Marathon Pacing Strategies – Achieving your target time

So you’ve been doing the training, losing the weight, gaining the fitness and you’ve had that “all you do is run, hang out with runners and talk about running” argument with your partner that signals that the marathon is nearing.  And you have a time that you think you can achieve… The big question remains:

“What pace do I try and run this thing in?”

This is a question that I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.  And in this blog I am outlining 3 broad pacing strategies…  Which are you?  If you have a completely different approach I’d love to hear about it?  (and maybe include it in the blog).


1. Eyeballs out

Run the 1st half of the marathon as fast as you can. Don’t worry about the remaining 13.1 miles as you cross the halfway point recording a PB half marathon time. What could go wrong in one of the most challenging and demanding endurance races in the world?


  • You get a great confidence boost going out hard and strong
  • You reduce the 2nd half time expectations and pressure
  • It is easier to run fast while you’re feeling good
  • You might start losing a lot of time after 20 miles.  A lot more than you gained by running quickly
  • You might not finish
  • You might spend the last 6 miles vomitting, internally bleeding and screaming “I want my boo boo”. Boo boo was a doll you used to have when you were 5 years old and were having a hard time at school.  Mum “lost” boo boo and you have never forgiven her.  The cow.

Who actually does this?

Although it seems like a wild strategy, I know plenty of runners that do adopt it.  The rational is broadly:

“Oh, I need to run a sub-3 hour marathon, I’ll run the 1st half in 1:20 and set myself up for an easy 2nd half!”

What celebrity would actually do this?

Impressed? Don't be. He won't finish.

In a DOG MARATHON, what breed of dog would do this?

"He'll be finished after 1mile and on the next ship to Korea"



The evil robot from the future is a heel striker. I nominate you to tell him he should "try Vibrams". He might thank you. He might also rip your head off.

2. Like a Machine

This is the other extreme of pacesettings which is running at exactly the pace you need, constantly and perfectly throughout the race. For example, if you were aiming for a time of 4 hours you would run each mile in exactly 9:10. Like a machine. You’ve seen the Terminator movies? Be careful.

Some elite athletes even run the 2nd half slightly faster than the 1st which is called running negative splits. I used to think that this was my strategy until I read Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning and it said that strategy is really only achievable in a marathon if you are an elite athlete. Bugger.



  • It is probably the most efficient technique
  • You can really get into a rhythm
  • Simplifies the maths
  • If you weaken by only 1% in the last 4 miles then you’ll fall just short of your target time
  • You might have found it easier to “get some time in the bank” in those first 10-15 miles.  But you didn’t.  And now you’re tired.
  • You might get a bit bored running at exactly the same speed.

Who actually does this?

Elite athletes.

What celebrity would actually do this?

No stranger to monotonous repetition (wax on, wax bloody off), Mr Miyagi would love to run a marathon this way.

Mr Miyagi.

In a DOG MARATHON, what breed of dog would do this?

The dream marathon pacesetter dog. Which way is the finish line dog? Oh, that way...

Irish Pointer.

3. Hybrid

Hybrid is a combination of the above two strategies.  Basically it involves going out a bit harder than the average pace needed to achieve your target time.  For example, I need to run at an average pace of 7:15 to achieve my time,  so I will be heading out somewhere between 6:55 and 7:10 and seeing how long I can “hang in there”.  I recommend doing some tune-up  20+ miler races to gauge how realistic your hybrid pace is.  This Sunday I’m going for a large amount of “eyeball outage” which amounts to 6:50-6:55 a miles.  Hopefully I’ll hold this for my 20 mile race. If not I’ll have a good idea how to tune it.


  • You get the strengths of each strategy
  • Probably most people that achieve their goal adopt this strategy
  • It is a compromise, you won’t get the confidence boost of “eyeballs out” and you won’t get the pure efficiency of the machine strategy
  • You might not get it right.  You might go with too much eyeball… Or possibly too little.
Who actually does this?
The majority of the marathon field.  I think.
What celebrity would actually do this?

"You should go out early! Like a real man. An 80s man."

Cobra Kai Sensei.  But only to piss off my Miyagi.

In a DOG MARATHON, what breed of dog would do this?

Siberian Husky.  They win everything. Except the summer marathons.


This entry was posted in Marathon, Motivational, Training, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Marathon Pacing Strategies – Achieving your target time

  1. Paul says:

    Hahaha – I know which would be my preferred option 🙂

  2. JL says:

    Great blog! My mates call me the Terminator (for entirely different reasons…). Still undecided on race strategy – bring on the 20miler!

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