Whatever your time goal for your next race – whether you want to run a sub-4 marathon for the first time, get a London Marathon Good For Age time or complete your first marathon in under 6 hours, the key to hitting your target is to calculate your marathon pace.
What is a goal marathon pace?
You may find your marathon training plan has ‘GMP’ or ‘goal marathon pace’ included in it. This is simply the pace you’ll need to run in order to hit your goal time on race day, but your training plan is asking you to practice it in training.
If you’re a runner who works in miles, your goal pace will be minutes per mile while those who prefer kilometers will be figuring out their minutes per km.
Your goal marathon pace may feel pretty easy when you’re running it for a five mile tempo run in training, but it’s still important to practice it. Running at goal marathon pace helps you get a feel for the pace so that it’s easier to maintain a constant speed without having to check your watch too much and it teaches your body to run more efficiently at this pace.
How to calculate marathon pace
Before you decide on your goal pace, you need to first pick your target time. You might be looking to run a PB or hit a certain time goal, or maybe you want to qualify for a race. Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s realistic based on your current fitness and that you’re not selling yourself short by aiming too low.
Once you’ve got got your time goal for your marathon, you’ll need to break this down into either minutes per mile or minutes per kilometre pace. We’ve listed some of the popular target times below or you can use a pace calculator.
How to pace a marathon
The best way to pace a marathon is to aim for even splits. You may hear some runners talk about executing a ‘negative split’. This means starting slower and gradually getting faster. While the elites might use this tactic, it is difficult to pull off for most runners.
Many runners will, in fact, start too fast because the excitement of race day and the crowd pulls them along so don’t be surprised if your first mile (or KM) is faster than your target pace, just try to relax after that.
If you’re running a big race with lots of other runners, you may in fact find it difficult to get into your stride for the first mile and end up going slower than goal pace. If this happens, don’t panic. You’ve got the rest of the race to make back any lost seconds so don’t try to recover them in the next mile.
If your race involves hills, adjust your pace for these so that you’re going slower than goal pace on the uphills and faster on the downhills. For particularly hills races it might be better to switch your watch to show ‘average pace’ rather than current pace.