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Even paces for marathons seem to be the norm, but seem to require very intense efforts near the finish. For example Greg McMillan recommends a fast finish long run to be done with an additional increased effort over the last few miles as a test to see if it is possible or more likely to meet the goal marathon pace.

As someone who is trying to maximize their time without worrying about sprinting past others at the end then why not run at a constant effort where your pace will drop over time instead of your effort increasing over time?

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While I don’t have a specific answer for marathon running, I can relate it to a somewhat similar requirement. I feel the methodology utilized would share some of the same characteristics.

As a competitive rower, I am faced with racing long distances in a “Head” style race. The typical distance is 3.2 miles (~5000 meters). Granted, this is not a marathon distance, but, the energy requirements and strategy are similar in my opinion.

Our races are typically broken down into three separate phases each with its own strategy and energy requirements: Start, Body, and Sprint. The goal is to try to provide a consistent effort over the three separate phases. Obviously, energy requirements would need to be managed to handle the demand of the distance.

In rowing, there is a term called “fly and die”. This is a common strategy in which a boat starts a race at a very high stroke rate (defined as “strokes per minute”) and tries to maintain it throughout the race. The typical result is the boat “dies” (thus, the “fly and die”). A more widely accepted methodology is to start the race at a higher than normal race pace, but, then, after a predetermined (short) distance, drop the stroke rate to a more manageable, relatively uncomfortable rate that can be maintained throughout the “Body” of the race. This strategy would correspond to what you see as an “even pace”. In the last phase, the “Sprint”, the rate is again increased for the final predetermined sprint length. Obviously, the distance strategy is going to be determined by the level of fitness of the boat crew, and any in-race adjustments. And, setting an early manageable rate allows for the opportunity to sprint at the end of the race. I would expect the same thing to be true for a marathon runner.

In either sport, managing the energy requirements seems to be the key goal.

  • Thanks for the answer Rrirower. Greg McMillian wrote about a similar strategy for running as what you described here. Since a marathon distance takes so long to cover I imagine only the fastest of us can use this method, but a constant pace seems to be pretty much the same thing except at a lower effort level. – Jason Apr 23 '16 at 22:15
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General Answer

If you want to economize I'd say that you'd be best at keeping not pace, but the same effort all along. If someone states that you should be running faster at the end, the question would be: to what aim?

In my experience the key is to do proper training to get familiar with which is your own real long slow distance (LSD) pace. (This also applies for ultras.) It's the mind frame of not trying to push harder than you can, and simply setting to what you already know you can get to with your training. If you can or should sprint at the end of a race seems optional, but mostly arbitrary. In any case, a rule of thumb for most experienced runners is: don't overtrain.


Personal Experience

I ran the Buenos Aires Marathon a long time ago, in 2004, and I did not try to speed up at any time. (Noted, I did an awful time, but still) It was my first marathon and I felt perfectly at the end. I just ran as slow as I could and leaving it flow as the time passed. I did my first half of the race in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. After that I just kept going completing the next half in two hours. So, yes, I did run slightly faster at the end but without no rule imposing that on me, it just came because I felt well to run faster at the end, but I wouldn't have done so if I was tired.

Just to support my argument let me wrap it up a bit with my own conclusions.

Effort is more easily measured by your own bodily sensation, more I'd say than looking at your pace in a gps watch that checks your pace. Depending on your age perhaps a HRM is an intermediate device that may be mandatory for you, and is closer to "natural perception". I'm more for natural perception, but each person has their own favorite ways of measuring state of health and mind during training/race. You can pick your own tailored way after reviewing many different strategies. No need to get into the obligation of doing one certain way because someone just said so. Trail and error.


Some references

Also, you may find useful to see other references, for other arguments, some perhaps different to my own. A simple online article states that you shouldn't run beyond your Brain-Body potential / Listen to your body, a good reference recommended by Peter Larson.

On yet another note, I'd suggest that you look for the classic opinions on the matter. I'm reading the bibliographic material from James Fixx's book The complete book of running. He points out that one of the first to intoduce and tackle the LSD subject was Joe Henderson with the 1969 book Long Slow Distance: The Humane Way to Train.

  • Thanks for the answer Nilon. I didnt mean to imply faster when I said more effort at the end. Im not really considering the final sprint to be a part of an effort that is really the best someone can do. Actually the final sprint makes me think that everything wasnt left out on the course. :) – Jason Apr 23 '16 at 22:18

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