Marathon Pace Guide: How To Determine It + Race Pace Strategy

While preparing for any race, part of your training plan should incorporate workouts that include your goal race pace.

If you are going to run a 100-miler, you’ll work at a more comfortable, easy pace during long runs, whereas when training for a marathon, you’ll train chunks of kilometers at your calculated marathon pace

In this article, we are going to discuss:

  • What exactly marathon pace is, and how to calculate it.
  • The benefits of marathon pace training.
  • Examples of marathon pace training sessions. 
  • Negative, positive, and even splits when running a race.
  • Choosing the correct race strategy.

Ready? 

Let’s jump in!

Marathon pace

What is “Marathon Pace”?

Your marathon pace is the speed you’re aiming to maintain over your entire 26.2 miles, assuming an ‘even pace’ strategy (which we’ll get into).

We like to differentiate between speed (which is how fast you’re running at any one moment) and race pace (which is how your speed looks and changes over your full race).

Your race pace is a pace that you should be able to hold consistently for the entire race.

Determining your target race pace early on in your marathon training is very useful, as you can train towards it and build your training plan around it.

If you think of your perceived effort while at this pace, it should be sustainably uncomfortable – somewhere around a 5 out of 10 on the RPE scale.

Conversation becomes difficult as you will only be able to sneak out a few words here and there.

To be able to dominate your marathon pace, specific training needs to be included in your plan.

Benefits of Training at Marathon Pace

Training at marathon pace has loads of benefits, such as:

  • Improving your endurance and slow-twitch muscle strength and efficiency. 
  • Gaining confidence for race day by feeling comfortable with the pace. 
  • Internalizing your race pace and getting used to how it feels to help you stay consistent on race day.
  • Preparing your mind to endure sustaining your goal pace throughout the entirety of the race.

Now that you know why you should train at race pace let’s look at how to calculate your specific marathon pace.

Marathon pace

How can I calculate my marathon pace?

There are various options you can choose from to calculate your marathon pace, including a 1-mile, 3k, 5k, or even 10k test. 

In addition, if you have run a race recently, you can use that piece of data to calculate your pace.

If you are a newer runner or not used to taking these types of tests, I suggest starting out with a 3k.

It’s a more manageable distance where you will be more likely to maintain a hard effort, with less of a chance of burning out.  

When taking any of these tests, be sure to prepare for them appropriately in the days prior.

Schedule the test at a time where you will be well-rested and able to perform at your best. In addition, eat and sleep well the day before; you want to treat this test as if it were a race to get the most accurate result possible.

How to Take a 3k Test

  1. Warm-up with a 15-minute light jog.
  2. During the last few minutes of your warm-up, add in a few strides, or short accelerations, to speed up your cadence.
  3. Perform your pre-run activation and dynamic stretching routine. 
  4. Run your 3k on the flattest terrain possible; a 400-meter track is ideal. 
  5. Run 3k or 7.5 laps around the 400-meter track as fast as you possibly can without burning out.
  6. Take note of the exact time it takes you to complete the distance.
  7. Plug your time into a pace calculator, such as Jack Daniel’s VDOT calculator. All of your paces and race time predictions will pop up.
Marathon pace

Let’s look at an example:

3k test result: 16:00 minutes 

Pace: 5:20 / km

Plug the test distance and total time into the pace calculator, and this is what the results will look like:

Training Paces

Pace TypePace/MilesPace/Kilometers
Easy Pace10:42-11:45 /mile06:39-07:18/k
Marathon Pace09:55/mile06:10/k
Threshold Pace09:06/mile05:39/k
Interval Pace08:15/mile05:07/k
Repetition Pace07:43/mile04:47/k

Race Estimates

Race Time Pace/MilePace/Kilometers
Marathon4:2009:55/m06:10/k
Half Marathon2:06:2009:38/m05:59/k
10k57:0109:11/m05:42/k

Now that you have your paces calculated, let’s take a look at some ways to include marathon pace workouts into your training plan:

How to Incorporate Marathon Pace into Your Training

When training for a race, specificity is crucial for an efficient training program.

Incorporating race pace training is a sure-fire way to gain the skill and confidence you’ll need to be successful on race day.  

The best way to incorporate marathon pace training into your program is to include it in a few of your long runs.

Most of your long runs during the first cycles of your marathon training will be at your easy, conversation pace.

However, 10-12 weeks before your marathon is your race-specific training cycle. According to Jack Daniels, 15-20% of your weekly mileage can be at marathon pace during this cycle. 

Here are some long run variations that you can include during your race-specific phase:

Marathon pace

Fast Finish Long Runs

Fast finish long runs begin with running the majority at your easy pace and finishing off with the last few kilometers at your marathon pace. 

Each week you can gradually add on a few more kilometers at marathon pace until you reach 50%/50% easy pace/marathon pace.

Alternating Pace Long Runs

Alternating pace long runs are just that, alternating blocks between easy pace and marathon pace for the duration of your long run. 

Begin with:

4kms at easy pace / 1km at marathon pace for the duration of your long run, whether it be a specific number of kilometers or time-based. 

Each week, lower the easy pace value and increase the marathon pace value:

Week 2: 3k easy /2k marathon 

Week 3: 2k easy /3k marathon

Marathon pace

Long Run Mix Up

Here, we combine the fast finish, and alternating pace long runs. An example for your 32-kilometer peak week-long run could be: 

  1. 8k Easy Pace 
  2. 8k Marathon Pace
  3. 5k Easy Pace
  4. 5k Marathon Pace 
  5. 3k Easy Pace 
  6. 3k Fast Finish (5 seconds faster than marathon pace) 

Give these a try, and you’ll begin to feel much more comfortable with your race pace. 

Now let’s look at some different race strategies, negative, even, and positive splits, and the most ideal ones to strive for.

Marathon pace

What are Negative Splits?

Negative splits are a race strategy where the goal is to gradually run faster as you advance in the race.

If you train for it and can make it happen, negative splits are the ideal way to race.

However, most runners find it difficult to achieve this goal as they sprint off the starting line pumping with adrenaline and excitement, and end up starting out too fast, which makes it impossible to speed up at the end. 

An incredible example of a negative split success is Eliud Kipchoge’s record-breaking Berlin marathon win in 2018. He ran the first half of the marathon in 1:01:06 and the second half in 1:00:34, shaving 72 seconds off.

How to Run Negative Splits

Running negative splits is not only physical but also has a psychological aspect to its success. It takes a lot of patience, a strong mind, and plenty of training

Most of us tend to start off a race too strong, whether due to the adrenaline of the race environment or trying to keep up with others around us who are running at a faster pace. 

When racing, stay focused on sticking to your practiced paces and race strategy. Don’t let yourself get pulled along with people running around you.

Negative Split Strategy

To run negative splits, start off slower than your planned race pace, about 5 seconds slower per kilometer. As you arrive at mid-race, speed up to your actual race pace, and then, as you reach the last third, speed up a few seconds faster than your race pace. 

Of course, at the very end, if you have gas in the tank, feel free to crank it up and end with a strong finish!

Incorporating fast finish long runs into your training is a great way to practice speeding up at the end of a race.

Marathon pace

What are Positive Splits?

There is nothing “positive” about positive splits, a common misconception from the name.

They are the exact opposite of negative spits.

It’s when we start out too fast, at a pace that is most likely not our planned race pace and end up slowing down at the end. 

At the beginning of the race, it’s easy for us to mislead ourselves and our pacing.

We feel invincible after our carefully executed taper and carb load, so we speed off the starting line, sure that we can maintain a faster pace than we trained for.

Has it happened to you?

It’s definitely happened to me, and not just the one time.

Most of us need to make this mistake at least once to realize the importance of sticking to our practiced strategy and paces to ensure success.

What are Even Splits?

Even splits are when you keep a consistent pace throughout the entire race, a challenging feat.

However, if you feel comfortable with your pace, this can be a possibility for you. Ideally, you want to stick to your specific pace to the point where your entire race is consistent. 

Months and months of pace training can help you get to this level, but it won’t happen without a lot of practice and a strong mind. 

Marathon pace

Add some of our race pace workouts to your training plan and see how that marathon pace becomes more and more comfortable to hold as time goes on. 

Training specificity is a great way to improve your chances of hitting your times!

Good luck, and let’s get training!

Check out all our marathon training plans here, and these pace-specific guides:

Katelyn Tocci

Katelyn Tocci

Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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