Pacing Plans

No matter what the race distance, there always seems to be some sort of pacing plan that comes with it.  The patience with the pacing my differ depending on the length of the race, but overall I have used 3 different kinds of pacing plans.

I am off to negative split my first marathon!
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Negative Split

Negative splitting always seems like a good idea but is always the hardest to execute.  It takes extreme patience and knowledge of yourself, both in how you race and what pace you are capable of running for X miles.  Starting slow and finishing faster always makes great sense, but why is it so freaking hard to execute?   

No matter how many times I say I am going to start out slow, it seems to come back to bite me.  I somehow negative split my first marathon by 5 seconds and haven’t done it again in 10 more marathons.  I still don’t know how that happened in my first one, maybe because I didn’t know what was coming. 

Even effort for the win!
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Even Effort

I actually really like this mentality of a pacing plan.  You start off a tad bit faster than goal pace since the effort feels the same.  As you get further into a race, it takes more effort to hold the same pace, which makes that pace feel harder.  If you keep the same effort, you might slow down a bit, but it takes a very slight advantage of feeling good at the beginning and being ready to fight at the end.

This is the plan I used for the marathon where I BQed and seemed to work great that day.  I had an extra amount of fight in me at the end though… and that fight was definitely needed to hold on.

Tears of a crash and burn.
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Crash and Burn

This probably doesn’t qualify as a pacing strategy but is all to common among runners.  Going out way faster than we should, thinking this feels so easy, then hitting a wall and slowing down significantly as you go while hating life.

Too many marathons and races in general this has happened to me.  Please tell me I am not alone.   

Ultra Pacing

I have been thinking a lot about pacing plans lately now that I am entering this new territory of training for a 50 miler.  I am trying to get my mind wrapped around how one paces for a race of that distance because I really have no idea. 

I have been reading up on how runners attack a race like this and a very common theme is the walk/run strategy from the first step.  This makes sure you are saving up energy for the end and really conserving along the way.  50 miles is a long way to go after all. 

The plan I have seen the most of is a 5 minute run to 1 minute walk, so you run for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute from the second you start.  Coming off of marathons, this is something really hard for me to grasp mentally… I am used to running until I can’t anymore! 

I know I will have to train using the pacing strategy I plan on using, but how do I know what is going to work best for me?!  A lot of times with trail running, the terrain dictates the walk/run, but with this elevation profile, it’s going to be VERY important to conserve.

AR50 is fun!
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As I train and experiment over the next couple months, I am hoping that it becomes apparent what is going to get me to that finish line come April 7th. 

How do you attack different race distances?  Have you experienced any of the above “pacing plans”?  Come on, I know you have! 

Help me!  Have you run an ultra?  If so, how on earth did you plan to pace yourself?  Any help, advice, opinions are very appreciated to this newbie.

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30 Responses to Pacing Plans

  1. Beth December 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    that elevation profile is insane! a run/walk plan is probably a good idea if you have that to look forward to in the last 2.5 miles. I think you’ll appreciate any conserved energy at that point :)

  2. XLMIC December 14, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I’d say that negative splitting is not something to focus on…the focus is on survival. With that elevation profile, I’d look at some sort of plan that encompasses a semi-aggressive approach on that flatter part transitioning into that run/walk strategy as the terrain gets more challenging (what is that…17-ish). Maybe set up a plan with a run/walk pyramid for that next 10 miles… with a run 10/walk 1 to start and shifting the ratio at the end of each walk part (10/1, 9/1, 8/1, 7/1, 6/1, 5/1, 4/1, 5/1, 6/1, 7/1, 8/1, 9/1, 10/1) and decreasing the ratio as feels necessary. Then perhaps looking to get back into a simply running until you hit that mammoth spike at the end. But what the hell do I know? I’ve never run 50 miles before :P I do know that you will be prepared and you will do fantastically :)

    • Aron December 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      Only if you write that all on my arm for me ;) survival will be #1 goal and not going out too fast so that end is torturous. Either way it’s going to be HARD… can’t wait :)

  3. Amber from Girl with the Red Hair December 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Holy moly that elevation profile is no joke. That’s just cruel!

    I am a huge fan of the walk/run strategy, especially in the trails. I like 9 and 1′s or 10 and 1′s myself but that might be a bit much for 50 miles. Another strategy I’ve used is run 5K, do run/walk for 5-10K, run 5K.

    Good luck figuring it out!

  4. Michele @ nycrunningmama December 15, 2011 at 2:53 am #

    Wow. That elevation profile looks ridiculous! I’ve run one ultra (and have done a handful in training). I ran the first 30 miles (without stopping), then utilized a walk strategy up the hills. I’d speedwalk up the hills, then run on the decline and flat areas. It worked for me – I was able to finish at about a 9:10 pace.
    Just found your blog/twitter and looking forward to following you as you train for your first! Good luck!!

  5. Carlos December 15, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Anytime I run long, I find all of the hills I can, but nothing like that. In training I run my hills trying to keep a good pace, nice and even. Run walk sounds like the way to go, but I would wonder if slowing down to a pace that a little faster than a walk…instead of walking. I am like you, run until I can’t…but in my plans for doing an UItra in the fall, run and slow run is what I have been thinking about, it would keep my body maintaining a generally same movement, instead of going from running to walking and then back. Like my coach tells me in discussing plans, you have to figure out what is going to work for you, it may take a couple of long runs, but you will figure it out. Good Luck Chica…really.

  6. Rhona @ Redwinerunner.co.uk December 15, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    Hi Aron,
    First time commenter here but I’ve been reading for well over a year. It’s great to see you going in to ultra territory! I’m yet to race beyond the marathon distance myself but I have supported at several ultras (including the legendary 95 mile West Highland Way Race – have read of my report here – http://bit.ly/iQHHQJ ) and will be racing my first ultra in March. The vast majority of my running friends are all ultramarathoners and I do a lot of my long runs with them and have learned my running trade from an ultra point of view, rather than a traditional athletes.
    The general consensus amongst my gang is that we walk up hills and inclines right from the start – the amount of energy expended by attempting to run the ups is obviously huge compared to the downs and when you’re saving yourself up for 50 miles you have to be aware of your energy output right from the start. A good thing for me is being aware of my heart rate – if it starts going a little wild then I know I need to take it down a gear for a few minutes. That course profile looks like you’ll get lots of walking breaks in the second half so you should be able to saving some juice for the last climb.
    Another thing which will take a bit of getting used to is frequent fuelling. I set an alarm on my garmin to go off every 30 minutes to remind me to eat – you need to eat constantly even though you don’t want to and it makes you want to hurl! Experiment with solid foods – after taking gels for hours, at some point your guts will collapse like will not believe! I like flapjacks, salty/cheesy biscuits (do you have mini cheddars in the US?), salty crisps, jelly beans, rice pudding, nutritional milkshakes and drinks like flat coke.
    I take tips from my ultra friends pretty much as gospel as they’re yet to give me a bad recommendation. The ultra world is so different from road racing – the people are amazing and you’ll find you make so many friends on the trails. People love to chat in races! Many runners subscribe to the notion that if you can’t have a laugh and a chat with your fellow runners then you’re going too hard :P
    Really looking forward to following your training for this!

    • Aron December 15, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      THANK YOU so much for this amazing comment. I will definitely be getting into the whole nutrition side next but love all these tips! Also the whole walk the hills thing really makes sense to me… heart rate too. Thanks again!

      • Alyssa December 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

        This comment above kind of makes me want to run an ultra… she makes ultra sound like a party!!!

  7. Beth December 15, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    Whoa, that course is insane! I’ve only done one ultra, but my strategy was basically to run easy on the flats and downhills and walk the uphills. I also took 30 seconds-2 minutes at each water stop (about every 6 miles) to make sure I was adequately fueled.

  8. Mark December 15, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    Aron, my first marathon I had a 9 minute negative split! I have not done that since. I remember starting very slow, and then knocking off even splits. The prob is finding that right pace in the beginning so you don’t lose too much time and burn too much gas!

  9. Susan - Nurse on the Run December 15, 2011 at 6:34 am #

    I am the QUEEN of the crash and burn. I get too nervous and worry that if I start slow I’ll die anyway so I might as well get some time under my belt. Perhaps not the best way to go. One of these days I’ll try a better plan.

    I certainly have no idea how to pace an ultra, although I’ve heard walking the hills is the way to go. But that’s all hearsay. I mainly want to hear what fuel you’ll be taking in…potato chips? Gummi bears?

    • Aron December 15, 2011 at 10:34 am #

      I am very excited for that part too and you know I will be writing alllll about it ;)

  10. Christie December 15, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    I would check out http://www.thefruitarian.com/ He is a machine and runs both marathons and ultra’s. What I really like about his race recaps is how in-depth they are. I bet you can get some good ideas and suggestions from his reports. :)

    That elevation towards the end is insane – Excited to follow your preparation towards this race.

    • Aron December 15, 2011 at 10:34 am #

      Thank you!!

  11. marlene December 15, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    It took me a long time to successfully neg-split a marathon, but I finally did it this year with both my tune up race in April and my BQ (!!) in May. I still felt pretty decent in both cases even at the end, so I KNOW it’s the best way to go… but of course it doesn’t always come easily.

    Good luck figuring out what kind of pacing plan is going to work for you. No advice from me, except that you may need to pack a pick and rope for that final climb. YOWZAS!

    • Aron December 15, 2011 at 10:34 am #

      Maybe I will get a piggy back from Chris ;) jk!

  12. kristen December 15, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I’ve never done and ultra but been around the scene long enough to know your absolutely right. You have to approach pacing differently for a marathon. Most runners (especially new ultra runners) do the walk/run strategy. Particularly walking uphill as the elevation changes are usually pretty epic. Plus from a nutrition standpoint your not just taking in gels and liquids. You’ll be eating solid foods. I imagine that changes alot as well.

    Excited to hear more about this journey of yours!!

  13. RunningLaur December 15, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    In trail ultras, I always walk/run based on terrain. For me, I don’t lose much time but I save a lot on energy with this – especially since I’ve gotten more comfortable with just letting go on downhills. It’s also been really important in my training and racing on trails that I set a timer (my garmin) to go off regularly (every 5 minutes if it’s hot and sunny up to every 8 minutes if it’s old and overcast). I’ve trained myself so that when I hear that beep I automatically drink water and I do a quick check on if I need to eat. If I don’t have this, I get distracted and won’t take in any food or fluids for an hour or more at a time.

    For non-trail ultras I’ve had good luck with walk/run based on time or distance. My first 50k was 3 loops run/1 loop walk until the last 20 laps or so when I just felt good and ran :)

    • Aron December 15, 2011 at 10:35 am #

      YES this totally makes sense to me especially on a course like this. THANK YOU! Love all the tips too, I will definitely be getting into the nutrition on here as well :)

  14. Audrey December 15, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    I cannot get away from the crash and burn when it comes to my marathon running (any advice on how to fix that? ) but I just ran a negative split for the first time in a 10K and ended up getting an unintentional PR! As for the ultra, I have NO CLUE on what to do my tennis partner from growing up just ran one and she survived (she also did the Lake Placid Ironman, so I knew she would survive). She’s roughly a low 3:40s marathoner and ran it in about 9 and a half hours, so I’m sure she had some sort of run/walk plan in there. She also mentioned that eating diligently was key!

  15. Laura December 15, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    I’ve run an ultra, but nowhere NEAR as long as 50 miles! I did a 6 Hour ultra, where you tried to run as many laps as you could before time was up. I covered 33 miles and was SO proud of myself!

    The best advice I can give is to make sure that you are fueling appropriately for the distance. I was so used to marathons and I used the same Gu plan (one Gu every hour or so), but soon after I passed the 50K mark, I almost passed out! I have never before realized the importance of fueling so much as I did then, when I coughed for a sec and my whole body doubled over because it didn’t have the strength to keep standing while coughing! I quickly chowed down on some candy and potatoes (fast sugar + slower burn carb) and made it through the rest of the race.

  16. Jess @ Blonde Ponytail December 15, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Totally thinking about you as I am reading Born to Run knowing you are going for your first ultra! This was a super helpful post–I’m excited to follow your ultra journey!

  17. Nelly December 15, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Wow, that elevation profile is insane! I’ve never ran an ultra, but just based on talking to friends who have done an ultra marathon before, one of the things they talked about was running the flats and downhills, then walking the hills. This plan might work well for you, since it would save your legs for the final ascent. I would definitely recommend walking the final hill climb, that last climb looks nuts!

    But doing a run/walk combo seems like a good idea to me, not sure what ratio of run/walking would be best though.

    I follow one ultramarathoner, he has done tons of ultras, so he might be a good reference to get in touch with.
    http://chrismcpeake.blogspot.com/

  18. Celia December 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    OMG THAT ELEVATION PROFILE!!! :O

    I have actually never negative split a race…. I have tried to start much much more conservatively and I have but mentally it just doesn’t work for me and I just feel like I can’t make it up.

    I am a big fan of even effort. That has given me all my PRs and I think the best way for me to race. I am also all too familiar with crash and burn. This usually doesn’t end well!

  19. Chas December 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I’ve run a few ultra and the strategy definitely changes based on the temperature and terrain.

    But I would definitely train to *eat and run*. You need to consume 200-300 cals per hour. At my first Comrades Marathon – 56 miles – the number one thing that the veterans told me to do was eat… Sage advice during 11hrs on the run!

    Good luck!!

  20. Alyssa December 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Holy crap, that elevation profile… I’m thinking you’ll want few walk breaks before you get to that point. ;P

  21. Rachel December 16, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    ahhh, the infamous Last Gasp, aka the final 3 mile climb! haha it really is a cruel way to end a race : ) about pacing, you might try something like 10 run, 2 walk, at least for the first half on the bike trail. That allows you to actually get into a bit of a rhythm before having to walk (essentially you take a break approx. every mile, which is exactly what i did). When you get onto the trails in the second half, my advice is to run according to the terrain. Take advantage of the downs and flats, and walk the hills. Sometimes this might mean walking for a while, other times you might run a couple miles straight. And i second the fueling thing, for a race this long you’ll want to be taking in a lot more from the start.

  22. great idea months ago! December 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    wow! your post is very inspiring. I am just becoming a runner and know that I am not mentally strong enough for more than 13.1 — at least not yet.

  23. Sabrina December 18, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Great Blog! I added it to our Hollywood Half Marathon blogger list: https://www.facebook.com/HollywoodHalf?sk=app_192229990808929

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