How a Marathon Pace Should Feel (Guide to Marathon Pace)

Marathon running is a popular and challenging endurance sport that requires a combination of physical and mental strength. One of the most critical aspects of marathon running is the pace. Finding the right pace can mean the difference between achieving a personal best time and struggling to finish the race. But how should marathon pace feel? 

In general, a marathon pace should challenging but sustainable. In the early stages, you should be able to converse with other runners without gasping for breath, and your breathing should be deep and regular. As you progress, you may have labored breathing but should still be able to move forward.

In this blog post, we will provide guidance on how marathon pace should feel and offer strategies for maintaining it throughout the race. Understanding the physiological and mental demands of marathon running, using perceived effort to determine pace, and monitoring pace during the race are all critical components of successful marathon pacing. By following these guidelines, runners can optimize their performance and achieve their goals.


  • The right marathon pace should feel challenging but sustainable.
  • During a marathon, perceived exertion will feel different at various stages of the race.
  • Finding the right pace is crucial for marathon success.
  • The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is an essential tool in determining marathon pace.
  • Adjusting pace as needed during the race can help prevent burnout, muscle fatigue, and other physical and mental challenges.

Understanding Marathon Pace

To understand marathon pace, we must first define what it is. Marathon pace is the speed at which a runner completes the 26.2-mile race, usually measured in minutes per mile or kilometers per hour. It varies from person to person depending on their fitness level, age, and experience with the race.

A guy running a marathon

Marathon running is a physically and mentally demanding sport that requires endurance, strength, and perseverance. It involves running for several hours without rest, which places significant stress on the body’s muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system. To complete the race, runners must prepare their bodies through training and ensure that they have the mental stamina to push through fatigue and discomfort.

Finding the right pace is crucial for marathon runners, as it can impact their ability to complete the race and achieve their goals. Running too fast can lead to burnout, muscle fatigue, and other physical and mental challenges while running too slowly can result in frustration, missed goals, and not finishing the race.

It is essential to find the right pace for individual goals, which may vary from runner to runner. Some runners may aim to finish the race within a specific time frame, while others may aim to complete the race without injury or simply to finish. 

Whatever the goal may be, finding the right pace to achieve it is critical to marathon success. This may involve taking into account factors such as age, fitness level, and race experience, as well as developing a training plan that prepares the body for the demands of marathon running.

How Marathon Pace Should Feel

The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is an essential tool in determining marathon pace. The rate of perceived exertion refers to how hard a runner feels they are working, rather than the actual pace they are running. This is important because different factors such as weather, terrain, and physical condition can impact how challenging a pace feels. By using the rate of perceived exertion as a guide, runners can adjust their pace to stay within their physical and mental limits.

Here’s a table showing the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

RPELevel of effortExample
10Maximum effort – Going all outRunning for your life
9Very hard effort – Winded breathing100 meters pace
8Hard effort – Hard to speak more than 2-3 words5k pace
7Sustainable but uncomfortable10k – half marathon pace
6Push effort – Becomes difficult to speak sentencesTempo – Hard marathon pace
5Moderate effort – can speak short sentencesAerobic capacity run
4Comfortable push effort – Conversational paceRecovery run
3Comfortable effort Brisk walk
2Little effortCasual walk
1Minimal effortSleeping
A table showing the RPE scale, level of effort, and example of activities.

During a marathon, the perceived exertion will feel different at various stages of the race but the speed may not necessarily change. 

In the early stages, the pace should feel comfortable, with runners settling into a rhythm that feels sustainable. There should be moderate effort and you should be able to speak short sentences with no problem.  Based on the RPE scale, that should feel around RPE 5. 

The middle stages may be more challenging, with fatigue setting in and perceived effort increasing. It may feel more difficult to speak and your muscles will start to feel fatigued. Based on the RPE scale, it may feel like a 6 but your speed may not necessarily increase, it may even slow down. 

In the final stages, runners may feel a surge of adrenaline and energy, and the pace may feel faster than earlier in the race without necessarily increasing perceived exertion. This is what’s often referred to as the “second wind”. However, for some people, the last stage may feel very uncomfortable. It may feel like an RPE 7 or 8 even when their speed is slowing down significantly. 

A tired woman running a marathon

Monitoring pace during a marathon is critical to maintaining a consistent pace and avoiding going too fast or too slow. This can be done using tools such as GPS watches, pacing groups, or simply by paying attention to perceived effort.

Personally, I use Coros Pace 2 (link to Amazon) to monitor my pace. It’s cheaper than most GPS watches but it provides me exactly what I need for monitoring, not just my marathon pace but also my training and recovery. 

Adjusting pace as needed during the race can help prevent burnout, muscle fatigue, and other physical and mental challenges. If a runner feels like they are pushing too hard, they may need to slow down, while if they feel like they have more energy, they may be able to increase their pace.

Related post: Can You Walk a Marathon? (and How Long Will it Take?)

Importance of Proper Training and Race Day Preparation

Maintaining a marathon pace requires proper training and race-day preparation. In the months leading up to the race, runners should develop a training plan that prepares them for the demands of the marathon. This may involve incorporating long runs, speed work, and strength training into their routine. Proper nutrition and rest are also critical to ensuring that the body is ready for the challenge.

In a separate article, I wrote a complete marathon training guide for beginners. If you have no idea where to start, I highly recommend you read that guide. 

On race day, runners can use pacing tools to maintain their pace. GPS watches can help them keep track of their pace and adjust as needed while pacing groups can provide the support and motivation needed to stay on pace. Pacing groups consist of runners who are aiming to finish the race within a specific time frame, and by running with them, runners can benefit from the support and camaraderie of others who share their goals.

Mental strategies are also essential for maintaining marathon pace. Running a marathon is a mentally challenging experience, and runners need to be able to stay focused and motivated throughout the race. Strategies such as visualization, positive self-talk, and setting mini-goals can help keep runners motivated and focused on their pace.

Visualization involves imagining crossing the finish line or running in a beautiful location, which can help keep the mind focused on the task at hand. Positive self-talk involves using positive affirmations to keep the mind focused and motivated. Setting mini-goals involves breaking the race down into smaller segments and focusing on completing each one.

Related post: 10 Tips For Running A Marathon For The First Time

Signs You’re Going Too Fast or Too Slow

It’s important for marathon runners to recognize the signs of going too fast or too slow. Running too fast or too slow can lead to negative consequences such as muscle fatigue, burnout, and missing out on personal goals.

Going too fast in the early stages of the race can result in burnout and muscle fatigue, which can significantly impact performance in the later stages. Signs that you may be going too fast include: 

  • a faster-than-usual heart rate, 
  • heavy breathing, 
  • and feeling out of breath. 

If you notice these signs, it may be time to slow down and adjust your pace.

On the other hand, slowing down too much can result in missed goals and frustration. Signs that you may be going too slow include: 

  • feeling like you have more energy than you’re using, 
  • feeling like you’re not pushing yourself enough, 
  • or not meeting your time goals. 

If you notice these signs, it may be time to pick up the pace.

Related post: Complete Marathon Gear Guide: What to Wear on Race Day?


In conclusion, maintaining a consistent marathon pace is key to achieving personal goals and finishing strong. Understanding marathon pace, recognizing how it should feel, and using strategies to maintain it can help runners optimize their performance and avoid negative consequences.

It’s important to find the right pace for individual goals and abilities, which may vary from person to person. Proper training and race day preparation, the use of pacing tools, and mental strategies are essential for maintaining marathon pace. Additionally, recognizing the signs of going too fast or too slow and adjusting pace as needed can help runners stay on track and avoid burnout and frustration.

Ultimately, finding the right marathon pace requires a combination of physical and mental preparation. By incorporating the strategies outlined in this article and listening to their bodies, runners can optimize their performance and achieve their personal goals. Whether it’s finishing the race or setting a new personal record, finding the right pace is key to success.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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