Philadelphia Marathon Training: The One Skill You Absolutely Need to Run a Successful Race

We've got a tough assignment for the GPS-watch-addicted runners out there.

Nearly every long-distance running record, from the 1500-meter record to the marathon record, has been set by running negative splits, which is running the second half of the race faster than the first. But you can’t do this without knowing how to pace yourself. Pacing is the single most important skill in running and is absolutely crucial for a successful marathon. It also happens to be one of the more difficult skills to master.

In today’s world of GPS watches, treadmills and headphones, it’s easy for our internal sense of pacing to become clouded. These external distractions become background noise, affecting our senses and our ability to truly assess our pace. But here’s the good news: Pacing is a skill and, like most, it can be learned with practice and patience. Below, how to perfect your pacing skills.
First, no treadmills and no headphones. You’ll need to find a route where you know the mile markers. The Kelly Drive loop is perfect for this because of the markers every ¼ mile. If you’re not able to get to Kelly Drive, that’s fine. Next time you’re on your regular running route, just pay special attention to your GPS device and where each mile is. What you’ll want to do is take note of landmarks like rocks, signs, and trees where each mile is. For example, the giant willow tree is mile 1, that STOP sign with graffiti on it is mile 2, that big yellow house is mile 3, and so on.

Once you have your mile markers memorized, you’re ready to begin practicing your pacing. When you head out on your run, start your watch as you normally would, but don’t look at it while you’re running until you hit the first mile marker. For all you neurotic runners who check your watches every minute, this is easier said than done. One tip I recommend is to change the screen on your watch so you can only see the time, not distance, pace or speed.

As you’re running, pay close attention to how you’re feeling: What is your breathing like? Heavy? Shallow? Is this easy for you? How long do you think you could run at this pace? 7 miles? 10 miles?

Then what you’ll want to do, based on the above data — NOT YOUR WATCH OR GPS — is guess what pace you’re running as you approach the mile marker. As you pass by the mile marker, look at your watch to see what the actual pace was. How off were you? Repeat this guessing game the rest of the run, consistently recalibrating based on how you feel.

This repetitive guessing game will eventually help you develop an internal sense of pace. This is not a skill you’ll learn overnight, but something you’ll have to do over and over (and over) again if you truly want to become a master of pacing. But practice makes perfect, right? Good luck!


Cory Smith is the owner of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business, and a two-time NCAA Division 1 National Qualifier and 4:03 miler while at Villanova University. He also serves as Running Editor for Gear Institute and has been a regular running contributor for Be Well Philly for the Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Marathon.

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