Race Pace: I’m Confused

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For the first time in, oh, 40-something races, I am very, very confused about how to pace myself for my upcoming half.  Maybe you all can help?

Good race advice.


See, in all my previous races, my training was very matter-of-fact.  I always felt good when I ran, I always wore a watch, and I could 100% count on my training as an excellent indicator for how fast I should run on race day.  But here’s the problem:  this time around, I don’t feel like I can confidently say, “Well, I ran all of my training runs at 9:45, so I should aim to do the race in 9:30.” 


That’s because 1) sometimes I ran when I was low on energy from crazy baby nights, took a lot of walking breaks, and ended up clocking very slow miles as a result; 2) sometimes I ran really fast because I only had X amount of time to run before I needed to get back to Henry; and 3) I usually ran without a watch.  When I did wear a watch, I was faster than I expected to be.  And I trained exclusively on really hilly Charlotte roads, and my race is in flat-as-a-pancake Florida.  So I feel like my training performance is super skewed and weird.


When Megan came to visit, we talked about this issue a lot.  I threw out the idea of running a half marathon on my own, as fast as I could, just to see how I should pace on race day.  She immediately shot this idea down, arguing that I’d be asking to be burnt out on race day.  After all, long training runs are meant to be completed a bit slower than race pace.  This article as a good explanation of why, but here’s a blurb:


If you can talk while you’re running the long run, you’re at the right effort. If you can’t, you’re running too fast. Avoid trying to run the long runs by a pace or target time. This sets you up for the race pace training disaster where you feel great for about four to six weeks, then things start to crumble when your energy levels decline, your body aches, and performance begins to suffer.


Instead, Megan suggested that I run shorter long run (…you know what I mean) at a quick pace and see how I feel.  I’ve been doing a bit of research and think this might be a good game plan.  Greg McMillian, a running coach for elites, backs up Megan’s usual race plan, suggesting that runners “measur[e] a loop that’s half to three-quarters the distance of your event and practice running it at your goal pace.”


Of course, I could be totally overthinking this whole thing.  I could just run the race as fast or as slow as I feel like it that morning, but I’m terribly afraid of starting out way too fast and burning out at the end or starting out too slow and finishing with too much gas in my tank. 

I really want to do well and walk away feeling proud of myself because I probably won’t do another half for a while.  In hindsight, I wish I had been more diligent about timing myself throughout training because I really have no idea how fast I’m capable of running 13.1 miles.  I know lots and lots of runners never use watches, but I’m so accustomed to it that I feel like I’m going into this race blind.  On a brighter note, although my training has been a bit screwy and my long runs have sometimes felt like a total drag, I do feel really good overall about my ability to finish the race with a smile on my face.  I may not know what pace to run at to achieve my best overall time, but I do know that I’m not going to epically crash and burn.  Which is nice.  Winking smile


I’m going to test of Megan and McMillian’s theory later this week and do a 8 miler at what I think is my race pace.  But I may adjust that pace depending on my performance for tomorrow’s long run, which I’m going to approach with a smile on my face, a good fueling and hydration plan, and dedication. 


Runner’s World has a fun tool that allows you to print out pace bracelets to help keep yourself on track for race day.  Here’s a pace bracelet for a 9:30 Half Marathon:


Cool, huh?


As a side note, I went on a run this morning and it was so strange NOT to worry about my long hair getting all tangled!  Yay for short hair.  Also, Henry was trying to pull on it when having a bottle this morning and couldn’t grab it.  Double yay!


As I stare thoughtfully off into space Winking smile, let’s discuss:  Race Pace.  What is yours?  How do you calculate? How much slower do you run long runs?  Do you not even bother to calculate your race pace at all and just prefer to go by feel?


PS – Happy wedding day, Meals and Miles!  Wish I could be there!



  • laura January 5, 2013, 3:49 pm

    this is so off topic, and how awesome for you it’s not a concern anymore, but HOW did you keep your long hair from tangling?? I’ve recently just acquired longer hair and for the first time, this is turning into a major issue every time I run (even if it’s for 2 miles!) I know you’ve said previously you used to braid your hair, but alas, I’m inept and missed the girls-know-how-to-braid gene, and cannot braid hair at all! I usually wear it in a messy bun of sorts, but it is a NEST when I’m finished, and is a disaster!

    I don’t have much pacing advice, as I’ve only ever run one half marathon in my entire life. I stressed so much about pacing, but when it came to race day, I just tried to finish under 2 hours, and paced accordingly. I walked every 2 miles and still finished in under 2 hours! I am definitely a fan of the gallaway method and really think it’s effective. do you plan to walk at all? I’ve always wondered–is it better to run faster, but walk, or maintain a slower overall pace and never walk? I think run faster/walk, but I’m bias because that’s what I prefer! Anyone else feel free to chime in on how to have long hair untangled, or pacing advice 🙂

    • Katie January 5, 2013, 6:21 pm

      When I had long hair I put my hair in a low pony with a braid. I found that buns would come undone half way through my runs and drive me crazy!

      • laura January 5, 2013, 8:43 pm

        right, but see.. my problem is i don’t know how to braid!! trust me, i’ve watched tutorials and tried to learn, but i am just missing that girly gene, swear. ugh! anyone else have any other suggestions?

        • jenna January 6, 2013, 10:11 pm

          Hey Laura! It might work to put it in a pony and then put in another ponytailer midway or lower down the tail to keep the tail more together 🙂

  • Hillary January 5, 2013, 4:47 pm

    I know I should slow down on my long runs, but it’s hard to stop myself from doing so. I just let myself run at a comfortable pace, which for me is usually between 9:30/10:00. I still do speedwork for my shorter training runs, but I’m a big fan of sticking with what is comfortable and adjusting as my body sees fit (faster if I feel I can maintain it, slower if I need a break). I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised with how this has worked out during races: in my last half, I ended up getting a PR!

  • Elizabeth January 5, 2013, 4:49 pm

    I’m usually good for 45 seconds faster than my average pace over all training runs. I know that’s not very scientific :(. It has held pretty consistent for me.

  • Jen January 5, 2013, 5:03 pm

    Oh my God…you are WAY over-thinking it! What happened to your “Silver Drawer Year”?? If you had been diligently following paces, times etc. throughout your training, then yeah you would be looking at the race pace more seriously…But you have taken the approach of doing what you can throughout your training – so why not just extend that to the race? Just run it. See how you feel. If you think you started too slow, speed up. Or vice versa. We can’t predict the future. We can only learn from trial and error. Take a deep breath, let it out and smile, stop thinking and just chill out a bit. Take your mind out of the mix.

    In general, have you considered starting a meditation process? I know, you have no time, etc…but a few minutes a day of practice could help clear out the mind clutter.

    • Logan @ Mountains and Miles January 5, 2013, 10:32 pm

      I agree…I think that for the new strategy you have taken for the year, you should just go out and enjoy the race. Run what feels good, but also slightly challenging, and just run by how you feel. Either way, it’s going to be your first “post-baby PR” no matter how fast you go, and that’s still something to be proud of!

      • Jen January 6, 2013, 5:46 pm


  • Tricia January 5, 2013, 5:09 pm

    I just go with how I feel that day. I’m NIT competitive at ALL though. I’m just proud of myself for doing the distance/race. A lot of factors seem to interfere with my pace so I just go with it. No pressure that way!

  • Cait January 5, 2013, 5:10 pm

    I’ve never really been much of a pace person while I run. I just run for “feeling”, if I’m feeling tired I slow down a bit, if I’m feeling great then I keep a solid pace. Typically, I end up doing much better than I expect to when I don’t run for a specific time!

  • Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) January 5, 2013, 5:17 pm

    Hahaha, that is the best race sign ever! I am totally making a sign like that next time I go to watch a race 🙂

  • Michelle January 5, 2013, 5:57 pm

    So far I’m just a 5k-er so I have no idea if my input would even be useful, but I def go by feel. For me, I am consistent in my 10 min mile pace and while I never look at a watch etc, I know when Im going faster or slower than my 10 min rhythm… and on race days my husband (who never runs with me on normal runs) joins me and he always wants to run a little faster than I do and within a half mile I can feel the effect and am all “run with me at my pace, or go on ahead and I’ll see you at the end, but you are not going to push me to run faster today… i don’t want to die before the end.” 🙂

  • Marisa January 5, 2013, 6:50 pm

    I’m with Jen. Go out at a comfortable pace you could go at all day while still smiling, and then just crank it up from there. Any way you go about it is going to be your post-baby PR… 😉 So enjoy.

  • Winnie January 5, 2013, 7:41 pm

    For me, because I’ve ran competitively before in high school cross-country and track, my mindset about race pace comes from my coach. He always said that “At no point during a race should you feel comfortable,” and that “If you still have the energy left to sprint the last hundred meters, you didn’t race hard enough.” That being said, the races he was referring to were a lot shorter than a half 😛
    For a half, I would go at a comfortably quick pace for the first half of the race, and begin to pick up pace and start to run “uncomfortably” after midway (but not so much that I completely burn myself out!). In the first 2/3 of the race, as long as I’m not hurting to the point where I feel like I want to die, I know I’m on track. The last 1/3 of the race is a different story though…

    Good luck on your half! Don’t overthink too much 🙂

  • Margaret January 5, 2013, 7:47 pm

    I’d just run it by feel. I was hoping to set a 5k PR on New Year’s by a minute or so, and I ended up leaving my garmin in my car, so I was forced to run by feel, and I PR’d by over 4 minutes! I think, especially when there are so many factors that affect how feel on any given day, there’s nothing wrong with just being in the moment and running however fast you feel like running. Go by what level of exertion you think you can maintain for 13 miles, not by a specific pace since you don’t know what you can maintain.

  • Hilary January 5, 2013, 7:56 pm

    Personally, I think that now that you have a Henry to come home to, you might actually WANT some fuel in your tank so-to-speak. I know you want to do great and you might not do another half again any time soon but unfortunately EVERYTHING is so different about running as a mom. I ran a 10K not too long ago and I know I could have gone faster but I also knew I had to take care of 2 kids afterwards on only a little sleep and 6.2 miles under my belt.
    C’est la vie. As others have said, embrace your silverwear drawer : )

  • Amy Q January 5, 2013, 8:20 pm

    I say start slow with a plan to adjust faster at set negative splits– if you are feeling just so so, you can plan to ramp up only in the second and last thirds- or if you feel better, you can plan to ramp up at six different intervals—– may require more than one pace-bracelet, though. I never really go into a race with a plan for a pace limit— I know how fast the slowest I will go is, and then I just keep going faster as we go until I can’t ramp it up anymore.

  • Annie January 5, 2013, 9:56 pm


  • Stephanie@nowirun.com January 5, 2013, 10:44 pm

    I’m a new runner and, though I run with a watch, would really just expect race-day to be as fast as my daily run or a little faster. I just ran my first half-marathon in November and it was a little faster than my normal short-run pace, which I thought was pretty good (I was just really hopeful I’d finish/not get injured/not have to walk!). In March I am running in my first marathon and I will probably treat race-day the same way I did my half-marathon. I’ll just start a little slow and speed up if it feels good. At this point in my running career I am just learning!
    Good luck with whatever you decide and enjoy it!!

  • Megan January 5, 2013, 10:50 pm

    This is nothing to do with race pace (I would give awful advice bc I always start out much faster than I should!), but I did my first trail run today and thought of you and your Croom’s run. I never really got it when I’d read about trail runs or even while talking to my friends about them. It’s like a whole ‘nother sport! It was alot of fun though.

  • Lesley T. January 5, 2013, 10:51 pm

    I say just do it and have fun. Save the worry about pacing and performance for your next 10K.

  • Luv What You Do January 5, 2013, 11:05 pm

    I think that you should run how you feel and enjoy every mile! That’s the point of running…right? You will feel proud no matter what your end time is. Because you prioritized yourself, you trained for your race, you got out and ran when you had no sleep, and in the end you completed your first 13.1 as a mother. Won’t your son be so proud?! Remember…it’s not the race. It’s the journey!

  • Sara @ fitcupcaker January 6, 2013, 10:59 am

    I haven’t done any races in a while, I think my fastest pace was 9:20 or something which I was so happy about… Now, I’m prob about a ten min pace, which is still A-OK with me!

  • Brittany January 6, 2013, 11:06 am

    My race pace is usually faster than I expect…I think the adrenaline gets the best of me! Mine is typically around 7:45-8:00. For my long runs, my pace is closer to 8:45. I’m pretty competitive, so I will push myself in races. Although, the last few that I’ve done, I’ve allowed myself to enjoy it a little more, so I wasn’t as strict with keeping time but rather going by how I was feeling! Good luck!

  • Rose (formerly OALP) January 6, 2013, 11:14 am

    Had to post here because I’ve been in the same boat. I’d say you’re over thinking it. Even when in full-on training mode, you can never predict an outcome. At my last half, I thought I’d finish 10 minutes faster than I did. However, I wasn’t prepared for 1. the extreme heat of the day and 2. being awake all night the day before. So I’d say treat this one as your “half to get back into the swing of things” and worry about times and PRs later.

  • Jamie January 6, 2013, 11:19 am

    I am training for my first half marathon in five and a half years. My oldest is four and a half and I’m just now getting back to running half marathons. So the fact that your child is under a YEAR and you are already back at it is something to be proud of! I have no advice, just wanted to say good luck! 🙂

  • Hayley @ Running on Pumpkin January 6, 2013, 11:25 am

    I pretty much just go into longer runs doing what feels right to me, but my pace doesn’t vary that much day to day. I have only done one half marathon, but on race day I just went with how I felt and ended up running about the same (but a teeny bit faster) than my usual pace. I like the idea of figuring out your pace with a little bit shorter of a longer run like you are going to do – sounds like a good method to me. Good luck!!

  • Hannah January 6, 2013, 11:33 am

    There is no pressure, and NO MATTER WHAT you should finish this race feeling like you did well- just finishing, especially after baby, is something to be very proud of! And don’t be disappointed if you have to rest, take walk breaks, or slow waaaay down. That’s how you’ve been running your long runs! So just take in the race atmosphere and enjoy yourself 🙂

  • Sarah January 6, 2013, 12:40 pm

    Though it seems counter-intuative, the pace you do your long runs at should not be a big influence on your race pace. I’m 45-90 seconds slower on my long runs than my races. Long runs are to build endurance, and ideally you are also doing speedwork / tempo runs to build speed.

    I agree with the pace run as a test, or even an all out race at a shorter distance, like a 10k. A recent race is the best predictor for me. I also think you should start conservatively, then let yourself speed up after mile 7 or so. That’s what i woud do, at least!

    Good luck!

  • Carina January 6, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Looking at the comments above, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was shocked to read that you in the past had felt confident you could race at 15 seconds faster than your training pace. Conventional wisdom would say you’re doing your training runs way too fast then. If you slowed down in training, you’d probably race even faster. I think a good rule is to train about 1 min per mile slower than you’ll race. So on years I train around a 9 or 9:30 min pace, I race a full around 8-8:15 mins (and of course faster for a half, even faster for a 10k, etc.). You should absolutely do some research and try it out later, but for this one, you’re probably best going based on how you feel. I like the idea of not wearing a watch. You could try to step up the effort every few miles and work on a negative split.

  • kristin January 6, 2013, 8:10 pm

    Just run the race without a watch! I ran my first half that way because I just wanted to finish. You just had a baby so it’s like your first half all over again. Enjoy it!

  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed January 7, 2013, 6:42 pm

    Both of my long races (10 miler & a half), I started out thinking omg, I can’t run this fast, I’ll burn out… but then I felt great so I just kept going and both times it really worked out for me. Despite wearing my Garmin, I really just went by how I felt!

  • Renee January 8, 2013, 1:30 pm

    I have only run 1 1/2 and I had NO idea of what to expect or what I could do. What I did what the first 3 miles I ran really easy…and then started picking it up from there because 10 miles sounded a lot less intimidating than 13. I ran the first 3 miles at a 9:09 pace and ended up averaging an 8:25 pace. I wouldn’t overthink it too much. See how your 8 miler goes and go from there. Have fun with it!

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