Three Ways to Pace for Your Race

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Wahoo! I have a race next weekend.  I’m pumped.  It’s a five miler that I’m running with Nicole.  I’ve had a few really good training runs and am excited to see what I can do under race conditions.

Some people just line up at the start and run, but there are also certain pacing techniques that you can follow.  One of the hard parts of pacing is that you need to know what your ideal pace feels like.  If you don’t have a pacing watch (like a Garmin), you can measure out a short distance with you car (say, half a mile) and time yourself running the distance comfortably as part of a longer run.  With repetition, you’ll learn what your goal pace ‘feels’ like. 


Here are two great pacing options for race day – and one pacing technique that you should avoid at all costs!


Pace Technique #1:  A Negative Split


A negative split involves starting off slowly, working your way into a decent rhythm, and finishing faster than you began.  For example, if you ran a 6-miler at a negative split, it may look like this:


  • Mile 1: 11:00
  • Mile 2: 10:45
  • Mile 4: 10:35
  • Mile 5: 10:15
  • Mile 6.0: 10:00


It can be challenging to pull of a negative split because the tendency is to come out fast; however, the negative split is a great technique.  You end up blowing past people at the end of the race!  You usually finish feeling energized, not dead on your feet.  On the other hand, if you run most of the race too slowly, you may find it impossible to make up the time at the end.  My friend Jen wrote a funny post on how she consistently achieves negative splits – check it out. 


Pace Technique #2:  Easy Does It


Another technique is to aim for an even pace the entire race.  Keeping a steady rhythm is a huge confidence booster and is especially nice for long races.  Like negative splitting, this is challenging because it requires that you don’t come out too fast.  In some ways, I think this technique is harder than negative splitting.  You have to begin the race warmed up, and you may have to charge up hills to keep a steady rhythm.  Also, you may end the race without a lot left in your tank, making it impossible to sprint the last bit (which is always fun). 


Pace Technique Mistake #3:  Out Too Fast


The last pacing technique – which no one wants to do – is coming out too fast.  The result?  A very pretty time for the first leg of the race and a horrendous second half.  A few years back, I ran a 15K (9.3 miles) and crashed and burned a few miles from the finish line… simply because I sprinted the first mile.  Huge fail.  I finished about 5 minutes slower than predicted as a result.  The whole race was actually a miserable experience.


Reasons why you may come out too fast:


  • You get too wrapped up in the excitement of the race start.
  • You try to keep up with a faster friend.
  • You line up too close to the starting line for your pace level.  Slower runners should line up towards the back; faster runners in the front.
  • You didn’t train very well and believe you are faster than you actually are. <—Been there, done that!
  • You don’t account for the toll that things like poor sleep, stress, weather, or hills can take on your body.
  • You’re listening to music with a fast beat.


It is tremendously difficult to keep yourself from coming out too fast, especially when you first begin to run.  If I’m listening to music, I put on something slow and steady, which seems to prevent me from sprinting.


My goal for next weekend’s race is to negative split.  We’ll see how I do!


What pace technique do you use?  Any epic crash-and-burn stories?



  • Laura @ RunningJunkie123 September 20, 2012, 7:34 am

    I have never actually use something that calculates my pace during a race. However, I think I do negative splits, for sure. I rarely warm up (why must it be so cold for every race line up! I never want to move!) so I start fairly slow. Towards the middle of the race I feel myself getting a really nice stride, pace. Then I always, always finish with a sprint!

    I’ve never crashed and burned. I think I’m too conservative with the pace at which I start and don’t give myself enough credit.

  • Chelsie @ Balance, Not Scale September 20, 2012, 7:40 am

    I have some epic crash and burn stories from my rowing days (that include passing out and falling out of the boat into the water … not fun!).
    These days, I use a combo of techniques. I try to hold a consistent pace through the first half of the race, and then try to negative split through the last half. That way, even if I don’t feel I can or actually can’t achieve the negatives, I know that I can hold my consistent pace and still make it to the finish strong at my target pace. Don’t know if it makes sense or would be effective for anyone else, but it works for me! 🙂

  • Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes September 20, 2012, 7:53 am

    I’m a huge fan of the negative split strategy. I like taking it “easy” at first, warming up, and assessing how my body feels before I settle into my race pace. It’s so difficult to refrain from getting swept up in excitement and going out too fast, so I constantly remind myself to run my own race.

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats September 20, 2012, 7:57 am

    I’m having a lot of trouble deciding my pacing technique for the marathon: attempting negative splits or keep a steady pace?? I’ve been training at 10min/miles but I’d like to run the marathon faster than that. I’m afraid though if I try to keep a steady pace of 9:30 then I won’t be able to pick it up for the last few miles and I’ll crash and burn! But then if I keep it at 10 for the beginning I’m afraid I could have done better!?!? Ahhhh!!!

  • Amber September 20, 2012, 8:00 am

    My goal has always been a steady pace but I like the idea of a negative split so I’ve been working with that goal in mind latley. I have a 1/2 marathon in 5 or so weeks and that day its just going have to depend on how I feel if I’m a little slow I’ll switch to a 10 min mile for the first 6 and then try to speed it up. If I’m feeling good I’m going to try and maintain. My next ttwo long runs will be a test of what pace for sure. I’m hoping 9:45

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat September 20, 2012, 8:00 am

    I agree – out too fast is not a good tactic!! In my last race, I did start out kinda quicker than I’d planned but eventually settled into a comfortable pace that I maintained for the majority of the race. Like you, I find that putting on a song that doesn’t have a super fast beat really helps with this. No crash and burn stories for me (yet), but in my last half marathon, I sprained my SI joint (learned that later – it just felt like a bad pinch throughout the entire race) at the 8km mark. Miraculously, I managed to hold a pretty steady pace and finished just under a minute slower than my PR. Despite the circumstances, I was pretty happy with that result! I aimed to stay just ahead of the pace bunny I wanted to follow for the first 2/3 of the race, then tried not to let him too far out of my sight after that. I’m pleased to say it was a successful plan!

  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed September 20, 2012, 8:08 am

    I definitely love my Garmin for pacing myself at races. I’m always very concerned about going out too fast, but sometimes I’m feeling so good and just running along with the crowd and it’s hard to want to slow down! When I ran Broad Street (huuuuuge 10 miler in Philly) I was worried I was running too fast, but I ended up feeling great the whole race! The crowd and the atmosphere really helped me out.

  • Lee September 20, 2012, 8:19 am

    When I am training or just out for a run, I am almost always have negative splits. I think my body just takes a while to warm up and feel good. However, when I ran, I always go out too fast. I think it’s that I think I’m faster than I am or I think that I’ll be able to sustain the pace, which always comes to bite me in the ass.

  • Anna September 20, 2012, 8:41 am

    I`m finally getting my Garmin this Saturday and have a 10K the week after, on Sunday. I always measure my runs in miles, take the time and create an average pace afterwards. I`m soooo excited to have the Garmin as a tool to help me achieve a negative split if every thing goes perfectly.
    Have fun at that five miler!

  • Stellina @ My Yogurt September 20, 2012, 8:58 am

    I dont use a certain method in particular but I do try to conserve my energy for the end…the worst thing is feeling too tired at the end to pull off a great finish. I have my first half-marathon in 2 weeks and I really want to finish strong!

  • Presley @ Run Pretty September 20, 2012, 9:08 am

    I’m definitely the crash and burn type haha. I need to work on that. Probably a metaphor for my life in there somewhere, too…

  • Allison@commitcomplete September 20, 2012, 9:10 am

    I never look at my watch for the first 2 miles of a long race (more than 6 miles). This helps me avoid unnecessary stress during my run and I have found that I still finish at or even ahead of my overall time and pace goals.

  • Faith @ For the Health of It September 20, 2012, 9:11 am

    I’ve definitely been thinking about my pace as I get ready for Miracle Miles this weekend. Granted, I have to drop down to the 5k rather than the 15, but I still am wondering if I can PR after a month of minimal running. Ironically, the last time I PR’ed (unofficially, since the race wasn’t chip timed), I started out WAY too fast, running with a friend who is at least 3-4 minute/miles faster than I am…but I still eeked it out in the end. I think that was a fluke though – definitely shooting for slow and steady on Saturday!

  • Rachel C. September 20, 2012, 9:17 am

    I try to negative split and got pretty good at it last year; most of my races were ran with negative splits

  • Teresa September 20, 2012, 9:38 am

    The fastest 5K races I’ve done this year are ones where I accidentally started out too fast the second mile, then slowed down the last mile. A couple weeks ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t start out fast. I achieve a negative split, but my overall time was way slower than normal for me. I think I started out too slow at the beginning. It was actually a beautiful day for running — 50 degree temps, no wind, a few hills — so I can’t blame the weather for my slower time. Next time, I think I’m going to start out a little faster when my legs are feeling good. I’d rather be out of gas at the finish line than feel like I could have done more early on.

    • Carina September 20, 2012, 11:12 am

      I commented below to say the same thing and am just now going back and looking at other comments. I couldn’t agree more. I think she should have made the distinction in pacing for something longer than a few miles as opposed to pacing for a 5k or shorter. They are very different techniques for people who are running for time, as opposed to running for fun.

  • Katie @ Talk Less, Say More September 20, 2012, 9:38 am

    I’m running my first race at the end of the month, totally taking these to note!!

  • Victoria (District Chocoholic) September 20, 2012, 9:44 am

    Crash and burn? 2005 I raced a 200 fly. My best 100 fly time had come 2 days earlier at the same meet – 1:05. I then split a 2:28 200 fly as follows:
    1st 50: :30
    2nd 50: :34 (note: sub 1:05 for the first 100)
    3rd 50: :36
    4th 50: :47

  • Joanne September 20, 2012, 9:46 am

    My first marathon, there were no time goals, just finish so I started really easy and ended up with negative splits. Did the same for Boston then the next marathon I really wanted to get a great time, so I went out too fast and ended up having to walk. Worse time of the three marathons.
    My last marathon, I went out easy, picked up the pace in the middle miles but didn’t have a lot left until the end when it was too late. Still, starting out easy gave me the best finish times. I am a firm believe on pacing how you feel that day. We have good days and bad so you can never tell and just have to go with it.

  • Laura @ She Eats Well September 20, 2012, 11:01 am

    I actually do not wear a watch in any of my races. I know, weird. I like to start out slow and easy – maybe I am just overly cautious, but after over 10 half marathons and going into my 3rd marathon next month, it works for me! I like to be overly cautious in the beginning so that I feel strong at the end!

  • Carina September 20, 2012, 11:05 am

    I run with a garmin and I’ve been steady around the same paces for the last few years, so I feel like I know them well. I like both pacing strategies for long races, but I think if you really race a 5k hard, you don’t want to go with pacing mistake 3, but you need to go out hard and try your best to hold on. I had a race a few weeks ago with a 7:45 first mile, and there was simply no way to make that up over the course of the next 2 miles no matter how fast I ran. I think for short races your best bet is to go out as fast as you can hope to sustain and give it your all. Most of the best racers at longer distances (from 10ks to marathons) run very steady splits, so I think that’s probably best, while negative splits feel good, it won’t usually yield your fastest time. In a 5k, even if you slow a bit in the third mile, losing 5-10 seconds there is going to give you a better net time than a first mile that was 20 seconds too slow.

  • sarah ~ sporkhashi September 20, 2012, 11:31 am

    I really need to learn how to pace myself. I’m new to racing & I do a lot of my running inside on a treadmill so I haven’t had to learn what it feels like to run at different speeds. The past two races I completed – 5k & sprint triathlon I ended up finishing the run portion faster than my typical treadmill pace. I’m honestly clueless how that happens. I’m currently thinking of working on a run/walk method to train for longer races. This past weekend I ran (4 min) walked (1 min) the 5k portion of my triathlon and finished 30 seconds faster than the stand-alone 5k race a month earlier. So it’s encouraging to know that pushing myself to run the entire time might not be the best for me. Perhaps run/walk is a way of pacing in itself?

  • hippierunner September 20, 2012, 11:33 am

    I think instead of using your car to determine a distance, you could just check online using Google maps/transit. Or mapymyrun!

  • Lindsay @ Health Foragers September 20, 2012, 11:58 am

    I have a 5k on the 29th and I can’t decide what I want to do. Normally on my runs I keep a pretty consistent pace the whole time but I really want to get a great time for this one – my first 5k and first race postpartum. I am afraid I am going to come out too strong and lose steam. I would love to take it easy and then sprint the end mile.

  • Annette@FitnessPerks September 20, 2012, 12:23 pm

    I’ve never used negative splits per say, but I like that techinque! I’ve def come out too fast in a race. Definitely. It was tough at the end! It was more of a mental game by the end <–just to finish decently. Haha.

  • Julia September 20, 2012, 12:54 pm

    have fun at the race!! is nicole still blogging?

    • Caitlin September 20, 2012, 1:14 pm

      i dont think she’s quit quit i just dont think she’s been motivated to blog.

  • Julia September 20, 2012, 1:29 pm

    thanks for the response! i thought her site was messed with or something after reading the surge in comments on her last post.

  • Courtney @ Journey of a Dreamer September 20, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Good tips! I practiced negative half mile splits during my 2 miler this morning!

  • Ellen @ Wannabe Health Nut September 20, 2012, 3:10 pm

    I ran my first half marathon this year and was happy with my negative split. Although, I did feel like I had too much “in the tank” when I crossed the finish line and I didn’t like that either. It’s all trial and error I guess!

  • Maureen September 20, 2012, 3:52 pm

    I always start a race with the intention of negative splitting, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times it has actually happened. I almost always go out too fast and then struggle to hang on. I think for my next race I am going to try and hold a steady pace throughout, and then maybe pick up the pace at the last half mile to go.

  • Claire September 20, 2012, 5:38 pm

    I always start fast, it’s so hard not to. For anything up to 10k it’s not too detrimental but in longer races I have crashed in the back half a few times, horrible. But I finally put together the perfectly paced half mara on Sunday. I really held back in the first 2k, held a nice steady pace throughout and had enough left to pick it up in the last 2k. I got a PB of over a minute and it was the best feeling!

  • Jameil September 20, 2012, 8:25 pm

    I have no race day crash and burns but I have enough in training! I read so many blogs that I definitely know the perils of race day speeding from the start line. This makes me way under pace for at least the first mile. I need to shake myself out of it! I have too much left at the end and (my version of) sprint for the last two miles. (My last 3 races have all been 10Ks.) I’ve PR’d by virtue of just being faster and even negative split all of them. Next time I want more even pacing.

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