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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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