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How To Create a Pacing Strategy for the New York City Marathon

With the training portion of preparing for the ING New York City Marathons nearly in the bag, it’s time to consider another important step in your preparation: a pacing strategy for race day. Whether your goal is to BQ or to just finish on the same day you start, you need a pacing plan to keep you consistent on race day.

Before picking an arbitrary time that sounds good to you (“Didn’t that random coworker run a 4-hour marathon once? Yeah, I’ll try that…”), take a few minutes to evaluate how your training went.

  • Did you follow your training schedule to the best of your ability?
  • If you followed specific training paces, were you able to consistently hit them in workouts?
  • Did you get in an adequate number of long runs throughout the season?
  • Did you incorporate cross training and a strength program?

Based on your answers to these questions, set realistic goals for how conservative or aggressive your race plan is, particularly in the early miles. Here’s a simple plan that utilizes a +/- 10-second pacing window that I recommend everyone implement regardless of your individual goals.

For example, if your goal is to run a 4-hour marathon (9:09 pace/mile), here’s an approach you can use:

Miles 1-10: Add 10 seconds to your goal pace, which is a pace of 9:19 (9:09-9:29).

This will prevent you from making “Rookie Mistake No. 1”: going out too fast. Consider these miles as your nice, long warm-up. The goal is to assess how your body, specifically your legs, are feeling on this particular day. Mile 10 of the NYC Marathon course is in South Williamsburg (Brooklyn) just after you turn onto Bedford Ave, so that’s a good point to check in on how you’re feeling and adjust your pace accordingly.

Miles 11-20: Run at your goal pace of 9:09 (8:59-9:19).

This is where the race really begins! The focus in this section of the course is consistent pacing. Don’t forget that these miles contain two bridges (the Pulaski & the Queensboro), but you should also gain some confidence running amidst the cheering crowds on First Ave. Mile 20 is just over the Willis Ave Bridge in the Bronx, so use that landmark as a check-in point.

Miles 21-26.2: Goal pace or faster.

This is where you should run by feel; no need to hold back now! It’s hard to believe — but these final miles to the finish should be slightly faster than your marathon goal pace — IF you were smart during your warm-up, paced consistently through part 2, and were diligent in your nutrition throughout. Don’t forget about the gradual hill down Fifth Ave just before you enter Central Park. Lots of people forget about this one – but it’s one of the most difficult on the course, both because of its location around Mile 23 and because of how gradual the incline is.

The pacing window allows for all the uphills and downhills we encounter in NYC. Remember, it’s about effort, NOT pace — and it’s ALL about getting to that finish line in Central Park!

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