Pull apart my biggest race weakness. You learn a lot from mistakes. Learn from mine. Learn from my mistakes and fix your race pacing.
Over the years I’ve prided myself on my pacing skills. I can run an out and back course and hit my return split within seconds. On a track I can become a human metronome. I’ve paced some races perfectly. As a result I developed the belief I was pretty good at race pacing.
Funny thing is I also have many races where I seriously got it wrong.
In many race I’ve gone out way too hard. Not just a little bit. So fast those watching say “he’s gone out way too hard.”
In those races I suffered spectacularly. From a massive slow down to a DNF. These are not the way I want to race. My goals are bigger. I’m sure yours are too.
When It Goes Wrong?
The problem in an ultra marathon is the correct pace is so slow. Running way too fast actually feels way too easy. Race pace is slower than your usual slower training run.
When working out predicted times and going through the maths, I have often thought:
How is it possible to run so slow?
The revenge on me is I end up unable to reach that slow pace later in the race.
Too fast feel very natural and too easy.
When It Goes Right?
Sometimes I get my pacing absolutely spot on. What was different? Why did I get it right?
Going through training history reveals one consistent factor for nailing race pace. I practiced race pace in training, a lot.
Repeating the speed over and over in training until it feels natural. Until it becomes the pace you naturally start with. Repeating until you can do it without thinking.
Along with the other elements of training, honing in on your race pace will set up the start of your race. One word covers this:
Why Is It Hard?
When we look at the speeds required to perform well at an ultra marathon they are actually slow. You might be able to rock out a 6:00/km long run of 30km in training and feel pretty good. Yet holding 7:30/km over 100 miles becomes impossible. Funny because running at 7:30/km at the start feels way too easy.
It usually feels easier to run faster.
Then the muscle damage accumulates. Your legs stiffen up. You lose some of the elasticity in your legs as the kilometres mount up. 7:30/km no longer feels easy. Your heart and lungs might be working at the same rate, but the legs don’t give the same return.
We can change this. Keep reading and I’ll take you through my approach.
Training To Fix Your Race Pacing
A double approach is needed.
- Make race pace natural
- Condition your legs to hold race pacing
1. Make Race Pacing Natural
Start your training runs with your goal race pace. This has you running at the correct speed when you are feeling fresh. If you do this most days, your body gets used to it. After a few weeks it become natural.
Dedicate at least one run each week to honing on race pace. Find similar terrain. Hills, flat, trails, whatever you will encounter on race day. Go over it at the exact speed you should be running from race start. Then do it again the next week.
You know have it right when you no longer need to look at your watch or heart rate. When you can run at exactly the right speed without relying on other props. Once you no longer accidentally speed up or slow down. When your body hits the correct pace on autopilot.
2. Condition Your Legs To Hold Race Pacing
Once you have your race pacing honed in you need to hold it for a long time. Most of your training is already dedicated to this. Your long runs especially. Endurance becomes a byproduct of ultra marathon training. We can get more exact. You can get more out of yourself.
There are 3 styles of training I have used to get this right:
- Down hill running
- Long run at race pace
- Progressive run
Down Hill Running
Is usually performed on a steep hill where I walk/hike up and run quickly, but lightly down. I repeat this over until I accumulate 60-90 minutes of up and down. The impact from the down hill running fatigues the legs in a certain way. Adapting to this improves the legs ability to tolerate for longer the impact of ultra marathon racing. The legs don’t become as stiff and take longer to lose their elasticity.
Long runs at race pace are exactly that. Go out and aim to hit your exact race paces on one of your regular long runs. Make it a full dress rehearsal. Same food, same gear and terrain. See how your body responds. You’ll not only get a specific training boost from this, you will also gain some insight into how you respond as the distance mounts up.
Progressive runs for race pace are not super long. I like to do them in 5 stages.
- Stage 1: 30 seconds / km slower than race pace
- Stage 2: 15 seconds / km slower than race pace
- Stage 3: Exactly race pace
- Stage 4 15 seconds /km faster than race pace
- Stage 5 30 seconds / km faster than race pace
Try to make each stage a lap of course you can repeat for each stage. Stick as close as possible to the pacing guidelines. You’ll learn to feel the subtle difference between a few seconds per kilometre. It will help you become more in tune with your body and how it reacts to small variations in pace. Making it easier to recognise those changes on race day.
How do you get your race pacing right?
Is it something you always struggle with?