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Finding the right pace is crucial in long-distance races

Running and Fitness
Saturday, October 19, 2019

A number of marathons scheduled in the next few months, as well as 5K and 10K races almost every weekend. One program that I used for running a marathon was the Meyer’s System where the distance was divided into five mile segments with a different pace in each segment. I have tried it with needing a time to qualify for the Boston Marathon and in pacing runners in a marathon. I have even used it with walkers that wanted to break seven hours in a marathon. It has worked each race with the finish time within a couple of minutes. The key to using the system is that a runner needs to know their pace, or how fast are you running. 

While one important segment of training for a marathon is being able to run a long distance there should be a training period sometime during the week to work on knowing your pace. It helps to try it on a few 5K or 10K races to see if you are learning what the pace is that you are running. These workouts are done on a quarter mile track to get the best results.

An experienced runner knows the time that they will run in a race, or at least close to the time, depending on the course, the heat, and the humidity during the race. A beginning runner often enters a race and may get caught up in the crowd of runners and tries to keep up with them right from when the starting gun sounds. It took me a few races to learn the importance of pace before I understood that knowing what my capabilities are, and what my pace is, so that I could finish the race close to the time I wanted.

My first 5K was an eye-opener on pace. My thought was that since a 5K was half the distance of a 10K I could run at a faster pace. After the first mile I was in oxygen debt, out of breath, my legs were tired, and I couldn’t imagine that a short 5K could be so long until I reached the finish line. 

One other learning experience about the importance of knowing your pace happened in a half marathon. I started out running with some friends who were clipping along at a 6-minute pace. I had planned on running at a 7:30-mile pace. It took me four miles before I finally was able to settle into the 7:30 pace. The result was that the last four miles were closer to a walk than a run and any hope of finishing fast were long evaporated around mile nine. 

Runners that start to pay attention to their pace will find that your times at different distances are very close to the same. In a 10K race, your time at the 5K mark will be only a minute different than if you were running a race at that distance. The main difference between running, and knowing your pace, is in the last mile. If you ran your pace, the chances are that you will have some reserve left over if you need to pick it up a few seconds per mile to finish with a PR, or beat your nearest competitor.

One of the best workouts for establishing a pace is on that quarter mile track that you will find at almost any high school or college football field. If you know what your best time is in a 5K race, you can determine what your pace is per mile. If you average an 8-minute pace per mile, each lap around the track will be 2 minutes. It is difficult to make adjustments if you run the entire quarter mile. It is better to divide the track into four segments of 110 yards. Start at the 50 yard line. When you hit the goal posts at the end of the football field, that is the start of the second segment. The 50 yard line on the other side is half way, and the goal posts on the other end of the field is the start of the third segment, and the starting point is the finish. The key to this workout is that you need to be realistic and run only a few seconds faster than your average pace. Do not try to take several minutes off your best time, or average pace.

For an 8-minute, pace you will hit the first goal posts in 30 seconds, the opposite 50 yard line will be in one minute, the far goal posts will be at 1:30 minutes, and you should be at 2:00 minutes when you reach the starting point. It is important to be very close to your time as even a difference of two seconds means eight seconds in a quarter mile and over half a minute in a mile. In a 5K race that adds up to almost two minutes faster than you wanted to run. It doesn’t seem like much but going out too fast will cost you at the end of the race. I can tell you from experience that running too fast in the beginning of a race makes that last part of the race miserable. 

The list below is for each 110-yard section to learn pace. It is easier to adjust your pace every 110 yards than it is every 440 yards, or 400 meters:

7:00 minute pace equals 26.2 seconds per section

7:15 minute pace equals 27.2 seconds per section

7:30 minute pace equals 28.0 seconds per section

7:45 minute pace equals 29.0 seconds per section

8:30 minute pace equals 32.0 seconds per section

9:00 minute pace equals 34.0 seconds per section

The reason I show this pace chart is that it shows what only a few seconds can make in a run. The difference between a 7-minute pace and a 9-minute pace on the track is only eight seconds. The difference between trying to run a 7-minute pace versus a 9-minute pace in a 5K, or 10K, race is tremendous, even for an experienced runner. It shows how important it is to know exactly how fast you are running and be able to maintain an even pace. Using Meyer’s system for a marathon has the runner at five different paces and it is important to know the pace for each five mile segment.

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