You be the Coach: How should John pace his marathon?

The marathon is a fickle beast: at 26.2 miles, there’s ample opportunity for things to go wrong. Fueling, pacing, health, and even your mindset can be ravaged by the marathon.


One of the most difficult aspects of running the marathon – especially if you’re trying for a specific goal time – is knowing how to pace yourself.

And not just the pacing strategy, but the actual pace you’ll attempt on race day.

I ran into this problem myself (my God, that pun is perfect) during my first marathon in 2008. I was confident I could run somewhere around 2:37 – 2:45, but an 8-minute spread at that level is enormous.

Instead of respecting the distance and being conservative (NYC is not an easy marathon course, after all), I had many miles under 6:00 which were simply too fast.

And the inevitable happened: I hit the wall hard, eventually slowing to a 7:09 24th mile.

I finished in 2:44:38 – not a bad debut marathon but not the time I was hoping for and certainly not how I wanted to feel during the race.

It was painful. Everything hurt. A senior citizen passed me with less than a mile to go. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the “strong” race I wanted.

But it did give me perspective. That first marathon helped my next marathon in a number of ways:

  • I took marathon fueling much more seirously
  • My pacing was far more strategic
  • Training before the race was more effective and consistent

And it worked: I ran a 5+ minute PR and achieved my stretch goal of running 2:39:32 at the Philadelphia Marathon.

Today I want to feature a question from a member of the Strength Running community. Someone who has run several marathons but always struggled with hitting the wall.

And I want your advice on how he can pace himself.

What marathon pacing strategy works best?

John has run three marathons. And each time, the first half is a lot faster than the second half. Sound familiar…?

He also hits the wall around the 19-mile mark in every previous race.

Here’s John’s question and more background information:

In 2014, my last marathon was 3:24:56. But that was with a 1:35 first half and a 1:49 second half!I recently ran 1:29:35 in the half marathon so a lot of the calculators say I should be able to run a 3:06 marathon. Is that for real?!

Even more recently I ran a half marathon in 1:26:41. If I nail down my race nutrition, what pace should I target so I don’t go out too fast and crash?

What may be most helpful for John is explaining two things:

  1. What his average pace should be for his next marathon based on the information we have.
  2. How he should execute that pace during the race itself.

He’s running the Brighton Marathon in the UK, which is fairly flat. So there’s no need to account for hills like at the Boston Marathon (which really throw a wrench into how consistently you can pace yourself).

Leave your answer below – and I’ll choose my favorite answer for a free copy of my newest book!

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