Checking your pace during races

My initial tries to be faster were during my parkruns, so we’re talking about a 5k distance. Especially for a short distance as this one, your mind isn’t always clear since your blood is full of lactic acid and your body is desperately trying to clear that lactate and slow you down. Not exactly a breeding ground for arithmetic. So I have developed some tricks to be able to keep tracking of my average pace for a race.

First, you need to plan your pace. There are lots of calculators out there on the Internet, just typing “pace calculator” in your favourite search engine will reveal the lot. My first target pace was 4 minutes per km, that’s the sub 20 minutes overall parkrun. You might say it’s a round number, but as I broke the sub 20 minutes parkrun, I wanted to get even faster. So nevertheless, you need a planned pace. Let’s use 4:12/km as an example.

When you’re running, you don’t have to divide the current time to the number of splits or remember each individual split time. But what you can do, is remember the number of seconds off or extra compared to your pace. Back to our example, if you run your first km in 4:15, the second in 4:11 and the third in 4:09, then you only need to remember:
- first split you are 3 seconds off your pace. I remember that number as -3.
- second split you are 1 second faster than your pace, but if you add that to your previous difference, that -3+1=-2 seconds. So when you finished this split you are -2 seconds, translated in 2 seconds slower than your intended finish time
- third split is 4:09, which is 3 seconds better than 4:12. You’re already 2 seconds off, but if you do -2+3=1, that’s 1 seconds faster. So if you would do a 3 km race, you would finish it 1 second faster than your intended time.
So you see, it’s a lot easier to just remember those extra seconds.

And you can carry on like this for the whole 5 km or 10 km race.

Longer races have their own challenges and time keeping shouldn’t be one of them. As the race gets longer you also get too tired even for those simple arithmetic computations. Not to mention that a half marathon is not a fixed distance in neither metric or imperial system. And that goes for the marathon as well.

During my Chester marathon

This is somehow strongly tied to the fact that I was born and taught in a metric system country. The half marathon just over 21 km. And I realized I can split those into equal thirds of 7 km each. Now, that might not be a round distance, but that’s not important. The important bit is that I can also split my desired finish time (minus 1 minute give or take) into 3 equal thirds. So if I want to finish it in 1 hour 31 minutes, that’s 3 x 30 minutes chunks.

Splitting into equal chunks is a similar strategy compared to the one for shorter races, just that the splits are longer. And because of that, there’s no need to check your pace every kilometer, you can just check yourself once at 7 km and see how you are compared to your intended time of 30 minutes. My guess it’s it will be a small number of seconds — under 1 minute- or otherwise you haven’t estimated your pace correctly.

The marathon can also be split into 3 x 14 km segments, but can also be split into 6 x 7 km segments — same distance splits as the half marathon. Again, you only need to remember the number of seconds off your intended split time.

And that’s that. Simple, isn’t it?

What’s your strategy for keeping track of the current average pace during a race?

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