This week's piece is about the importance of knowing your proper race pace and sticking to it. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way. Pace is important – very important.
My first run over the marathon distance was one of the most chastening experiences of my life and was such a painful time, I never forgot it. It taught me the importance of sticking to what I had trained for.
Whether I realised it or not, my body was taking notes at every mile. Only in the second half did it make those early results known.
In my first marathon, I had trained for something close to eight-minute-mile pace. Foolishly though, I got caught in a mix of bravado and naïvety in the early stages. Mile one was done in close to 6.30-minutes per mile and felt effortless. The second was almost identical. I thought to myself: "This is great. That's going to shave three minutes off my time."
Unfortunately, foolishness continued until around the 11-mile mark before a heavy dose of penance was administered.
It was Noel Carroll, the great Irish middle-distance runner of the 1960s, who said: "It's not the distance, it's the pace that kills."
My splits for each of the 13.1 miles were polar opposites. One was ridiculously fast, the other a grind. On my final six miles, I was so slow, if I was a car, I might have been clamped for being close to stationary.
Those last six miles were a mixture of stop, walk, jog. By now, I was immersed in a running lesson I would never forget.
Looking back, in some ways I am glad this happened, for it made me realise the importance of having proper 'respect' for the marathon.
Now, in the final few days before the race, I will decide on a realistic finishing time based on my training to date. Based on this, I will pick out the times I should hit the one, three, five, eight, 10, 13, 15, 18 and 20-mile points.
As I hit each mile point, I will look at my watch and at the time schedule written on my hand. If I am more than 10-15 seconds ahead, I will slow down, or vice versa if behind.
Mile 20 onwards will be challenging for every competitor. I am sure most marathon runners will agree that it is here that the race starts. Here, every ounce of preparation in the months before as well as the pace of every mile up to this point gets placed under a microscope.
Everyone works from here to home. But the quality of that enjoyment as we reach Stillorgan Road, Merrion Road, Grand Canal Street, Pearse Street and the cauldron of atmosphere that will greet us on Nassau Street will be determined by how well we have paced in the early part of the race.
Watch the runners that are passing out slowing runners on those final miles. Almost certainly, they will have paced well in the first three-quarters.
Pace is crucial and a great strategy to attain a personal best. Remember, it was the tortoise that beat the hare.
Gerry Duffy is a motivational speaker and endurance athlete. www.gerryduffyonline.com