Marathon race day pacing

You've done the hard training but getting your race-day pacing and nutrition strategy right is the key to your best-ever race. Follow these tips from elite runner and coach, Shaun Dixon.

Whatever race distance you’ve signed up for, if it’s your first time then all you need to focus on is getting to the finish line and enjoying the experience. Besides, by finishing the race you’re guaranteed to get a new personal best! 

That said, most people start a race with a target time in mind, and it’s great to give yourself a goal to try and hit. For first-time races, your best bet to get the best time possible is to try and run at a consistent and even pace throughout. Starting too fast - which is very tempting when you’re feeling great, excited and nervous thanks to the adrenaline buzz - will make the second half of the race much harder because you’ve burned up too much energy early on. Starting too slow means you’ll have to work very hard in the latter stages of the race to make up the time. 

Running longer races

When I race endurance distances my aim is to ‘do nothing’ for the first half to two-thirds of the distance. I run my own race, establish a good rhythm and ignore any racing going on around me. That way, I have plenty left in the tank towards the end of the race when others start to falter, so I can make up some good time and places by running a stronger finish. 

Therefore, and this is more true with a marathon than any other race distance, consistent and comfortable is the way to go. This is the best way to not only get the best-time possible, it will also mean you enjoy more of the race and not just crossing the finish line!

Race-day nutrition

Knowing what you want and need to consume during your race isn’t something you finalise on race-day morning! When running a marathon you are likely to need to take on some calories from various forms to keep your muscles fuelled. Exactly what form of calories work best for you is something you need to establish early on during your longer training runs. Some people prefer energy drinks to energy gels, others like Jelly Babies over bananas. 

The key is to find those foods or drinks that you can manage at latter stages of a race to keep you energised. You don’t want to experiment with something new during a race in case it makes you feel sick or causes a stomach upset. Find your favourite fuel early on, then stick to it! 

I like to use energy gels during a marathon. Again, everyone is different so will have different energy requirements, but I take on a gel every 45 minutes to an hour when racing. I also drink beetroot shots about 90 minutes before all races. It gives me a mental boost if nothing else! 

And sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you don’t need to shovel carbs down your neck in the evenings leading up to your race. Your body can only process and store so much glycogen so instead focus on eating healthily with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You can slightly increase the proportion of carbs in your diet overall during this final week but you really don’t need to overdo it. 

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