10 Mistakes That Are Sure To Mess Up Your Pace On Race Day

How To Run Properly

It’s November 2010 and I’m all-set to run my first marathon – the Soweto Marathon.

I’m all prepped up. I’ve trained hard, carbo-loaded and I’m ready to give it my best shot.

6am the gun goes off. I set out, and immediately I start to pass fellow-runners at a blistering pace. The weather is perfect – cool, slightly cloudy with no wind.

I cross the half-way point in 1 hour 45 minutes.

Then boom, almost like those weight-lifters who pull trucks with a rope around their waist, I start feeling heavy. At the 25 km mark I begin to slow down incredibly. At the 28 kilometer mark, I start walking. With much embarrassment – and very little choice – I find a piece of rock on the side of the road at the 31 kilometer mark and decide to sit.

For 5 – 10 minutes, I am reduced to a spectator as I watch other runners pass-by. Some do if effortlessly whilst others shuffle past. Some of the runners you raced past in those first 10 kilometers pass you with that “what on earth were you doing” look.

I eventually get up back on my feet and negotiate the longest 11 kilometers of my running life. I finally get to the finish in a time of 4 hours 37 minutes.

What a traumatizing first marathon it was!

The reality is that many first-time marathon runners experience this trauma. Many don’t finish. Some finish, but vow never to return. The crazy few, like myself, return after that “first-marathon-trauma” for more pain and agony.

It’s April 2015 as I write this post and I’ve just come back from the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon. Over the past six years, I’ve gone on to run many more marathons, ultra-marathons and 3 Comrades Marathons. I’ve made many more blunders on race days. Blunders that have often messed up my race pace.

I’ve learnt a lot from those blunders. As a result, in recent times, I’ve managed to run some consistently good times. More importantly, I’ve started enjoying my running more and yield the full benefits of running.

Below are my race times and splits from my last 3 races:

November 2014 Soweto Marathon:

Soweto Marathon Splits

March 2015 Om Die Dam 50km Ultra-marathon:

Om Die Dam

April 2015 Two Oceans Ultra-marathon:


You might be reading this post as a first time marathon runner and the nerves are killing you. You might be a seasoned runner who struggles to pace races correctly.

Whatever your situation, I want to share some mistakes you should avoid making if you want to pace your races effectively.

1. Neglecting to take a crap

With all the carbo-loading that takes place as you lead to race day and the nerves of course, taking a crap is inevitable.

The trick is to take that crap timeously!

The best time is to take it on the morning of your race – preferably before you leave home or the hotel for the race. Your last option should be standing in the long queues where hundreds of runners line up 5 – 10 minutes before the race to take that last dump.

Never start the race without that crap because you will feel uncomfortable in the race and stopping mid-race is a sure recipe to spoil your pace and race strategy.

2. Warming-up like a lunatic

Warming up for marathons should be done sparingly.

Pacing up and done like a pro 30 minutes before the race looks and feels good. But, it’s a waste of energy you are sure to need towards the end of your race.

Since you’ll be starting the race with an easy pace, a 3 – 5 minute full-body warm up is more than enough for you to avoid common injuries and get those muscles ready for action.

3. Pushing and rushing through the huge crowds at the start

Depending on how massive the race is, the start can be a frustrating part of your run.

In races like the Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades Marathon, where there are over 15 000 participants, you need to be incredibly patient.

Walking and shuffling for those first couple of minutes may seem like a life-time. At the back of your mind, you are likely to have this uncomfortable voice that says: “you are losing precious time”.

Don’t panic. Don’t get impatient. Avoid falling by watching out for cat-eyes. Be careful not to trip over other runners. If you feel that burning desire to run on the side-walk, do it with caution.

Whatever you do, just relax.

4. Starting fast

The adrenalin is your biggest enemy at the start of any marathon.

You are excited. The crowd is going bananas on the side as they cheer you on. You see others sprint past you and your body says: “you are strong and good to go, go for it”.

IGNORE all these false signals and start slow. If you training includes consistent speed-work, you’ll make this time up.

Let’s go back to 2 the above screen-shots of my 2014 Soweto Marathon and 2015 Om Die Dam Ultra-marathon and look at the statistics:

  • Soweto Marathon:
    • my overall category position from the 10 kilometer mark (1 857) to the finish (1 147) improved by 710 positions (38% improvement)
    • my category (Open Men) position from the 10 kilometer (946) mark to the finish (631) improved by 315 positions (33% improvement)
  • Om Die Dam:
    • my overall category position from the 10 kilometer mark (895) to the finish (566) improved by 329 positions (37% improvement)
    • my category (Open Men) position from the 10 kilometer (410) mark to the finish (265) improved by 145 positions (35% improvement)

The above numbers are: starting slow helps you finish strong.

Without being technical, run at approximately 10 seconds slower than your targeted race pace for your first 2 – 4 kilometers. From the 4 – 8 kilometer mark, increase your pace slightly. Ideally, you want to hit your race pace between the 8 – 10 kilometer mark.

Starting fast is often a sure way of messing up your race pace.

5. Ignoring your body signals

One of the greatest benefits of starting slow is that it allows you to listen to your body.

The body is an incredibly smart organ. It has what is referred to as the body-to-brain signals. This is where your body essentially adjusts itself to a pace you should run at on that particular day.

Whilst gadgets are awesome, they don’t take into account aspects such as the weather and how you feel on that particular day. The body, on the other hand, does this.

Race days are different. On some days you feel super whilst on others you might feel a little flat and fatigued.

When you start slow, those first 8kms will give you a good indication of how fast you need to push.

Don’t ignore signals from the body. Your body-to-brain functionality is smarter than any pacing gadgets you’ll ever get.

Learn to trust your body more.

6. Hydrating and supplementing only when you feel the need

One of the best secrets to hydrating and supplementing correctly is to do it before you feel the need to do it.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty before you start drinking water. Don’t wait until you are tired before you start taking your supplements.

Whilst we all have different body types, sweating and depletion of energy thresholds, our hydration strategies should not differ significantly.

Personally, I prefer to start drinking half to one sachet (100 mls) of water every 3 kilometers.  I take my energy supplements every 9 – 10 kilometers.

If you sweat a lot and lose a lot of fluids, take 1 – 2 sachets of water every 3kms. Regarding your gels, I would highly suggest you take them every 45 minutes or 9 – 10 kilometers.

DON’T try anything new on the day. Whatever you take on race day must be something you’ve used during your training and previous races.

7. Neglecting to do a body check at the half-way mark

Once you settled into a nice rhythym from about the 8 kilometer mark and you are hydrating and re-fuelling smartly, the next “check” should be the half-way mark.

Again, because of your body-to-brain communication, you will know if you are feeling good and strong. You’ll also know if you’ve pushed too hard.

Whatever you analysis – which lasts all of 2 to 5 minutes – you’ll know whether to push harder, maintain your pace or slow down.

Bare in mind that more than 85% of runners run the second half of any marathon slower. If you are feeling good and strong at the half-way mark, you are in an advantageous situation. In fact, most people don’t run slower, they run considerably slower in the second half.

Others encounter the infamous challenge of “hitting the wall”.

Neglect the body check at your own peril!

8. Racing past all the water-points after halfway mark

The theme of this topic has been “run conservatively and then improve in the latter stages” if you want to pace your run well.

Walking at water-points is an excellent way to conserve energy. I often walk every second water-point from the half-way mark. I start my walk at the start of the water point, have my sachet of water and energy drink and then start running at the end of the water point. This is not a casual walk in the park on a Sunday morning. It’s a brisk walk!

Again, much like the seconds you think you are losing when you walk at the start of the race, the few seconds ‘lost’ when walking each water-point or every second water point is priceless. In those last 2 – 5kms when you are one of the very few who is still able to run, you’ll remember the energy you saved at the water-points.

9. Competing with every Tom, Dick, Suzy and Lerato

In my first marathon, I remember chasing an ‘over-weight’ guy up an incline. I struggled to keep up with him.

In many marathons that followed, I was often fascinated and intrigued by some of the runners that would pass me. In my head, they just did not fit the profile of a runner that was capable of passing me.

I’ve since learnt to ignore ‘over-weight’ and ‘too-old’ to pass me runners. In fact, I just admire their guts and hard work. Clearly, they work hard at training.

In fact, at the Two Oceans I ran just this past weekend, we went up a 7 kilometer incline that started at the 23 kilometer mark. At about the 28 kilometer mark, with 2 kilometers to go to the top, a 60 year old runner EFFORTLESSLY ran past me. Because I consistently do hills training, I was making my way up that hill confidently and was one of the very few runners who was running at that point.

And then from no where, this 60-year old breezes past me. Can you imagine that potential feeling of shock and temptation to increase my pace and match the old man?

But, I’ve learnt my lesson from previous races. If you want to run a well-paced and strong race, never compete with anyone. You don’t know their training. You know bugger-all about their skill, talents and supplements.

Let them pass you. Congratulate them if you can with a simple: “you looking good, keep it up!”.

10. Expecting a flame-less race

There’s a reason why more than 85% of society will never run a marathon.

There’s a reason why some start many a race and never finish.

There’s a reason why some run their first marathon, complete it and never return for their second.

Whilst running and completing a marathon gives you a great feeling of achievement, it also brings a great deal of flames.

Be it cramps, hitting the wall, collapsing, nausea, pain in those legs and feet, dizziness or just plain old fatigue – expect to experience some sought of challenge in every marathon you run.

After all, that’s what makes the race. Overcoming those challenges makes the post-mortem of the race that much more enjoyable.

It helps a great deal to expect challenges. Expecting to run an incident-free marathon is one of the many reasons many athletes mess up their race pace.  When (not if) you come across those rough patches in your race, don’t panic. Most people running are probably going through the same, if not worse.

Stay focused, slow down a bit or brisk-walk through those patches. The body often recovers ‘miraculously’ from those rough patches and you are good to go again.


Running a marathon and completing it successfully is no child’s play.

The added pressure of pacing your marathon makes it even trickier. With the above tips, you might not run all your races according to your targeted pace but you’ll definitely run most of your races well.

In closing, I would like to say that if you are a novice, just concentrate on finishing the race. Forget about pacing yourself.

In addition, most races have a pacer. This is an experienced runner who will lead a group of runners so that they finish within a targeted time. If you continuously struggle to pace yourself, it might be worth your while to start considering running in a group that has a pacer.

A word of caution though: if a group led by a pacer passes you mid-way through the race, do not join them. The fact that they are passing you means they are stronger than you. The exception though would be if they pass you and there’s less than 6 kilometers to go. You can join them and grit out those last few kilometers.

Pacing yourself sets a target for you. But, I always say never chase your target at the expense of enjoying the race.

Lastly, always remember, when you’ve missed your pace, you are still a winner despite ‘failing’ on that day. Running a marathon is something special, considering we live in a society where most can hardly get to the gym once a week.

Never lose that perspective.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the post and found much value in.

God Bless!

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