How to Pace like an Elite in Boston

An analysis of pacing at the Boston Marathon.

Running with Data
Published in
11 min readApr 1, 2017


Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU:


  • An analysis of more than 150,000 Boston Marathon race-records during the period 2011–2016 (excluding 2013);
  • How do runners pace the Boston Marathon? Where are the fastest and slowest sections of the race?
  • How does the pacing of elites compare to recreational runners and those running a personal-best?
  • Putting what we learn into practice, we create optimal pacing charts for recreational runners that are tailored for Boston.


In a previous post we described how to produce an optimal pacing plan for runners of the London Marathon based on an analysis of the pacing patterns of elites. The leap of faith was that such a pacing pattern may help regular runners to achieve their best times, assuming we can scale the pacing for their goal time.

In this post we present a similar analysis for the Boston course. This time it is based on more than 150,000 individual race-records for Boston runners, from the period 2011–2016, excluding 2013. These race-records include 5km (approx. 3.1 miles) split-times and therefore allow us to analyse pacing at regular intervals.

In total we examined the races of 117,802 unique runners (44% female), including almost 1,300 ‘elites’. For the purpose of this post we define an elite to be a male runner finishing in less than 150 minutes or a female runner finishing in less than 185 minutes; these are based on commonly used thresholds but more stringent definitions are also sometimes applied, either way they are sufficient to distunguish the very fastest runners from the rest of the field.

Pacing the Boston Marathon

To start, the chart below shows the average pacing (minutes per mile) for non-elite (recreational/regular) runners. The ‘ribbon plot’ shows the average pace per race segment (the marked centre line) and the average pacing for men and women. The chart also shows the course profile. As an aside the pacing ribbon has been left-shifted to the halfway point of each race segment for better visual alignment. For example, the first marker, which is plotted at the 2.5km…



Running with Data

Professor of Computer Science at University College Dublin. Focus on AI/ML and data science with applications in e-commerce, media, and health.