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Nail your race pace with these tips

Don’t let pacing mistakes rob you of a PB in your next goal race

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Every runner has been there: you’ve trained for months. You’ve practised your goal race pace so many times that you’ve become a human metronome. You’re sure you’re going to crush your personal best, until the excitement of race day gets to you and you go out way too fast. There are a lot of variables on race day that can prevent you from nailing your race pace. Use these tips to help you adapt, stay focused and cruise across the finish line with a shiny new PB.

Runner's legs Unsplash:rob wilson
Photo: Unsplash:rob wilson

Pick a pace that makes sense

Nailing your race pace starts with choosing a pace that makes sense for your experience and fitness level. It’s great if you want to run a sub-20 5K, but if your current fastest 5K time is 30 minutes, it doesn’t make sense to try hitting a four-minute kilometre. Use past race results (or previous workouts, if this is your first race) to determine a goal time that makes sense, and base your pace per kilometre on that. If you don’t feel like doing math, you can simply plug your goal time into a pace calculator (there are plenty of free calculators available online) and it’ll spit out the splits you need to hit to achieve that goal.

Give yourself a range

Very few people are able to achieve true metronome-like consistency. Since it’s unlikely you’ll run exactly the same pace for every kilometre, give yourself a range, so you don’t panic if you run one kilometre a little faster and one a little slower.

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urban runners

Modify your expectations based on the conditions

If your goal race is very hilly, you should factor that in when determining your pace. This is where having a pace range can come in handy–it’s unfair to expect yourself to run just as fast on a massive hill as you do on the flats.

Adjust based on feel

True pacing masters are skilled at adjusting their pace depending on how they feel on race day. If they get halfway through the race and are feeling strong, they may decide to dial things up a bit and crank up the pace. If they’re not feeling so hot, they may decide to focus on effort, and forget pace altogether. Remember that racing isn’t only about getting new personal bests–it’s about getting the most out of yourself on the day.

pair of runners on road
Photo: Unsplash/chanan-greenblatt

Choose your spot on the start line wisely

Unless you are planning on being one of the first runners to cross the finish line, avoid lining up at the front of the pack. Some larger races will place you in a corral based on your projected finish time, but if they don’t, choose your spot wisely to avoid getting caught up by faster runners and starting out way too fast. Likewise, if you’re a faster runner, try to position yourself so you won’t get caught behind slower runners and end up having to make up ground later. 

Take the pressure off

It’s easy to get nervous or stressed about having to hit your goal pace. Remember that the only person who truly cares about your finish time is you, so take the pressure off. Your friends, family and running buddies will be proud of you regardless of your result, and added pressure only limits performance. 

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