I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of weeks – and especially today looking at the Berlin marathon (Kipchoge – phenomenal) and it took me back to a great post I read from 2017:
which wonderfully breaks down the shift in pace for elites, men and women at London marathons. Whilst this pacing guide is specific to London (and well worth looking at for those running London next week) it is instructive in watching how pace slows, more so for men than women (women showing better race management) and extrapolates out how, based on the data of over 215,000 runners from 5 previous London marathons.
One of the areas I’ve been really keen to drive home to anyone I coach is focusing on negative splits in training (so if doing long block work the progressing each block to mirror the race) as the average time for a marathon is just that – and something that is highly unlikely to be run from gun to tape. Alongside which it seems to me that a change of mindset in pacing is critical in allowing for better pacing and better racing. Seeing a slower start as investment in a faster end pays off so often. Rather than seeing the first 5k as 30 secs to 2 mins slower as a handicap, it is allowing you not to slow down by far more than that come 35k onwards. I’ve heard Steve Magness say that runners who go off too fast in a marathon are showing a lack of confidence in their training, which seems highly likely. Equally I wonder if it is a case of over estimating what you are capable of running and putting the bar too high, resulting in an awful last few KM.
The other thing that more accomplished pacing leads to, at that point from 32k on in a marathon, is a hugely improved psychological boost. As opposed to runners passing you, you pass runners, this coupled with the feeling of control and focus acts as a virtuous circle feeding a loop of positivity that helps bring you home.
In real terms of management I see this as follows. You train to a marathon average – this is the pace that you aim to run at, for a comfortable effort from 10k up until 32k.
With this as a starting point you then can look at how to start – you run the first 5k @ 10 – 20 secs / km slower, the next 5k 5-10 secs/km slower. This eases you into the race and gets you settled ready to push on. At most this has cost 150 secs, at least 75 secs – a great investment in the later stages.
You then have the middle 22k (from 10k to 32k) at that average marathon pace.
Now comes the hard part – and if trained for can work. The next 10k is going to get harder, and if you want to push, the time comes to gradually push on from here. It may be that it feels as if you are pushing and are holding your average pace – great, as that time from the start begins to pay dividends. You then get to 37km and with 5km left can gradually begin to squeeze the pace down.
It is always an imperfect science and what may work in one race just doesn’t in another. Training, weather, how you wake up on the day play a part. What is clear is how hard the last few km of a marathon are to so many runners – so going off slower seems like the wisest investment anyone running a marathon can make.