324I’m going to start this post out with a little disclaimer. I do not know any of the women who finished in the top ten at Rock N Roll Marathon, so I don’t know what was going on during their race or if there were other factors that caused their slow down other than starting out too fast. I’m using this race as an example because it felt like a larger number of runners than normal started out too fast and seemed to be dying out in the later miles of the race. This may or may not be the case – this is just how it appeared.


I believe that the best way to execute a marathon is to start slow, painfully slow, and to finish fast. I believe that your race time will be faster in the end {baring other issues} if you use this method rather than going out too fast and hitting what feels like a wall later in the marathon. The wall doesn’t have to happen. {Refer back to my top tips on how NOT to hit the wall in a marathon} I often suggest starting at a reasonable pace in order to avoid some of the pain felt in marathons.

Starting out too fast and slow and feeling like crap at the end isn’t fun to me. I’ve found that starting out a bit slower working up a bit faster and feeling great at the end of a marathon even if the finish time on the clock ends up being the same – is a much more pleasant way to run a marathon. I’d pick a happy feel good race over a race where I wanted to quit running entirely any day over feeling like crap.

YES I do believe that there are a select few who can run an even paced race. I think there are others who will argue they can run an even paces race – but who really would run faster if they used this method. I’m not a genius. I didn’t come up with this method. It’s science. I’m not a doctor or a scientist so I am not going to give you the science behind it, but a quick google search will lead you to some interesting articles on it {hint – if you want real science stay away from blogs and find actual articles that lay out the science}.

After feeling that I was mostly passing people in the last ten miles of Vegas I decided to go back and look at the top ten women and what pace they started out at and what pace they ended up with.


Here are my splits for the race:

  • Mile 1: 7:41
  • Mile 2: 7:34
  • Mile 3: 7:43
  • Mile 4: 7:46
  • Mile 5: 7:36
  • Mile 6: 8:12 {included port-o-potty stop}
  • Mile 7: 7:26
  • Mile 8: 7:08
  • Mile 9: 7:03
  • Mile 10: 8:02 {Freemont experience – lost signal – long mile}
  • Mile 11: 8:06 {included port-o-potty stop}
  • Mile 12: 7:36
  • Mile 13: 7:39
  • Mile 14: 7:39
  • Mile 15: 7:15
  • Mile 16: 7:41
  • Mile 17: 7:28
  • Mile 18: 7:06
  • Mile 19: 7:14
  • Mile 20: 7:06
  • Mile 21: 7:29
  • Mile 22: 7:37
  • Mile 23: 8:21 {Freemont experience – lost signal – long mile}
  • Mile 24: 7:47
  • Mile 25: 7:36
  • Mile 26: 7:32
  • Finish: 6:50 avg for .10 {my Timex was short of the 26.2 because I lost signal both times we went through the Freemont Street Experience – this means that my laps for each mile didn’t exactly match up to the mile markers on course}

My overall average got faster as the race went on.

Here are the finish times of the top 10 women.

Vegas Neg Split 4

My 5K split was 24:01 – slower than all of the females who finished in the top ten who came in AFTER me.

Vegas Neg Split 1

Vegas Neg Split 2

Vegas Neg Split 3

Vegas Neg Split 5

Vegas Neg Split 6

If you dive even further in to the times you will see that the girl whose time was seconds faster than my overall chip time – started out at drastically faster pace than she finished. My guess is that those last miles were more painful than they had to be. If she had started slower I’m betting her finish time wouldn’t have just been seconds ahead of me – she probably would have finished minutes ahead of me.

Vegas Neg Split 7

This is why I often say – your marathon time is not always reflective of your fitness level. The marathon isn’t just about fitness – it’s about heart, pain tolerance and there is certainly strategy to it. Running a successful marathon isn’t just about going out there and running. You can *fake it* in races of a shorter distance but the marathon doesn’t lie – you have to be smart about how you run.


Hope this post helps re-think your marathon and racing strategy if you don’t believe in starting slow. The marathon is hard enough as it is, there is no need in my eyes to suffer more than you have to! I’m certainly NOT a marathon expert but I have learned a thing or two over the course of ten years and twenty-six marathons. My goal in this post is to provoke some pacing thoughts and to hopefully help others have a positive marathon experience!


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  1. I couldn’t agree more! I find that when I start slower, i don’t hit that wall sensation. I also know I am “slow to warm” and whenever I start too fast I feel more spastic/injury prone, etc.

  2. Agreed! I do SO much better when I start out slow…as hard as that is! I have also planned on starting slow a couple of times and nixed that plan in the beginning of the race when I felt so good and regretted it! I think in the back of my mind I just hope that one time that pace will stick and I will be able to hold it…but I have come to see that I do better EVERY time I start out slow no matter what my training was. In one of my recent marathons I was the best prepared I have ever been and started out WAY too fast…I had miles in the very low 7’s that had no business being there and I totally hit the wall hard at mile 21!
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  3. Your post on running a smart marathon is what caused me to run a negative split marathon and finished under 4 hours (which was my goal). I never hit the wall and I felt amazing in the last 10k. My recap is on my blog if you’d like to read it (Indianapolis Monumental). Thanks for continuing to inspire me! You ran such a great race! Enjoy that top 5!
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  4. LOVE this post. I have the St. Jude Memphis Marathon coming up, and most all of my long runs have been executed with this start slow/finish faster approach. Plan on doing the exact same thing on race day, and it’s so comforting to know that this works for other people! Also, congrats on the top 10 finish!!!

  5. I’ve never done it and don’t think I could. I do tend to even split, but your numbers don’t lie. Jody had 5 full minutes on you with 6 miles left to go, so I’d like to see her Garmin. That was a rough last 10k for her no doubt. Good job again! So impressive.

  6. Such an interesting post – and a strategy that I am interesting in trying to execute. I’ve always tried to maintain a desired pace for the entire 26 miles — which has caused me to hit the wall every single marathon around mile 22. Thanks for sharing this :) Would LOVE to be able to fly to the finish instead of hobble!

  7. I’ll be running my 2nd marathon in 2 weeks. My goal for my 1st marathon was just to finish. Do you recommend starting out 10-15 seconds slower than marathon pace for the first 10k? And since this is only my 2nd marathon – should goal marathon pace feel easy in training, or slightly difficult? I’ve been doing fast finish long runs (with 6-8 miles at goal marathon pace towards end of runs). I hope my goal marathon pace is realistic.

    • I think it all depends. I find I have a very hard time running goal marathon pace – whatever that may be – in training….I can run faster or slower. I also am not a huge fan of a ton of marathon pace runs, but that’s a whole different story. I think you need to start out drastically slower than 10 – 15 seconds. I’ve started up to a minute slower. The fact that you are questioning whether your goal pace is realistic leads me to believe that you should start even slower than you want to. If your goal pace isn’t realistic and you are starting 15 seconds slower than that – that may be the average pace that is realistic for you and thus you aren’t starting slow enough. Make sense? You can make up time in the middle and at the end if you start out conservative. The marathon doesn’t begin till after the half way mark in my eyes :) Hope that helps and good luck!!

      • It does make sense – thank you! I’m going to take a hard look again at my goal pace. And I will start out even slower like you suggested.

        Thanks again Dorothy!
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        • Just think of the first couple of miles as a warm up. Most people panic that there are off pace and then speed up too quickly – only to regret it later. There is something to be said for passing people towards the end – it gives you some serious motivation to push yourself through another level of pain :) Let me know how it goes!!

  8. Wow amazing job!! I hope to be as fast as you one of these days :)

  9. Congratulations on a smartly-paced race! I am so impressed that you could pull out a sub-3:20 so soon after your fast marathon at MCM; I doubt I would have had the ability to finish strong like that so soon after a fast effort a few weeks prior.

    I disagree with the idea that there is a right way to race a marathon — for first-timers and beginners, I think your advice is spot on, but for more experienced runners, I think this type of race strategy/outlook can be quite limiting. I would say, to a marathoner who has run a few already and is really looking to get faster and hit a big goal — don’t be afraid of the pain, don’t be afraid of your big goals, and don’t be afraid of taking risks!! I agree that feeling like crap at the end isn’t fun to me, but some of my best marathons have been those where I took risks, started out fast, and felt kinda crappy at the end — how do you ever figure out your limits, otherwise? I think if I finished a marathon feeling really strong and good, I’d be left wondering if I should have given more, and that’s never the way I want to feel after a big goal race!

    As for the women who you’re comparing yourself to — I say good for them with their slower second halves! I bet many of them were probably racing pretty close to their current ability and trying to hit some new, big PRs, whereas for this race, you were not. Most likely, many of these women took some risks, went for it, and learned something about themselves in the process. Not every race is about finishing strong and feeling good; some are about taking HUGE gambles, accepting the possibility of failure, and seeing if your courage lands you somewhere special. That’s what dreaming big and running long are about, for me at least!
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  10. This was a really interesting read. It shows just how much starting out at the right pace really does make a difference to your marathon time! I’ll definitely be slowing down in the first few miles at London in April. Thanks. :-)
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  11. That is the strategy that I use! I have been most successful at races where I raced like this. Thanks for sharing your thought provoking article!

  12. Thanks for sharing valuable information. I read your earlier blog posts on starting slow just a week before my PR marathon at Potomac River Run Carderock MD. I got a 14 minute PR with a 4:14 finish and a negative split too. I kept telling myself repeatedly to start slow and it was hard to hold that planned pace in the 1st half. Hope to try that again in my next race in March ’14.
    Good luck with all your races, Truly inspirational. Hari S – South Riding

  13. Congrats on your top 10 finish! It looks like a lot of your competition wasn’t toeing the line at the start. The chick that finished close to your time crossed the start 86 seconds after the gun. #9 and 10 were also over a minute after the gun. Worse for #7…she was somehow a whopping 3:46 behind the gun. They all probably had to run harder at the start to pass the masses. Maybe the key to even pacing/negative splits is being at the front!. Or maybe your competitors took their portapotty stops in the final miles resulting in slower second halves for them. All you can really know for sure is your own race, and it sounds like you have your strategy figured out.
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    • Very good point Amanda! Maybe they did get caught up and maybe they did work harder. Next time I come up with another way/possibly better to illustrate how starting slow can work to help your time be faster than expected! Happy Holidays ~ Dorothy

  14. I completely agree with your strategy. I try to use my first few miles as my warm up, but sometimes get caught up with the race excitement and go out too fast. Congrats on being such a little speedster and placing in the top 10. You Rock!!
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    • Thanks Haley – I don’t think I’m a speedster but it was nice feeling good at the end of this race rather than dead! Race excitement is hard – I’ve found when I listen to really SLOW paced music in the first miles it helps to slow me down and focus on being patient! Hope you had a nice holiday ~ Dorothy

  15. There were kinder ways to make your point. This post is in poor taste and demonstrates a lack of sportsmanship.
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    • I agree.

      How would you feel if a stranger picked apart your marathon stats on their blog?

      While I realize your initial intent was to capitalize on a teachable moment, it quickly turned into a “Look how much better I did than they!” rant.

      • Jennifer – I’m sorry that my post came across as a rant or that you felt I was in any way saying that I did better than they did. I was only trying to write a post that helped others see how it is possible to avoid the wall. Thank you for your opinion – different views are always welcomed and again I’m sorry that my post was written in a way that you took it as anything other than trying to help other runners. Hope you had a nice holiday yesterday! DTB

    • I’m sorry you felt this post showed a lack of sportsmanship. I think it was taken differently than I intended it by some. I always welcome different views and feedback so thank you for taking the time to comment. Best ~ Dorothy

    • I don’t find this post to be in poor taste or lacking in sportsmanship. Any coach, even down to the high school level, in any sport will pick apart and study the competitions results/performance. You use that information to help better your own performance. Training is part of running and racing, but there’s also a strategy to race day performance. And strategy can often be influenced by who you are racing against/with. I think the post was written in a “coaching tone” not a gloating/self promoting tone.
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    • Gracie – have you ever considered that snarking on people and passing judgement all the time doesn’t match up with the fact that you say you are a Christian and so busy with church on your blog? Maybe you should give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes instead of always looking for the bad in people…..

  16. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I believe in the concept if a negative split and have managed to do it in all my races this year – but despite this, I mentally struggle with the execution while I’m in the moment. I’m going for my first BQ (did I say that out loud? Eek!) next weekend and I keep repeating to myself to bank energy, not time. I’m also going to read this over and over for the next week!!

    • I’m glad this post was helpful for you!! Let me know how you do in the race and GOOD LUCK on your BQ!!! I like the idea of banking energy :) never thought of it that way before!

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Dorothy – update: Ran 3:31:23, which is an 8 minute PR and my first BQ :) Hopefully that is enough to get me to Boston in 2015 and if not, I may just cry because I don’t think that I could have run any faster. And I did start flow and finish “fast” – 3 min negative split for the two halves. Although I was still starting to cramp and just gutted at the end. Next time I’ll work on evening that out maybe by a minute or so.

  17. In a race this size, any number of things could have factored into someone slowing down… including not being in one of the first corrals, half marathon runners running on the marathon side of the course (which slowed me down), having to weave in and out of walkers and slower runners, stomach issues, etc. All very frustrating but also part of racing. Most runners write race reports to document the trials, errors, and successes of runing a race but we normally keep to what “we” did, not what other runners may or may not have done that enabled us to pass them in the end.

    Sorry, but I think there were several ways you could have proven your point better without dissecting and calling out equally talented runners and the races they ran. Even if you had left the other runners names off; that would have been better than what you published here. You ran a fabulous race and I would have loved to have read a real race report based on your experience; not why you are better runner that the rest of the top 10 females.

    Most runners are very supportive of each other. Yes, we all want to do our best but this was one of the most arrogant race related posts I have ever read. You should have just titled this post “Why I am a Better Runner Than…”. Unless you had a way to link to the other runners race reports, so they could explain their race strategies and porta pottie stops (like you did), you should have left their names off and worried about yourself and the race you ran. Your great race results said enough without the rest of your speculation and assumptions.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and I’m truly sorry that this post came across that way to you. My intent in this post was not to talk about myself but to use my results and the results of others as an example of how you can finish a marathon feeling strong if you start slower. You are correct that I probably should have not included the peoples names so as not to offend anyone – I just assumed since anyone could find this information on the internet that it did not matter. I certainly do not feel that I was being arrogant – if you knew me in real life you would know that I am so far from that – that I would never write anything mean spirited – I write with the intention of helping others. I am very supportive and encourage people of all paces – I was simply analyzing data as many runners do. Again, thank you for your thoughts and I am very sorry that to some of you reading this – this post came across as anything other than helpful. Hope you had a great holiday ~ Best ~ Dorothy

  18. Hey Dorothy!

    I just wanted to let you know that I found this post very helpful. I have my first marathon at the end of December. My training has been mediocre, so I’m trying to be realistic about my goals. Anyways, I ran my second half last week to gage where I was at with my training. And of course I did just what you described in this post. I got sucked out with the crowd and started way to fast. Although in the end I was okay with my time, I felt terrible the rest of the day. It also made me rethink my goal marathon pace. All this to say, I found this post very helpful, and I’m going to try my best to focus on these tips during my marathon. Thanks!!!

  19. I would agree, the goal is to start slow and finish fast, the science of negative splits, proven. I don’t really want to get into the things that were said well or not in this post, I understand your point, I also understand some of the comments about the approach. Regardless, I read this article today and really thought it hit home for the reasons we run (and I know there are so many awesome ones for you as well!) and for the times that our plans go wrong, even for the best of non-elite runners!


    I will never be a “fast” marathoner due to medical conditions, but I do wish to be smarter, yet in the meantime I am thankful and hope to always be thankful that I can run and enjoy the run.
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  20. Awesome job Dorothy! Congrats on the top ten finish!! Your plan worked well!!
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