Marathon Tip: Conservative Pacing to Deliver a Strong Finish

Photo by Justin Fricke

Marathons are hard, plain and simple.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a half, full, trail, ultra or if the marathon falls somewhere in between in distance, with varied terrains and surface types. Any way you slice it, spending hours on your feet regardless of your fitness is a persistent physical and mental challenge that can be difficult to conquer.

Proper preparation, including but not limited to training, hydration, nutrition and recovery play vital roles in determining whether you can finish 26.2 miles and maybe even achieve a personal record on race day. In the days, weeks and months leading up to a big race each workout plays an important role in ultimately achieving the end goal. As most elite level athletes can attest too, no day is any important than the next; it can be the most difficult track workout on your schedule, or the days your coach tells you to run recovery pace only -- sometimes those can be the hardest, but often are the most important for what your body needs in the moment.


Once you’ve put in the hard work, pacing yourself off the line can often be very difficult to execute for amateur runners. Going out too fast and digging yourself too big of a hole can spell disastrous by the end of a multi-hour event. Any runner who has “hit the wall” knows how horrible a feeling it can be. One of the factors that can affect marathon performance is an athlete’s ability to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. The faster you run, the higher percentage of carbohydrates over fats are used to propel your body forward. After using all of the body’s available carbs is often times when the crippling “bonked” feeling is experienced by a runner.

Many successful marathoners find pacing themselves to the line the key to finishing a race strong and avoiding the crash and burn feeling entirely, or at least until the very end. An effective pacing strategy is to start the first few miles at a pace slower than the goal marathon pace. It will feel like you’re holding yourself back a little bit, but that is the point. Once you’ve passed through the first quarter part of the race, start to ramp up the pace to your goal marathon pace and keep it sustained. This is the heart of your race and you should feel strong and confident as you pass through the half-way point and push towards the twenty mile mark.


Topical Edge athlete, professional runner of all distances and terrains as well as a 2:18 marathoner, Joseph Gray’s go-to marathon workout is a 10-15 mile simulation tempo at race pace. This is a great workout to refine your ability to run your marathon pace in the heart of the event. Pro tip: practice running this workout without looking at your watch. The best runners in the world can control and know the pace they are running within 5-10 seconds without the use of GPS. The better you can get at listening to your body, the easier it is to know when you need to eat and drink, slow down or speed up.

When you’ve reached the the last half-dozen miles or so, if you’ve played your cards right, you should have just enough energy left in tank to see all your months of hard work deliver you to the finish. Now is the time to see if you have a kick and can use those conserved carbohydrates to make a strong push to the line for a new PR!

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