too quickly. Just don’t do it. Patience is a virtue.
And just the opposite is true, here, too: my best (read: fastest) marathons, even on tough courses like New York City or Austin, have been when I’ve set myself up for a negative split. Just as it totally sucks to death march it in during an endurance event like a half or full, few things will give you more confidence than passing hundreds of people on the back half of the course because you’ve paced yourself appropriately.
What’s also important to know here is that you can definitely still plan to negative split a course and finish the race with “nothing in the tank.” Negative splitting a course doesn’t mean that you’re casually meandering over the first half of the course; you’re still racing, but you’re going slower than you can be going. Again, amigos: patience is a virtue.
It can be extremely challenging to reign in all your excitement in the first half of your race, and especially because everything will feel so good and fresh and wonderful, and your taper will have made you feel like you were invincible, and you’ll probably feel like you’re riding a unicorn over a rainbow, but again, friends: that patience thing. I Promise.
As you’re training for TSFM over the coming months, take a look at the course profile of the distance you’re racing, and think about how you want to pace yourself during the event. Then, get in the habit of running your training runs just the same. In other words, if you’re aiming to negative split, get yourself in the habit of finishing your training runs faster than how you began them. That way, come race day, it’ll feel natural.
I get it; pacing is tough. As is the case with many things in life, though, practice can make a world of difference. Start thinking about—and practicing—your pacing strategies now so that come July 27, you’ll toe the line with confidence in your ability to successfully cover your distance of choice precisely how you want.
Nineteenth century Scottish essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle hit the nail on the head when he said, “Endurance is patience concentrated.”
Concentrate your patience. See you on July 27.