Before the Race:
1. Inspect the course profile to find out about particular sections that might cause you difficulty. Look for hills, open sections exposed to wind, crowded narrow sections, and areas where the terrain may be unstable or difficult underfoot. If there are significant landmarks, checkpoints and drinks stations it is a good idea to learn about these too.
2. Ideally, run some of the course beforehand. If this is impossible carry out simulation runs in comparable conditions or challenges. This is important to understand your limitations and to practice different pacing strategies.
3. Having a good understanding of the course profile will help you develop a pacing strategy that, while realistic, plays to your strengths and will contribute to a successful performance. Succumbing to the urge to stop or walk in a way that adversely affects your performance, is a sign of having an unrealistic appreciation of your limitations, poor planning and execution of pacing strategy. Effective pacing involves experience, understanding the course and your capabilities.
4. Before the race, develop a clear idea of what kind of success you are seeking and plan your pace accordingly. If you are a first-time marathon runner, the chances are your focus will be on completing the race and in such circumstances planning a conservative early pacing strategy is probably best. If you are looking to improve upon your previous time, develop a pacing strategy that allows you the marginal gains to achieve this. Over a marathon distance it only takes a small increase in speed to improve your overall time so do the calculations and work what speed you need to run.
5. If you are competing against other runners, try to do some background research on them and understand what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. Are there ways you could pace the race to exploit their weaknesses? Spend some time pre-meditating yourself in certain situations with certain competitors. If they adjust their pace how will you respond? Thinking about these scenarios before a race will help you make the right decisions on the day.
During the Race:
6. If you have done your pre-race preparation well, you will have a good understanding of the course, what challenges each section presents, and what pacing strategy is best for you. Try to avoid getting carried away in the occasion and making early pacing mistakes that will cost you later in the race. The atmosphere can be an emotional and sensory overwhelming experience, especially at big events with thousands of runners, so while you should enjoy this be mindful that the euphoria can provoke unnecessary pacing mistakes.
7. Have some way of monitoring your pace. Modern GPS devices will allow you to continually monitor your speed, time and distance. If you do not have access to such a device keep track of how long it takes you to reach certain landmarks.
8. Try to stick to your carefully planned pacing strategy where ever possible. This takes discipline. Do not be tempted to race other individuals (unless you are competing against them) or allow other distractions to cause you to deviate from your plan. Be mindful of what challenges you are yet to confront and how you have planned to tackle them.
9. It is important to listen to your feelings, for instance how hard running feels or how tired you feel, however remember that your perceptions can also be inconsistent. If things feel easier than you anticipated during a certain section it’s probably ok to increase your pace slightly but do so cautiously. Don’t be too greedy with the speed and be mindful of how far you have yet to run and what kind of challenges you have yet to tackle. If things feel more difficult than you anticipated, decide whether to slow down or use one of the other psychological coping interventions also provided.
10. If things get desperate and the urge to slow down or stop become overwhelming, simply focus on your pace for certain sections or smaller segments. Attending to fragments in this way will help avoid becoming overwhelmed by the total remaining distance. Set a steady pace and combine this with the other psychological coping interventions provided.
After the Race:
11. As soon after the race as possible, ideally within a few hours but no more than a day, mentally re-enact the race, if necessary using the course profile as a prompt. Try to remember what sections went well and what did not go so well. Focus on how you felt and how you responded in terms of your pace, mental strategies or other actions. Ask yourself whether in hindsight, you would have tackled certain race sections differently and if so how. If necessary, make brief notes or prompts that you can refer to at a later date.
12. While all you may feel like doing after a race is celebrating, commiserating and resting, reflecting on how you felt and how paced yourself is an important process in cementing realistic memories of the event, developing a strong experience base and ensuring that in future events you are able to use your experience to improve.