How To Race Your Best Marathon

Watch Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon. Besides looking remarkably graceful as he glides over the ground, you’ll also notice, if you pay attention, that his pacing is incredibly consistent.

In most of the seventeen marathons he has run at the time of this writing, he has employed an even pace strategy and finished the races with minimal deviation between his 1km splits.

That’s part of the reason for his success. He runs with extreme self-control and maximises his fitness and results.

Contrast this with most amateur runners. They start too fast, get tired, and grovel to the finish line at a significantly slower pace than they started.

For proof of that, let’s look at the 2019 Singapore Marathon. Coached is the official training partner of this event, so when I reached out to Ironman (the event owner), requesting the marathon results from 2019, the last time the mass participation event happened before Covid, they kindly shared them with me.

We sliced the results in excel, and here’s what we found.

9,553 runners crossed over all timing mats to finish the marathon. Of those, 9,236 ran the second half marathon slower than their first half.

Here’s the kicker. On average, these 9,236 runners ran the second half marathon 39 minutes slower than the first half.

39 M I N U T E S.

That’s dramatically slower and proves that many runners leave a lot of performance on the race course through a lack of self-control and poor execution.

Don’t confuse ability with ambition. Your job is to maximise your fitness and achieve your best result on race day – not chase false dreams.

If you are in shape to run 5:55 /km for a 4:10 marathon, don’t start at 5:41 /km pace because your goal is to run a 4-hour marathon.

If you’re in 4:10 marathon shape, aren’t you better to run 4:10 than to chase a goal time that’s not realistic and instead run 4:30 (or slower)?

You must know your fitness and be realistic about your expectations. Test everything in training so that you start the race with a plan.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

How To Run Your Best Marathon

Running your best marathon is simple in theory.

  1. Know Your Fitness And Pace Properly
  2. Take In Enough Fuel To Power Your Pace

It’s more complicated in practice because you must control your ego and execute with patience.

Know Your Fitness And Pace Properly

This is a double-barrelled point, but you must know your zones before you can pace yourself properly.

You will run a marathon at zone 2 pace. Fitter, more conditioned runners will run towards the top of the pace zone. Less-conditioned runners will run towards the bottom of the zone.

For that to make sense, you must know what zone 2 pace is. That’s where testing comes in.

Testing during training is critical because it measures fitness and establishes zones for heart rate and pace/power. All Coached athletes run a lactate or FTPa test to determine their zones at various points throughout the season.

Once you know your zones, you can test “race pace” in training.

Don’t do your long runs at race pace. If you do that, you’re basically racing. Instead, I recommend testing it in moderately long runs in the form of long intervals or as a “fast finish” run where you run the second half at “race pace”.

Crosscheck your pace with your heart rate and perceived effort, and refine your pace as the weeks pass to determine precisely what race pace you believe you can hold.

On race day, your goal is to be consistent. Like Eliud, you want to run at the maximum pace you can sustain for the duration of the race.

Start at the pace you have tested in training. Use heart rate and perceived effort as secondary metrics to provide feedback and adjust your pace if needed.

Assuming you hold an even pace, your heart rate and perceived effort will increase over time. That happens in response to fatigue.

As you run, you sweat and lose electrolytes. Lactate is accumulated, and your muscles tire. Glycogen stores deplete, and your core temperature rises.

The stress your body is under at kilometre two is significantly less than at kilometre forty, even though the pace is the same.

As such, the early stages of a marathon should feel very comfortable. Please don’t blow it by letting your ego get in the way or being impatient.

Take In Enough Fuel To Power Your Pace

If you run out of gas, it doesn’t matter how big and efficient your engine is or how well you’ve refined your pace.

At best, you’ll underperform. At worse, you could end up in an ambulance.

To run a marathon, you must fuel appropriately and minimise your losses.

Think of fuel in two parts.

  1. Hydration
  2. Energy

To nail your hydration, you need to address the volume of sweat you lose (sweat rate) and sodium lost in your sweat.

Drink water to thirst to address volume, and take salt pills to address sodium loss. Alternatively, you can use a sugar-free electrolyte drink to address both.

Use Precision Fuel & Hydrations free hydration planner to determine what you need.

For energy, use gels. They’re the easiest way to onboard calories for most people. As a guideline, aim for around 1g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. Precision Fuel & Hydration also have a handy calculator for determining carbohydrate requirements.

Whatever you decide on, you must test this in training. Don’t try anything new on race day, or you may struggle with cramps, bloating, nausea, or running poorly, which would be a shame after months of preparation.

There you have it—a straightforward way to execute your best marathon.

If you need help in preparation for your next race, we’d love to work with you. Sign up for a 14-day free trial today. We’ll arrange a 15-minute video coach call and set up a training plan for you.


How To Fuel Your Next Marathon

So, you have a marathon coming up, and you want to avoid messing it up and putting all your training to waste. That’s smart.

But how do you do that?

First, you must pace your race correctly to look after your muscles, and second, you must fuel properly to have the energy to fuel them.

We won’t get into pacing in this article, but we will tackle fuelling. Fuelling is made up of two primary areas.

  1. Energy
  2. Hydration

Let’s start with energy.


When you line up on race day, you have 1,500 – 2,000 kcal of carbohydrates stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. As you race, these stores will deplete, so you must take in external energy sources to ensure they’re not entirely exhausted and make you hit the wall.  

As a guideline, you should consume approximately 30 – 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on how fast you are.

  • < 4 hour marathon: 60 – 90g
  • > 4 hour marathon: 30 – 60g

Alternatively, you can aim for around 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Precision Fuel & Hydration has this handy little calculator you can use as a starting point for determining your energy needs.   

The main ways to consume energy during a race are as follows:

  1. Gels.
  2. Sports drinks.
  3. Solid foods.

For most races, we encourage you to use gels. Solid foods are hard to digest at race pace, and sports drinks often try to address too many things at once – energy, volume and electrolytes — the last two we’ll discuss in the hydration section of this article. 

Here are some examples of popular gels. My personal favourites are the two at the top:  

  • PF 30 Gel by Precision Hydration (120 kcal, 30g carbs, 0mg salt).
  • KODA (Banana) (117 kcal, 29.8g carbs, 36mg salt).
  • Maurten Gel 100 (100 kcal, 25g carbs, 85mg salt).
  • GU Roctane (100 kcal, 21g carbs, 125mg salt).
  • High 5 (91 kcal, 23g carbs, 50mg salt).
  • SIS GO (87 kcal, 22g carbs, 300mg salt).

Practise taking in energy during your long runs in the final weeks of your programme (combined with water or a sugar-free electrolyte drink) to find your sweet spot for carbohydrate tolerance.  

By race day, you should know how many carbohydrates you can comfortably stomach and how many gels you’ll need to consume to give you the desired feeling and energy you want throughout the race.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.


The second part of the fuelling puzzle is hydration. When it comes to hydration, there are a few things that you need to consider.  

  1. Sweat rate – how much sweat you lose per hour (volume).
  2. Sodium loss – how much sodium you lose in your sweat (electrolytes).
  3. The length and intensity of your race.

Knowing these numbers makes it easy to customise a hydration plan that will improve your training and recovery quality.  

As a side bonus, you’ll also lower your likelihood of suffering from muscle cramps.  

Sweat Rate

Sweat rate refers to the amount of sweat (volume) you lose per hour and varies from person to person, thanks to genetics. External factors such as temperature and humidity, clothing choices and acclimation to heat all play a role in determining how fast and how much your body sweats.

The simplest way to address sweat rate during a marathon is to drink water to thirst. Every athlete is different, but, as a rule of thumb, very few runners can comfortably drink much more than 750ml (24oz) per hour – especially when running hard – so unless experience tells you otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll need to drink more than that. Listen to your body and drink water as needed.

Sodium Loss

A 2015 study found that athletes who adequately replaced the sodium lost in their sweat finished a middle-distance triathlon an average of 26-minutes faster than those who didn’t.  

That’s substantial!  

Based on data from Precision Fuel & Hydration, people lose between 200mg/l and 2,300mg/l of sodium, with the average person losing 949mg/l in their sweat.

The sodium you lose in sweat is genetic and changes little, if at all. Do a Sweat Test at our lab or visit Precision Hydration’s other test centres if you’re not in Singaopre to determine what you lose.  

If that’s not possible, take their free online sweat test or use the average sodium loss (949mg/l) to calculate how much sodium you should consume.

Maintaining the sodium levels in your blood is crucial to performing at your best when you’re working hard. Sodium helps you absorb and retain fluid, which keeps your blood volume up, reducing cardiovascular strain, fatigue, and potentially helping you avoid cramps.

Only drinking water when sweating over long periods dilutes your sodium levels, which can really impact your performance and could lead to hyponatremia.

Pulling It All Together

Once you have a rough plan of what you think you need to fuel your race adequately, it’s time to practice.  

Training, particularly during your long sessions in the final 8-weeks of your programme, is the most valuable time to practice your fuelling plan. Secondary races are also great opportunities to test your strategy in race conditions, where adrenaline and race intensity could throw a spanner in the works.  

You need to determine what works for you and what doesn’t to refine things as you move towards race day. I wish you well. One final reminder – never try anything new on race day.


Marathon Training: Best Recovery Practices

Go out and run for two hours.

When you get back, you’ll be tired, tight, dehydrated, and low in glycogen. Take a five-minute break to have a snack, drink a glass of water, and then do it again. You’ll be even more exhausted and broken down.

That’s what training does; it breaks you down.

Training is only powerful when properly structured and balanced with adequate recovery.

Performance = training + recovery.

How To Recover Between Marathon Training Sessions

When most runners think about recovery, they think about sleep, nutrition, and modalities like massage, stretching, etc. These are all required, and we’ll get to them shortly, but so is setting up your training to maximise your chances of recovery between sessions.

Let’s start there.

Structural Recovery (Training Periodisation)

Following a structured training plan is essential if you want to perform to your potential. Well-structured plans are suitable for your fitness level, progressive, and carefully balance load and recovery – session to session, week to week, and season to season.

Train By Time
In my experience, training by time rather than distance (especially during aerobic training) is an effective way to do the work while setting yourself up for recovery.

Time responds to various things like fatigue, weather, and terrain. Distance is fixed. 10km is 10km regardless of how you feel, headwinds or hills.

When you train by time and stress is greater (you run a hilly course, for example), you will cover less distance. When stress is lower, you cover more. That’s fine. It’s the work and consistency, not the distance, that matters.

Train At The Correct Intensities
Throughout your marathon preparation, you’ll need to mix aerobic and anaerobic training to condition your body for the demands of the event.

Many runners I meet do too much of their training at intensities that are generally too high. This is a big problem because it compromises recovery and limits your physiological response to training.

Knowing your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and using training zones (or a percentage of threshold) is vital for improving fitness and recovering effectively between sessions.

It’s also beneficial to use a mix of heart rate and pace to guide your training. Train with heart rate as your guide for low-intensity training and pace or perceived effort for high-intensity training.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Essential Recovery

With your training thoughtfully structured, the two essential things you should focus on outside of training are sleep and nutrition.

Plenty of high-quality sleep helps your body repair and recover between sessions. Unfortunately, many athletes don’t place enough emphasis on sleep and will often sacrifice it in favour of training, work, or other commitments.

We all have twenty-four hours in a day. If you want to perform well in life and training, I encourage you to prioritise your sleep.

What you feed yourself matters, as does when you eat.

Minimally processed whole foods help to nourish your body with vitamins and minerals, keep inflammation levels low, and provide you with plenty of energy to fuel your training and racing.

Avoid foods that are energy-dense yet provide little nutritional value. White bread, pasta, cereal, and candy are all examples of those foods.

Instead, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, some fruit, grass-fed meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, millet, and quinoa – real foods.

Supplementary Recovery

If you’re not getting enough sleep or are eating junk food, using the following recovery modalities is a bit like putting a bandaid over a gunshot wound. They won’t work very effectively.

If you are sleeping and eating as you should, the practices below could help accelerate your recovery and help you feel great in each training session.

Track Heart Rate Variability Or Resting Heart Rate
While not useful on their own, measuring your heart rate variability (HRV) and resting heart rate can provide some valuable insight into how your body is recovering. When paired with subjective factors like muscle soreness, motivation to train, and mood, these metrics can help you decide whether to train as planned or ease off.

Stretching And Myofascial Release
Regular stretching, foam rolling, or using a massage gun daily will help reduce muscle soreness and keep your muscles supple and in good condition.

Regular massage helps to flush the byproducts produced during training from your body and can improve your mobility while keeping your muscles feeling good.

Compression socks and recovery boots may help to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery by reducing swelling and improving circulation in your feet and legs.

There are many other modalities that you can try, too, like contrast therapy, for instance. Before that, focus on structuring your training properly, sleeping plenty, and eating well.

Those are the things that will truly move the needle and enhance your recovery and performance.

If you’d like help structuring your training to optimise your recovery, why not try a 14-day free trial of Coached? We’ll set up a training plan for you and arrange a 15-minute coach call.