Slow Down!

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

stopwatch.jpgIf you could determine the one bit of running advice dispensed and received more often than any other, it would probably be “Go out slow.”

It would also be the one bit of running advice most frequently ignored.

Here at the most popular article of all-time is 100 Beginner Running Tips, at least five of which have to do with slowing down.

When it comes to other running advice, we usually get the picture after one bad experience. We remember the BodyGlide. We don’t wear brand-new running shoes for our first marathon. We don’t eat fettucini alfredo before a race.
But it seems as though everyone—no matter their experience level—has recurring bouts of going out too fast and then struggling at the end. Mathematically it doesn’t matter if you run the first half of a 10k in 20 minutes and the second half in 25 minutes, or vice versa, but I guarantee it will feel a lot different.

It’s reasonably well-established that for distances greater than 5k, you will average a better speed over the course of a race if you start more slowly than your goal pace, and gradually build up to it. The problem is our bodies naturally want to go faster while we feel fresh and slower when we feel tired. It takes some mental discipline to overrule our physical tendencies. We don’t always manage it.

I took a look at the results of a race with which I’m familiar—the California International Marathon. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the first and second halves of the Boston Marathon or the New York Marathon, both of which are much more challenging in the second half. But the California International Marathon touts its reputation from Runner’s World as “a fast, if not the fastest, course in the country.”

The reason for this is because the first half of the marathon has gently rolling hills, while the second half is almost entirely flat or downhill. Yet an examination of last year’s results show that of the top 25 finishers, only 3 ran the second half faster than the first (“negative splits”). And one of those was only one second faster.

If the top runners in a race built for negative splits can’t fight the need for speed, what chance do the rest of us have?

Only one: use your memory. Resist the urge to bask in how great you feel at the start of a race and how effortless it all is. Instead, remember your last gasping, stumbling finish. Once you experience the thrill of passing mobs of burnt-out bonkers in the latter miles, you won’t want to go back.

About Mike Antonucci

I ran 6-minute miles when I was in the military, then tapered for 20 years. Two-time marathoner (3:43 PR), my next goal is to stay healthy enough to run another. There are literally thousands of people handing out running advice and serious tips. I prefer to focus on the humorous or odd facets of our shared obsession. Let's face it, running is funny.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on April 25th at 6:12 am

    Training your body at the pace you want to run will also help keep you from going out too fast if you can build a strong enough neuromuscular tendency so that you naturally fall into a correct pace. Still, easier said than done, but it does ease things a little.

  2. Mark Iocchelli on April 25th at 1:13 pm

    I owe my last two marathon PRs to starting slow and building up to a well-practiced pace (as Blaine suggested above).

    In distance running, patience is not just A virtue, I’d say it’s THE virtue. 🙂

  3. Jeanne on April 25th at 2:03 pm

    my last 5 miler went fastest, faster, fast, slow, walk.

    So you’re saying that’s not the best technique, is what i’m hearing.

  4. Ryan Kistner on August 1st at 10:44 am

    My buddy John did a little research about World Record times at various distances and the rate at which they slow down as the distance increases.

  5. RunnerDude on May 17th at 7:01 pm

    Great tips! Thanks!!!

    RunnerDudes last blog post..25 Racing Tips for Runners

  6. Justin on August 20th at 6:02 pm

    i recently discovered this..all my runs thus far have felt better, and my time is faster too

  7. jill on January 25th at 9:39 am

    I learned my lesson of not going out to fast the hard way. Did two marathons this way and suffered the last 6 miles. Then, in my 3rd marathon, I went out slower and actually finished the last 6 miles only 10 seconds per mile slower than the beginning 6. Finished with my best time and over 18 minutes faster.

    Definitely, pace yourself, especially at the beginning
    .-= jill´s last blog ..Improve your running with intervals =-.

  8. Runners Passion on July 2nd at 6:54 am

    This is something I try to work on in some of my training runs. I force myself to run the first few miles slower allowing myself to gradually pick up the pace through my runs. I also do progression runs where I will run the first 6 or 7 miles slow and pick it up by half a minute per mile or so the last 3 miles of the run.

    I think for me personally the reason it is tough to slow myself down at the beginning of races is because I’m afraid I won’t be able to pick it up the second half when I need to. Therefore I train in practice to run this way to give me confidence that I can do it in races.
    .-= Runners Passion´s last blog ..50 Marathons 50 States =-.

  9. TAS Flowrance on September 4th at 7:08 pm

    I run every day and I guess that gives me a great activity!