With a few 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons under your belt, you might start to wonder, “What’s next?” Sure, you can continue setting personal bests and crossing off well-known races, but there are few things as fulfilling as helping someone else achieve their goal. If you have a friend who thinks it’s high time they put a whole marathon’s worth of wear on their running shoes, they’ll probably turn to you, the seasoned runner, for advice.
Along with general tips and tricks to help with conditioning and mindset, pacing a newbie is crucial to helping them achieve success. After all, it was probably a running mentor who paced you through your first marathon. If you’re ready to pass the torch and help a friend achieve their race goals, these are a few tips to keep in mind.
Why Pacing Is the Best Gift to Give a Runner
There’s a reason people will often describe specific tasks as being a marathon, not a race. That’s because quality results take time, and although a marathon is technically a race, it requires a different approach than a 400-meter dash. Pacing mainly ensures that your runner uses energy efficiently while still staying on track to meet their goal. Besides a brand new pair of running shoes, there are few gifts as valuable as running with your friend to keep them on pace.
Everyone has a different goal and is at a different skill level, so your runner’s pace will be different than someone else’s. However, once you know the pace, such as an 8-minute mile, it’s your job to help ensure your runner maintains that pace throughout the race. Running based on feel alone is best left to professionals and experienced runners, however, many of them will still use some sort of pacing to help break their personal bests anyway. Your friend will be more likely to hit their goal with you by their side pacing them. Let’s take a look at how to find that pace.
Understand Your Runner
There’s a subtle art to pacing and it starts by understanding your runner, their talents and their goals. Before you start working with them, sit down and ask them about what they want to get out of the race. Do they have a specific time in mind and is it realistic? Would they be happy just to finish? Or, is their goal to run the entire way without walking? Everyone is different and their unique goal will impact what the pace should be.
Then, you need to know their current ability level. What’s the longest race they’ve ever done? What was their time for that one and do they expect to improve? Interviewing your friend to get a feel for their current abilities provides a basis to base their pace. If they want to set a new best, then you’ll want to increase their previous pace. If they just want to finish their first long race, then you may keep their pace about the same.
To help with expectations and ensure they feel accomplished after race day, set three different goals. One will be their primary goal, such as finishing by X minutes. The second goal could be running the entire race without walking. Then, the third goal can be crossing the finish line, knowing they went the distance. Set these expectations, and if they meet at least one goal, they’ll be happy.
Get to Know the Race
There are tons of factors that you won’t be able to control on race day. From the weather to the crowds and your runner’s nerves, race day can be unpredictable. However, the course will stay the same between now and then, so you should have an idea of what they’ll be up against.
Research the hills, winds and running field to better understand what they can expect and adjust training and pace accordingly. For example, you might learn that midway through, they’ll have to climb a steep hill, so it’s best they conserve as much energy as possible before then. With this information, you can eliminate any surprises that could disrupt your runner’s momentum.
Train Them and Yourself
There’s more to pacing than just timekeeping. Just as your runner has been lacing up their gym shoes to up their strength and improve their cardio, you should practice setting and keeping perfect pace. To practice, head out to a 400-meter track and try running at the set pace. On a track, you’ll be able to record the distance accurately, and a stopwatch can ensure you’ll keep a consistent pace. It might take a few laps on the straightaways, but it’s excellent practice to ensure you can keep pace come race day.
Find Their Ideal Encouragement Style
Running a long race is just as much mental as it is physical. Even if your runner has a ton left in the tank, their mind might be telling them they don’t. It’s your role to pep talk them through the entire race. Some people respond well to tough love, while others prefer more positive optimism.
Understanding your runner’s ideal encouragement style before the race is essential. You don’t want to bark orders that ruin their mood, but you also don’t want to say flowery things that fall flat for them. Talk to them to better understand their headspace and keep that in mind for race day.
It’s finally race day. Your runner has laced up their running shoes, stretched out and jogged a bit to warm up and shake off any nerves. As you probably know all too well, it’s easy to start off a race going too fast. Whether it’s anxiety or fear that we won’t hit our target time, zooming to the front of the pack might seem smart, but can often lead to slower results in the end. You and your runner came up with a target pace and race day plan for a reason; make sure that you both stick to it.
It helps to discuss this with them before the race as their beginner racer instincts are bound to kick in. Talk to them about the long game that matters the most and how the pace will keep them on track. This way, instead of feeling like they’re falling behind at the start, they’ll know that slow and steady hits their goal.
Finally, it’s crucial to have fun. Unless this is your first race on your path to becoming an elite coach, it’s important to keep things in perspective. If racing is a fun hobby for your runner, it should be treated as such. No matter what place they finish in, all that matters is that they showed up and gave it their all. Enjoy the experience of pacing your friend and run with a smile. When they reach their goal, you’ll share in their post-race joy and can look forward to the next one.
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