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Picking a pace

April 7, 2010

When you get to the startline of any race, if you’re setting yourself time-based goals, you’ll know the kind of split you need to run. This gives you simple targets for each unit of the race – be it kilometers or miles – and places the emphasis on consistency. Running at a blistering-but-unsustainable pace for part of the race may buy you some slack, but will probably ultimately see the target time slipping into the distance.

When I was trying to crack the sub-40 minute 10k, I focused (obsessively some might say) on running 4-minute kilometers. Having flirted with the time at several races, I eventually broke through the 40-minute barrier with 10 consecutive sub-4 minute splits. However, even in breaking through the target time, my splits were relatively consistent. While I hesitate to write off keeping an even pace over 10km as easy, it’s certainly a lot easier than doing the same thing over 26.2 miles.

Paris Marathon
Image via Wikipedia


When you look at marathon times for mortals (I’m specifically not talking about the super-fit, super-fast front pack), three hours gains the kind of awe and respect reserved for few other things. To give you an idea of the effort involved, you have to run a mile in 6:52 (that’s a 4:16 kilometer if you’re feeling metric) to run at 3-hour (on the nose) pace. You then have to keep that pace up for a further 25.2 miles (or, if you’ve just done your race-pace kilometer, another 41.2km).

When I registered for the Paris Marathon, all that time ago, I put myself in the sub-3:30 pacing group. This was the fastest novice (i.e. couldn’t provide proof of an equivalent marathon time) group available. In order to run 3:30, you have to sustain an 8-minute mile pace (4:58 per km) for 26.2 miles. Based on my training times, this should be well within my grasp (unexpected events, ill weather, etc., aside).

If you want to work out your target finishing time, I’d recommend having a quick look at the pacing band calculator at Runner’s World. However, if anyone has any sure-fire suggestions for how to hit your pace consistently, I’d love to hear them!

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