Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who is best at even pacing in a marathon?

Even pacing has been found to correlate with faster marathon finishing times and is a desired race strategy. This was something I really tried to nail in my last marathon and did....but only for the first 22 miles.

Which runners do the best job of maintaining even pacing and minimizing drop off in the last 10K?

Researchers from the University of Dayton (March et al, 2011) compiled data from 319 experienced runners in the Last Chance for Boston Marathon, a flat course with cool temperatures. After examining the pacing differential of the first 20.2 miles compared to the last 6.0 miles,  they concluded that women do a better job of pacing than men. Researchers noted, “men have a more distinctive drop in velocity over the last 10 km than women.” (p. 389). Additionally, researchers found more consistent pacing with older runners and faster runners, owing perhaps to more marathon experience.

The authors suggest a potential contributor to the gender difference in pacing is that women tend to “oxidize more fast and less carbohydrate, thus sparing glycogen” (p. 391) and have more type I slow-twitch fibers.

This study was not able to control for variables such as experience, training or nutrition. However, it does perhaps suggest that if you are a young male runner, you may have a tendency to push a bit too hard in those first 20 miles!

March, D. S., Vanderburgh, P.M.; Titlebaum, P. J; Hoops, M. L. (2011) Age, Sex, and Finish Time as Determinants of Pacing in the Marathon. Journal of strength and conditioning, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp. 386 – 391.

(Adapted from my Google+ entry for Ben Greenfield Fitness


  1. Women for the win!!! And I find this research SO interesting. I've only run one marathon and I did the typical newbie mistake of starting out too fast and thereby finishing too slow:) Consistency has never been my strong suit...

  2. Hey there, I am doing a post there is a link back to your slaying dragons post. I will take down the reference if you prefer.

  3. Very interesting research. Thanks for sharing this. I've come to the same conclusion through anecdotal evidence that men push the pace for the first 20 miles. I know that I have more slow twitch than fast twitch (because I suspect that I have ZERO fast twitch muscles). My steady pace as an older runner is not due to marathon experience but because there is very little difference between my marathon pace and my 5K pace. I only have the one speed.