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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

It's #Running Coaches Corner Link Up day with @coachdebbieruns @loramarie03 @running_onhappy Click To Tweet

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  • Reply Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine

    I have never run with a pacer throughout an entire race- there have been times when I started with the group and then fell behind or went ahead based on how I was feeling. I usually rely mostly on my watch. It can make me crazy though when I start to try to figure out numbers in my head in the middle of a race!

    March 17, 2016 at 5:38 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I am totally with you. On all accounts!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm
  • Reply Angela @ happy fit mama

    I’ve only used a pacer group once and I hated it. It was too rigid for me and made me feel claustrophobic. My watch is what I rely on most which really, really sucks when it fails on you DURING a race. GAH!

    March 17, 2016 at 5:48 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That’s why it is always good to have a back up plan! But yes, sooooo frustrating!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:12 pm
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    The packing drives me crazy! While it has it reason and benefits, this is one thing about races I do not miss.

    March 17, 2016 at 6:13 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It can get out of hand for certain!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm
  • Reply Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    I always run by how I feel. Anything else and I just feel too pressured and I am likely to give up. But then, I don’t running very seriously at the moment.

    March 17, 2016 at 6:38 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I am a hugely emotional runner–I totally know what you mean!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:10 pm
  • Reply Deborah @Confessions of a Mother Runner

    I get too caught up and nervous at races and tend to use more of the subjective race strategies. It’s great to have the comparison here thanks for the info.

    March 17, 2016 at 6:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Absolutely. I’ll be talking about the subjective strategies next week!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm
  • Reply Kimberly Hatting

    My brain is wired to run by feel…..I think I have issues with a wrist gadget dictating my experience (#truth). That’s something I need to work on, or possibly be open to changing….

    March 17, 2016 at 6:55 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think there is nothing wrong with that, but I also think that sometimes you need to push or pull yourself at certain times. But you are BAMF for doing it so freeform!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:09 pm
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    I’ve used all of these methods except a pacing group. I always run on my own, so it never seemed like a good idea to jump into a group for a race.
    Great tips!
    I don’t have a running post to link up this week, but should have one next week to link up!

    March 17, 2016 at 6:57 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      YAY I’m excited that you’ll have something to link up next week! I don’t run with a pace group, but I will set myself up with them and use them as benchmarks.

      March 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm
  • Reply Gretchen

    I’ve definitely noticed that pacers (at least at the races that I’ve used them) are never right. It seems like the first few miles they’re way ahead of pace then try to make up for it at the end of the race, or vice versa. My plan is always to stick with a pacer as long as I can then go off with a few miles to go. At my marathon there are no pacers at all so it’s all up to me..eek!

    March 17, 2016 at 7:27 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ooooooo that is hard core. But don’t worry, you’ll rock it out.

      March 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm
  • Reply Sarah

    I’ve never used a pacer and quite frankly they freak me out. I’ve heard more horror stories from athletes than good ones. A spot on pacer is very rare. I saw a few on the Chicago course that were fantastic. And then a few where Rock and I looked at each other and shrugged because we could tell the guy was running a far faster pace. I read a blog recently where a pacer told them he liked to start off a little faster and give himself some wiggle room for the second half. Yikes!

    March 17, 2016 at 7:32 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yeah…. that is NOT ok. I heard about a pacer who decided to go for their PR on the course. Not at the pace they were supposed to be running.

      March 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm
  • Reply Shawna

    i’ve never even HEARD of a pace band (this shows you how concerned i am with my times — as we know, i’m more of a “i enjoy this so i’m going to keep doing this for me and not turn it into personal competitions” runner), but i run with a Garmin most days (and always for races) and used a pace group for my last marathon, which worked well and got me my 4-hour mark, so i was happy with that.

    March 17, 2016 at 7:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I am much more of a run as I feel person as well, but then once I get in front of a pace group, I am determined to stay in front of them!

      March 17, 2016 at 2:01 pm
  • Reply Kat

    Those pace bands are totally cool! As much as I do hate running on the treadmill, I have NO sense of pace when I run outside. I start out at a light jog and before I know it Im at an all out sprint. I always end up with a side stitch saying “how on earth did that happen??” haha

    March 17, 2016 at 8:22 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahahahaha running amnesia

      March 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    Ok so I totally do marathon math while long running… hahaha. It helps pass the time! I’m so math deficient that it takes forever to get through a seemingly simple equation. πŸ™‚

    Great post. I can’t wait to hear about the rest of the methods.

    March 17, 2016 at 8:38 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I love marathon math to pass the time as well, but I know better than to trust it, lol.

      March 17, 2016 at 1:59 pm
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I usually just use my GPS. I’ve worn pace bands for my marathons and found those helpful too. I tried a pace group once and never again. They took off too fast and it messed up my whole race. I learned I like to pace myself.

    March 17, 2016 at 8:57 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think that is the dream–to pace yourself!

      March 17, 2016 at 1:58 pm
  • Reply Heather @Fitnookies

    I’ve run with pacers for a few races and it doesn’t work out. I wish it did haha I have used my Garmin for the past few though and I’m happy with the results it gives me!

    March 17, 2016 at 9:04 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I am a garmin girl as well. I’ve considered doing the other ways, but I like something that stays with me.

      March 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    I’m not a fan of running with pace groups as they always start too fast for me. I found they’re great to chase. Start easy and reel them inβ€”then leave them behind!

    March 17, 2016 at 9:06 am
  • Reply Suzy

    I have heard some pretty bad stories about pacers. It’s the luck of the draw. I’d never train that hard and pay that much for a marathon just to follow a group of people off a cliff. I use a pace band. I’m old school, and I like it that way.

    March 17, 2016 at 9:47 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’ve heard some terrible pacing stories as well. I say do you πŸ˜€

      March 17, 2016 at 1:56 pm
  • Reply Coach Henness

    HA! Forget Marathon Math – my normal math sucks. This is such a great way to break down options for race pacing. I’ll have to share it with my clients. πŸ˜€

    March 17, 2016 at 10:40 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you, Tiffany! Marathon Math is hard enough when you are sober and have a calculator, much less marathon drunk and carb starved. And no calculator.

      March 17, 2016 at 1:55 pm
  • Reply Sarah

    This is all fascinating to me! Because I’ve never run longer than a 5k, pacing hasn’t ever been as big an issue for me. Right now I’m just running based on how I feel, focusing on building up distance rather than focusing on pace. (Although I do keep track of it right now, I don’t do it until after the run. I keep time, and then clock the mileage on a map when I get home. Low-tech!) And when I did race competitively in school, I would just check my time once a mile and know what numbers I was shooting for (I guess similar to the pace bands you mention). I’ve always wondered how the pacers/pace groups work, though… do they really just have enough discipline to run at a consistent pace for 26.2 miles?! That’s amazing to me. Anyway, thanks for shedding some light on all of this!

    March 17, 2016 at 11:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Pacing is really hard work! I’ve been an informal pacer for people before, but doing it officially is difficult and comes with a lot of pressure. Tip of the hat (or Tam o Shanter, as it is St. Paddy’s day) to all that do!

      March 17, 2016 at 1:52 pm
  • Reply Sandra Laflamme

    I so love these tips! The tips about the pace group are especially helpful if you are a newer runner. Running with a pace group is definitely not for everyone!

    March 17, 2016 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      So many new runners think that running with a pace group is the only way to go, but they really need to take everything into account!

      March 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm
  • Reply Kristy @ Southern In Law

    These are awesome tips! I’m not a runner (though I wish I was sometimes!) but I have a friend training for a marathon who I’ve just sent the post to! xo

    March 17, 2016 at 3:00 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    I normally almost always run by feel. I have trained my body in the past to be able to maintain a steady long run pace. I do AMAZING during training runs at holding pace, but tend to get lost in the moment and go out too fast during races. LOL!

    March 17, 2016 at 3:44 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think in that case you might do well to take a GPS with you on a training run (when you are going by feel) to find out what pace feels good for you, and then starting your race at that pace or a little behind it.

      March 20, 2016 at 7:10 am
  • Reply Cailee

    Such great tips Suz!! I really need to get into running! Hope that you have a great weekend!
    xoxo Cailee!

    March 17, 2016 at 5:27 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thanks Cailee! You too!

      March 20, 2016 at 7:08 am
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    Back in my day (says the old runner) there were no pace groups, GPS watches, or pace bands. I had to rely on my training and my sense of pace. And of course the mile markers. These days there are lots of things that can help, but I think learning a sense of pace from within comes from training (and lots of mistakes..ask me how many times I’ve gone out too fast πŸ™‚ ).

    March 17, 2016 at 7:58 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Oh, you are so right. I’ll be getting to that in a few weeks πŸ˜€

      March 20, 2016 at 7:07 am
  • Reply Lisa @ Lisa Runs for Cupcakes

    Running math is a nightmare for me so I like to rely on something, usually my Garmin. Although, in one of my last half marathons, it completely quit working for no reason at mile 1. It ended up being one of my best races in a long time so go figure!

    March 18, 2016 at 11:36 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Haha maybe you know better!

      March 19, 2016 at 5:32 pm
  • Reply Lora @ Crazy Running Girl

    Love this! I usually stick with my Garmin… that way, I can pace what works best for my body.

    March 18, 2016 at 10:06 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Exactly. I am right with you there, though sometimes I will “hunt” a pace group to give myself a bit of a boost.

      March 19, 2016 at 5:23 pm
  • Reply Kerri Mcgrail

    I have actually started both of my half marathons with a pace group- mostly to prevent myself from starting way too fast. I typically stay with them for the first 3-5 miles, and then go at it with my own pace. I also love chasing down pace groups. Seeing those big time signs 200 meters in front of me is always motivation to get my butt in gear lol!

    March 19, 2016 at 6:14 pm
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