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Pacing Strategies : Objective Race Pacing Strategies


There are a number of race pacing strategies at your disposal during races, but which is the most appropriate for you as a runner the situation, and your goals? Welcome back to Running Coaches Corner and to my series on running pace. Today, I am discussing Race Pacing Strategies!

Last few days to win the Moto 360 Sport!

Did you miss out on any of my other examinations of full or half marathon training methods and running pace? Check out the past posts:

Running Coaches’ Corner Posts up to this point:

And now, on to our discussion for today!

Race Pacing Strategies

Let’s start off with what I consider to be the 6 major racing strategies:

  • Running with a Pacer/Pacing Group
  • Running by Garmin/GPS Device
  • Pace Band and Timing at Mile Markers
  • Running by Feel
  • Heart Rate Running
  • Running by Effort

I am breaking up discussion a little bit (otherwise this would be a hella long post), so today I am only going to cover the Objective Race Pacing Strategies. I will cover what I call Subjective Race Pacing Strategies next week!

Objective Race Pacing Strategies: From Garmins to Pacers to Pace Bands, what is the best pacing option for you? Find out and make more of your marathon training! @suzlyfe

Objective Race Pacing Strategies

These are the pacing strategies that do not care if you are feeling great or hurting the big hurt–this is just about what pace you are running, right now.

Race Pacing Strategy 1: Relying on a Pacer/Pacing Group

Coach Susie running with pace group during Chicago Endurance Sports 20 miler at the end of Marathon Training!

Pace group for the 20 miler with CES

A huge benefit of doing races (or so it seems) is the presence of pacers and pacing groups. Now, if you train with a large training outfit (like Chicago Endurance Sports), you are likely used to running with pacers and pacing groups, especially during long runs. But if you typically run on your own, you might jump for joy at the thought that there will be someone to do the thinking for you There are a number of pros and cons to running with the pacing groups.

Pacing Group/Pacer Pros:

  • They start with you in your corral, therefore you start at the same time. 
  • They (theoretically) will stay on pace and guide you through the race on a steady pace.

Pacing Group/Pacer Cons:

  • The pacing group that you need might not be in your corral! Or, they might not have your pace, period.
  • The pacers might not adhere to pace–they might very well be off pace.
  • Pacing groups can be crowded, depending on the popularity of that pace in your corral.
  • Time doesn’t stop for bathroom breaks, and neither do pacers! If you have a problem, you are on your own. 
  • You have to commit to running the same pace throughout the race.
  • Pacers/Groups don’t care how you feel that day or that moment. They do their own darn thing, and they will keep going (see previous) at whatever pace they are at.

Race Pacing Strategy 2: Relying on a GPS Device

The Garmin GPS watch is one of the most used GPS and timing devices. Find out more about pacing strategies at @suzlyfe

By the time that we get to the racing level, most of us have utilized the help of a GPS device, for both distance and pacing. Garmins/GPS are extraordinarily helpful, most of the time by giving us instant access to instantaneous information regarding our run (and in a variety of ways). But that doesn’t mean they are foolproof for race pacing strategy.

Garmin/GPS Pros:

  • The devices tell you information about YOUR run, from your current to your average pace. It is hard to get more accurate distance information as well. It won’t leave you behind like a pace group!
  • The watch stops when you tell it to.
  • Many new watches have interval timers and settings to help you stick to run/walk intervals, or alerts if you are dropping behind a particular pace.

Garmin/GPS Cons:

  • The watch might also stop when you don’t tell it to! If you decide to race with your watch, make sure to take it off auto-pause! Otherwise, you will be standing in line for the portalet and think that you have lost not time.
  • Inaccurate readings. Think of how much technology and how many electronics are involved in the production of a race, not to mention the spectators and their cell phones, etc. Add on top of that the fact that you might be in the middle of a city full of skyscrapers (cough, Chicago) or going under overpasses (cough, Chicago), and you have a recipe for a dead zone. 
  • The GPS might not last the entire race. If you take over 4 hours to run, you run the risk that your watch, fully charged that morning, won’t make it. And then you are SOL if that is the only thing you have used to train up to that point.
  • The GPS and pace doesn’t take into account conditions of the course or how you are feeling. It is simply a measuring device.

Race Pacing Strategy 3: Relying on a Pace Band and a Timer/Mile Markers

Using a pace band and a watch is another pacining strategy. Find out more about pacing strategies at @suzlyfe

A Pace Band details out the mile split times for your intended pace. To measure how “on pace: you are, you compare the time that you see either at a mile marker or on a stopwatch with the total time for the corresponding mile on your pace band. There are also temporary “pace band” tattoos that you can get, or you can just sharpee it on.

Pace Band + Timer Pros:

  • There is not GPS to get messed up by technological interference–you know exactly how fast you are going based on whether you hit the mile before or after the time for that mile on your pace band.
  • No adding/multiplying while out on course. (Marathon Math is never a good idea when you are on course).

Pace Band + Timer Cons:

  • You (more or less) have to wait for a mile marker to know if you are on/ahead/behind pace. Otherwise, you are just guessimating in between the mile markers.
  • Sometimes mile markers aren’t put at exactly the right spot (this has happened in major marathons before–because of security concerns, they had to move a mile marker for the Marine Corps Marathon the first year that I ran it, resulting in imperfect miles with regards to distance for about 4 miles.  Overall, the distance was correct, but if you were relying on pacing bands/time, you would get really screwed up, thinking you were totally off pace. 
  • You better make sure that you start your watch at the right time! Or you better know at exactly what time you crossed the start!
  • Pace bands cannot tell you in the middle of a mile how fast you are going.
  • Pace Bands don’t care if you are feeling good or awful. They are totally objective. Also, you might rub them off, they might bleed, or you might have on too many clothes to see them!

Next week, I will look at the other 3 race pacing strategies, which I call “subjective” because they are not quantifiable. I want to make clear that, just as there is an optimal training plan for every runner, there is also an optimal race and race pacing strategy for every runner!

Stay on pace w/ Coach @suzlyfe as she breaks down Race Pacing Strategies #runchat #running #coachescorner Click To Tweet

How do you pace during races? Garmin, Timer, Pacing Group?

Any questions about pacing devices?

Make sure to check out the posts by my fellow running coaches and cohosts Lora, Debbie, and Rachel, as well as the posts by other runners and coaches in the link up!

 Running Coaches' Corner is the source for the best running tips and advice from your favorite running coaches around the web! Learn more at

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