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Subjective Race Pacing Strategies and Conclusion

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 finish up discussing the types of Race Pacing Strategies!

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:

And now, on to our discussion for today! The madness of race pacing!

Race Pacing Strategy

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

(Covered in last week’s post)

  • Running by Feel
  • Heart Rate Running
  • Running by Effort

Today, I am cover the last three strategies, which I refer to as Subjective Race Pacing Strategies. 

Subjective Race Pacing Strategies

Subjective Race Pacing Strategies are those that are do not have concrete methods of measurement. So, when is the best time to run by feel or run by effort during a race? Coach Suz explains. @suzlyfe for Running Coaches' Corner!

These are the pacing strategies that don’t come with concrete, measurable data that tells you how on pace you are.

Race Pacing Strategy 1: Running by Feel

For a full discussion of what Running by Feel is, please refer the post on the subject. As a reminder, running by feel is highly emotional, and different from running by effort.

Running by Feel Pros:

  • You stay in tune with your body and listen to what you are being told that it needs.
  • You adjust your pace as necessary based on how you are feeling.
  • You can runs as you feel! WOHOO NO CONSTRAINTS OF TIME.

Running by Feel Cons:

  • You might go out WAY too fast (this is extremely common on race day due to adrenaline and cool temperatures). And then, you might bonk/hit the wall HARD and give up.
  • You have no clue of your time/pacing, and you might get off rhythm or get so far behind pace that you can’t catch up. 
  • Adjusting your pace as necessary is good, but running erratically is not.

Race Pacing Strategy 2: Running by Effort

Please refer to the Running by Effort aka Perceived Exertion Training post for a full rundown of the benefits, etc of this training and running strategy. In a race setting, this means that you are going off of your RPE numbers and how you are feeling as you run to know whether to speed up or slow down during the race.

Running by Effort Pros:

  • You are taking the emotion out of the day and focusing on what you know to work–that things should feel easy, or that they should be getting harder; you pay attention to and conserve your energy at the right times.
  • You are mentally prepared for the tough parts of the course–you know that they are coming, and how best to deal with them. 
  • Takes into account environmental conditions in a more objective, unemotional way than running by feel.

Running by Effort Cons:

  • Your ability to gauge yourself might be totally messed up during the race because of just HOW MUCH emotion is coursing through you. 
  • Again, you won’t know your exact pace as you go through the course. But if you do know your pace, and your effort isn’t matching up with what you THINK you should be running, it can be terribly disheartening.

Race Pacing Strategy 3: Heart Rate Training

Related and similar to running by effort, Heart Rate Training is a more advanced way of listening to how hard your body is working and how much effort is being exerted. Objective in the sense that heart rate monitors provide numerical data, HRT is also highly subjective–think of how your heart rate rises when you are amped up!

Heart Rate Training Pros:

  • An effective measuring tool for how hard your body is working–your heart rate takes into account the heat and conditions of the day and thus can help protect you in conditions that might endanger you. 
  • If you are familiar with your heart rate zones, you can see when you body is getting into trouble and prevent it.

Heart Rate Training Cons:

  • Inaccurate readings. If the monitor isn’t reading correctly, or the strap isn’t on properly, your reliance on the method will be for naught.
  • Chafing. Many of those heart rate straps chafe terribly, and many non-strap devices are less accurate. 
  • Again, you do not know your pace! 
  • Emotion still plays into the heart rate reading–as mentioned, if you are amped up, your reading may be raised until you settle in. 

Race Pacing Strategy Conclusions: Which is the Best Strategy?

In short: whichever pacing strategy you trained with! I suggestion a pairing of an objective strategy with a subjective strategy, or even combinations of them at different parts of the race. 

Example Race Pacing Strategy:

For the Chicago Marathon last year, I started off with a pace group. Then I went to running by effort. Then (when I saw my friend) I essentially had a pace group for the majority of the course. At mile 16, I recognized that I need a break, and I relaxed back to running by effort, with check ins to my Garmin. At the end, I ran with straight up effort, and that was hard! You don’t need to rely on one, but either way, know what you are going into your race with, and have a backup plan! ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP PLAN!  You never know what might happen out there! (run into a friend that is faster or slower, not have a good race, have a great race!)

Which Race Pacing Strategy will take you to a PR? #runchat #running #coachescorner @suzlyfe Click To Tweet

How do you mix and match your pacing strategies? Anyone run without a measuring device?

Any questions?

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 Link Up! @coachdebbieruns @loramarie03 @running_onhappy Click To Tweet

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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  • Reply Julie

    I never run with a Garmin or anything. I always wanted one but I know most of the routes I run and if I go somewhere I run for a certain time. I would like to know how fast I am though!!

    March 24, 2016 at 5:22 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You should download an app sometimes and take your phone and see!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:54 am
  • Reply Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine

    I have tried racing off effort before and it didn’t work well for me. I hate paying too much attention to my watch but it definitely helps me to run more consistently. I would love to play around more with HR training at some point!

    March 24, 2016 at 5:48 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Sometimes, you need that metric! I would definitely play around with Heart Rate training, if I ever get back to running, that is!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:54 am
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    This makes me miss my Garmin. I used to love looking down at my pace and seeing my pace. It’s hard accepting sometimes that I cannot do what I want to do:

    March 24, 2016 at 6:13 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I understand this all to well–where I am.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:53 am
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    I think my running usually comes down to running by feel, which is actually more technical than it sounds. Months of training to learn what race pace should feel like worked well for me back in the day.

    March 24, 2016 at 6:46 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Well, you have so much experience, that I bet your running by feel is better than most people’s GPS!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:53 am
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    Such great tips and series! I’ve never done heart rate training, but it has always intrigued me. I’ll have to give it a try one day. Thanks for the linkup.

    March 24, 2016 at 7:11 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Heart rate training can really be a great asset, but definitely talk to someone who knows how to coach with it!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:52 am
  • Reply Kyle

    Great thoughts and advice.

    For shorter races and races that don’t allow for pacing (like hilly trail events) I just go by feel and make sure I never over-exert myself during the early sections.

    During longer more consistent races, I’m much more likely to look at my splits, in which case I always use a stopwatch and NOT a GPS as those do not always read correctly with the course.

    March 24, 2016 at 7:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      All great points. And for hilly races and trails, you really do have to go by effort and feel, because if you go by pace, you will be SPENT

      March 26, 2016 at 7:52 am
  • Reply Sarah

    Oh gosh, I use a combo of these. Running by feel usually works best but let’s face it, when the Garmin is on, it is king! I love having it to bring me back to reality on race day.

    March 24, 2016 at 7:32 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hear you there. Especially for you, after so much time coaching others, it must be a real adjustment to get back to running for yourself again.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:50 am
  • Reply lacey@fairytalesandfitness

    The last race I did (Dallas half) I ran by feel
    even though I did have my Garmin on. It wasn’t until the last few miles that I switched my miles screen to pace to know what I was running. It must have worked bc I picked up my speed and ended up w a PR!

    March 24, 2016 at 7:53 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’ve done the same thing! I will hide my GPS from myself until the end.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:49 am
  • Reply Tantra

    Love this! With Boston around the corner I have to come up with a plan… Goal: don’t die!

    March 24, 2016 at 7:55 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hahaha, you won’t! Just know that you have those hills throughout the race–don’t surge and get spent early on, because you will have to fight at the end!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:49 am
  • Reply Annmarie

    So I have my half marathon coming up next weekend and my plan is to use a pace band and my GPS for pace as reference. I have done it before and it has worked for me but I am really hoping to PR!

    March 24, 2016 at 8:08 am
  • Reply Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment

    It is so important to pace yourself and listen to your body and at the same time know when to push yourself. Great advice for running and life as well.

    March 24, 2016 at 8:09 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You totally said it!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:48 am
  • Reply Ellie

    My race pace strategy is called “hunting” I begin at a good pace, then speed up slowly and reel people in. I “hunt” the runners in front of me 😉 it works for small races, and that’s all I’ve done so far. For my next big race, I plan to use effort and pace

    March 24, 2016 at 8:31 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know exactly what you mean! I do it all the time.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:48 am
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I definitely mix and match my strategies based on my goals and whether I’m training or in a race.

    March 24, 2016 at 8:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Exactly, it all depends on your goals at the time.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:47 am
  • Reply Suzy

    I never ever trust my feelings! Especially during a race. Adrenalin takes over the rational part of my brain and if I ran by feel (for the first half) I’d go way too fast and crash and burn. But the last half? It’s all guts and feelings and anything it takes to get me in.

    March 24, 2016 at 9:30 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      hahaha, I love you. SHUT UP FEELINGS

      March 26, 2016 at 7:46 am
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    I found that racing by effort helps, but also finding a group of similarly paced runners around mile 3 if it’s a half or longer helps. Effort takes into account if it’s a windy day (my first half) and helps me ration out my energy rather than going out too fast. In my best races I’ve settled into my pace and then picked a runner or two to follow until mile 10 or 11. Then I just push from there!

    March 24, 2016 at 9:36 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Sometimes you have to make your own pace group! And wind is such a killer.

      March 26, 2016 at 7:46 am
  • Reply Carly @ Fine Fit Day

    I think I’m going to use a mix of effort and GPS for the marathon in May. I’ve been experimenting with gauging effort to pace and think I’m getting the hang of it. Loved this post!

    March 24, 2016 at 10:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is awesome! It will serve you so well!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:45 am
  • Reply Helly on the Run

    This past 1/2 was the third time I attempted running with a race pacer and the first time I felt it was successful. The first time was my first marathon which in retrospect was not a good idea for me. The second time was in Chicago where my body failed me. Third time was the charm. I felt the pacer was great at keeping me comfortable at mile 10, I left him and ran by effort.

    I’ve got some catching up to do with your posts–these are suuuuch great topics. Bookmarking!

    March 24, 2016 at 10:33 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thanks Helly! I am so happy that you have been having such great races of late!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:45 am
  • Reply

    I’m definitely more of a slave to my Garmin to keep track of my pace, but this training cycle I’ll be working with a coach and I’m excited to have some workouts that will have me focusing on effort rather than staring at my watch the entire time. My last half marathon I attempted to start with the pace group, but they were like full throttle right from the get go and that killed me because that’s not how I trained. Lesson learned!

    March 24, 2016 at 10:43 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Always, always stick to your training. Often times you will catch up to the pace group!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:44 am
  • Reply Lisa @ RunWiki

    I ran my fastest half marathon ( on a trail) by feel. The pace felt a little fats but manageable and I stayed consistent for all 13.1 miles. Getting to know your race pace for each distance is so important. We rely too heavily on outside devises now. I am much more conservative when not using a GPS and many times end up with negative splits. Even if you do use a GPS, it’s great to try a race au natural– it’s a huge learning experience. Great article!

    March 24, 2016 at 10:53 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      So, so important. And I agree–use the GPS as a way to check in, not something to live/die by!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:44 am
  • Reply Danielle

    Sooooooo I’m totally not a runner because it hurts my knees (grandma, I know!) but I do play with skipping here and there on the treadmill when I’m at the gym. I hoping to build my endurance (and maybe my knees too…if that can happen) but when I do these tips will totally come in handy. Thanks so much for this post, Suz!

    March 24, 2016 at 11:43 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Work on your glute activation as well–that will help support your knees!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:42 am
  • Reply Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor

    I like to train by feel and race by pace, if that makes sense. Not monitoring my pace in the first miles of a marathon or half is basically guaranteeing I go out to fast, since the adrenaline and taper-fresh legs trick your mind into thinking certain efforts are sustainable when they’re not. I tried to run a half last year because I really wanted to be one of those stories you always hear of “I ditched my GPS and ended up with a surprise PR!” But despite not knowing my pace, I still went out too fast and ended up on the struggle bus. I like to train and run by effort to ensure that I’m not trying to push myself beyond my current fitness level, and then I monitor the data as I go along to see how closely it aligns with my goals, and adjust if need be. Then I race with the Garmin and periodically check it just to make sure I’m on track.

    March 24, 2016 at 12:03 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Sounds like you have a great new plan that is going to serve you well!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:42 am
  • Reply Josephine

    love this! i tend to use a combo of all… i think i should pick to one and stick with it though

    March 24, 2016 at 12:10 pm
  • Reply Sana

    Excellent post! I race by feel but I just placed an order for a heart rate monitor so it could all change for me 🙂

    March 24, 2016 at 2:31 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ooo, keep me updated!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:41 am
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    This season I have been running by feel and really trying not to over do it and get hurt again. On the plus side, I am feeling good and ready for my race not injured. On the down side, I probably have lost some speed. Right now I don’t care as much about speed so this is working well for me. Good post!

    March 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You might have more speed in there than you think!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:40 am
  • Reply Ange @ Cowgirl Runs

    I’m a big fan of learning what certain paces feel like. So, using a watch and then memorizing the feel. I have no idea how I became a good pacer, but you better believe I can run a pretty consistent race and tell you when I’m going to finish.
    I used to do this in swimming too, and my mom could never understand it – I must have a very accurate clock in my head.

    March 24, 2016 at 2:54 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Dang, you should patent that and sell it!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:40 am
  • Reply Kat

    You know how I feel about running [ie. hate it] but I find that my most successful runs in both time and physical performance is when I just focus on my feet hitting the pavement. My head is empty save for the music in my ears and I just breathe with each step. I may not know pace, speed, time, etc. but for me that’s when I feel at my best!

    March 24, 2016 at 4:53 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is an excellent approach and strategy. I think you know more about running than you think you do!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:39 am
  • Reply Rachel

    My strategy depends on the race. If I’m running for a PR, I’m definitely going by solid numbers. If I’m racing as a training run, it’s usually by feel.

    March 24, 2016 at 6:17 pm
  • Reply Michele @ paleorunningmomma

    I used to race on effort and did my best then but I’m not sure I could totally go back to that! I don’t plan to stare at a watch for Boston though so maybe I have to figure something out!

    March 24, 2016 at 6:36 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think you could still do effort, but just adjust it for your goals!

      March 26, 2016 at 7:38 am
  • Reply Jess @hellotofit


    I like how you put together these race pacing strategies – it was easy for me to read and had good flow. Anywayyyy I usually run by feel, since my runs are rare and only when the weather is nice outside 😛 but YES, you make a good point, and we’ve talked about it before: I FEEL SO GREAT LET ME SPRINT…OH MY GOSH I’M SO TIRED I WANT TO STOP.

    April 3, 2016 at 8:44 am
    • Reply suzlyfe


      April 3, 2016 at 8:54 am

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