PACE IT NOT RACE IT! // BY MELISSA VANDEWATER March 20, 2017 – Posted in: Latest News, Expert Advice

There are races where we conquer and others where we learn.  In 2011, I distinctly remember going out very hard at the Sydney Half Marathon.  One massive error pre race was throwing my finish line bag on the truck, with gels still in it! The second error was my pace.  When the gun went, I took off as if I would win.  I could see the lead group of females and I was sitting just in front with the 80 minute pace balloon.  My training indicated I could run a 82-85min, but that early quicker per km pace, cost me by half way.  It was also an extremely hot and humid day, so the body was working in overdrive and I was cooked! I slipped back to the next pace group and the last blow was another pace group passing with 4km to go.  That was a physical and psychological blow, to finish, 8mins slower than my personal best. But every race is a lesson, and here are some key tips to ensure you pace it, not race it!

Why pace it?

Simple answer: is to ensure the greatest efficiency over time.  A car works a lot more efficiently on the highway that in the city, with all those stops, starts and accelerations.  Our bodies system (or engine), is much the same, we want fuel efficiency.  If we can keep the heart rate steady, without sudden spikes, this will work best for energy consumed.  If you imagine you go out a lot quicker than what you have done before, then you body burns a lot more fuel and will slow to a pace, in the later stages, to make up for it. This can also occur if you suddenly speed up, in an attempt to make up lost ground.  Instead, make up time over next 5km not within the next km.

TIP: Start a bit easier and building into just under is the ideal pace (within a range of 5secs per km is best).

What pace to choose?

This is where logging your training becomes key.  As a coach, I look at repetition times, the range and the average during a session.  I also look at race history to determine goal pace.  As a rule of thumb a 10km time is indicative of a half marathon time by roughly a multiple of 2.16-2.2.  For example: if you have run 50min for 10km, you’re predicted half marathon time is approximately 1hr50mins (5:38/km pace).

Factors to adjust the target:

  1. Heat, this means you will need more energy to sweat and keep the system cooler, so add 5secs/km. Dehydration/electrolyte imbalance can affect performance by 10%, so drink more electrolyte (look for magnesium, potassium and sodium).
  2. Extreme cold, you go out too hard and risk muscle tear, due to the inability of the muscle to lengthen when not supple/warmed up.
  3. Hilly vs flat – this is where specific training is vital. If it’s hilly course you need to do your sessions over undulating terrain. For hill running: Slowing down the average speed but maintain turn over on hills (it can really spike you heart rate).  Always continue to run up and over, most people slow down at the top not hold form ‘over’ the hill.

Put it into practice


I’m a believer that racing is the best practice.  The more experience you get the better you are finding your “sweet spot” (how hard to push, where you are at your most efficient), and what courses suit you best.

Some people train the house down but just can not put it into practice.

Simulate your race:

This means having a look at a course profile and train specific to this. If you pick a hilly course but train only on flats, you will not teach your body to be efficient at hill running and find it ‘shocks’ the body on race day.   If you get a chance, set up sections of the course and do race pace repetitions or loops over a similar gradient.

Time trials:

Add some time trials to your training if not racing for a while. They give you a benchmark and great way to practice pace. Choose 3-5km (generally a lot less than the distance you are racing, so don’t need as long a period to recover).  Record each km and see how it fluctuates.  If you feel like there was more left then you could start a bit quicker. Likewise if your pace starts to fade, start out a bit slower.

So if it gets tempting to go out hard in longer events, remember PACE it not RACE it.

by Melissa Vandewater

Find your sweet spot: contact Melissa for more advice on training programs, pacing and race preparation.  Melissa also specialises in Run Technique, check out @runtechnique on Facebook or Soul Runner website: