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The Globe and Mail

Why running too fast in the first mile can ruin your race

With race day about a month away, it's a good idea to get the feel for marathon pace. If you are running a flat marathon course, such as the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, you'll want to run at a consistent speed throughout, with the hopes of a strong finish over the final kilometres. (I know this is easier said than done)

Back in 1999, I ran my first marathon in Chicago. I thought I was prepared to run 2:45. My good friend and 2:13 marathoner, Bill Reifsnyder, warned me that if I went out even one second too fast over the opening mile that I risked ruining my whole race. I thought this was a little dramatic and didn't really listen to him. Well, to run a 2:45 marathon, each kilometre should take about three minutes and 55 seconds. How fast was my opening kilometre? 3:45! I thought nothing of it at the time because that pace felt so easy. Hey – there are 41 km left to hit my pace, right?

Over the next bit I slowed my speed a little and felt absolutely fine … until about the 34-km mark, when I felt my left knee buckle due to my iliotibial band tightening up. Two kilometres later, my right knee went. I started limping and then walking, feeling absolutely defeated. I'll never forget one spectator who yelled to me, "If you can walk, you can run!" That hurt my pride so I started jogging again only to scream in agony with the pain shooting towards my knee! Finally, I managed to conclude this debut marathon experience, but in three hours and 12 minutes, it was far off my 2:45 goal. Moral of the story: Know your pace and hit it right from the start.

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Dedicate one of your interval or tempo days every week to pace work. Incorporate marathon race pace for about 30 to 50 per cent of the total workout. While this may feel incredibly slow, it is important to teach your mind and body the patience that is required in the early part of a 42-km race. For example, if you are doing 1-km repeats, do the first and the last one at your goal marathon pace, with the middle repeats at your regular interval speed. When doing tempo runs, after your warm up, hit marathon pace for a few kilometres and then aim for a strong finish.

We know Aesop's tale of the tortoise and the hare. Take heed of this in your marathon. Smart and steady wins the personal-best times.

Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series

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