November 29, 2022

How To Race Your Best Marathon

Running your best marathon is simple in theory. It’s more complicated in practice. Here’s what you can do to run like Eliud Kipchoge, and nail your next marathon.

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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.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.