Gold Coast Marathon, Pace Control

Recently Lisa completed the Gold Coast marathon, here is my overview of her training and race and my thoughts on pacing a race.

Lisa had targeted the Gold Coast marathon well over 6 months ago with a target of beating her previous marathon time and a stretch goal of a sub 4hr marathon. After initial discussions I set about planning the training and Lisa set about completing the training. Throughout the training I continuously nagged about negative splits and pace control and I would biasedly say it was only in the last few weeks of training that I finally convinced Lisa that our race strategy would be to hold the same pace for the entire marathon (ie run even splits and not start out fast). I think the response was something like, “ok I’ll do it but you better be right!” I am obviously happy as Lisa achieved her sub 4 hours and stuck to the race plan perfectly. I love it when we achieve our goals by training hard and racing smart. I am a firm believer that on race day most people who don’t achieve their goals it is not from a lack of training (however this does apply to some) but more from incorrect pacing (and nutrition) on race day.

On looking at the results I noticed something very startling about pace control in the first 5k’s Lisa’s split was just over 53% in terms of ranking meaning that the majority of the field were running faster than her (and over the next 15k the majority of participants were running much faster than her), however in the last split she was at 20% in terms of ranking (meaning that her current pacing had moved up 33% in the rankings). What this tells me is the majority of runners got their pacing wrong and did not reach the potential that they had trained for. There is absolutely no benefit in running faster than your goal time and being “ahead” of time as by the end of the race you will have slowed that much that any gains will be lost with interest added! (my rule of thumb is if you are up 5minutes by half way, you will be behind by 10min at the finish.)

Whilst I will not go down the path of setting a time goal, but to say when you set a goal time it must be realistic and supported by training both in terms of endurance and interval (speed) work, there are many calculations out there to predict race times and most will give you a good indication, however pointless if the right training has not been put in place (I set goal race times by running time trials regularly throughout a training plan).

Back onto pace control, below is a graph of 4 runners in the marathon (3 random) and whilst I cannot comment on all of their training it can be seen that all 3 of these runners did not pace their races correctly with 2 of them blowing up drastically starting from 15k and the other one only marginally going too fast but still paid the price. Also 2 of the runners had been ahead of Lisa up until the 35k point and neither finished sub 4, but I am prepared to predict that both could have achieved this time with better pacing from the start. Hopefully you are still reading, my point is don’t put all your hard training to waste by not performing on race day, get your pacing right, train to it and race to it.

The first graph shows the cumulative avg splits as minutes per k, the second graph shows the actual split for each 5k, you will note in all 3 examples fatigue was creeping in between 15 – 20k, so not even at half way!


9 Responses to “Gold Coast Marathon, Pace Control”

  1. 1 Andrew Smith 15 August, 2012 at 09:46

    Great read Tongy This approach was very consistent with my sub 3 hour race plan in 2011 that resulted in a far better than expected 2:54 finishing time.My fastest 5km split was 20:12 (the first 5km) and my slowest was 21:10 (35km) so there was only 58 seconds difference in splits over the entire race. Needless to say, of course I’ll support your pace control theory ! The only comment I’d make is that once you have a few marathons in the legs it’s worth picking an event to back yourself and push the pace to see how long you can hold it for. With good preparation you may surprise yourself and be able to fight off the 30km + deamons and push hard to the finish. With a consistent or negative split pace you sometimes get to the finish and think to yourself “maybe I could have gone just that little bit harder”…..or is that just me ?!? That was the approach I took with the 2012 race and I only went 2 minutes slower (which was faster than I expected given the change in my training program to be more triathlon focused). Despite the slower time I was satisfied with the fact that I’d given everthing I had in the tank and pushed myself harder through the pain barrier than I ever have before. It wasn’t a pleasant experience that I’d endorse but a satisfying one !

    • 2 Tongy 15 August, 2012 at 15:17

      Andy agree and thanks for the comment maybe we can talk at length about this on a ride one day, but not running as I would never keep up! the points you raise is going fractionally quicker, as an eg 7 seconds per k gives you 5minutes and then pushing through the 30k wall, the majority of splits I looked at were going much quicker than say 7seconds per k and were blowing bubbles before half way, I think you always need to have something in reserve to finish strong (or hold pace), when you race well you can often find yourself thinking I could have gone faster, this is generally a sign of a well paced race and what drives us to train harder for the next race.

  2. 3 wal 15 August, 2012 at 10:04

    great proof – less ego more trusting the system- well done lisa!!

  3. 4 Kristi 15 August, 2012 at 11:50

    Makes sense to me. Good food for thought.

  4. 5 Maurice 15 August, 2012 at 19:21

    I agree with the theory but I try to run slow at the start and it feels uncomfortable. I end up running faster than planned but feel it would take more energy to run slower. but I can’t sustain it for more than 30ks my plan was to try doing more 30k plus runs in my training

    • 6 Tongy 15 August, 2012 at 22:34

      Maurice, we only did one run of 30k in this plan, it is not running longer, in my opinion it is training to how you want to race. All long runs should start slower than race pace and be negative split. We did do tempo runs at race pace and yes it can feel un natural when not used to it, but once in the zone it becomes like clock work. If your long training runs start too fast and you gradually get slower that is how you will race. It takes practice to run at the correct pace but it does not consume more energy it actually conserves energy, you do need to try it in training.

  5. 7 Brent 16 August, 2012 at 19:21

    Tongy. Great tips I think we can all relate to blowing up in the 32k -36k zone and wish we hadn’t gone out too fast. Will try to keep this in mind for NYC ! Cheers. Brent

  6. 8 Lencia 22 August, 2012 at 13:40

    Hi Tongy – ‘here here’ to what you have said about the pacing yourself during a race! So true – the graphs clearly show that runner B went out way too hard. Runner C guessing that perhaps hadn’t prepared fully. I’m a big believer in the ‘training process’ to get there though. I’m interested to know what runs Lisa did for training. I noticed you said something about regular ‘time trials’. Did she do weekly speed work to help build her endurance? If so, what did this involve? I’m currently training for my first half-marathon, so really interested to know & understand what the most effective ways are to train. I’ve done a bit of reading about the training to heart rate and the benefits of different pacing during training (ie – keeping hr below 70% of max to build the aerobic engine for long & comfort runs, then incorporating some speed work each week to build speed & endurance in preparation for races). What are your thoughts on this? ….. and did Lisa incorporate this into her training?
    Ta, Lencia.

    • 9 Tongy 23 August, 2012 at 10:35

      Lencia, lots of good questions will try to provide a brief answer, yes we did do speed work as well as endurance, but I was very specific about target times / distances, speed work is not sprinting it still needs to be aerobic but at a higher intensity than say marathon pace (generally 10k pace and quicker). the speed work also involved different phases eg speed endurance, threshold development and typically distances anywhere from 400m to 1200m. for time trials they need to be short enough to not be too taxing so training can continue as normal but long enough to be aerobic, I love the Cooper 12min test, it also needs to be repeatable, same track, same test so it is comparable. from the TT I use the results to be specific about running tempo both at intervals or endurance runs. The bottom line is there is no one size fits all training plan, for best results get a coach who can write a plan for you, your goals and your ability. A coach should also challenge and push you harder when required.

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“If you are comfortable with your training regime then you should be concerned. You can only make the big gains by being out of your comfort zone.”
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