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Many races offer pace bands for runners to use on race day. Along with pace groups, pace bands are a great tool to help you reach your race day goals.
If you’ve seen these things at an expo and aren’t sure what exactly they are, how to use one, or if you should use one, here is everything you need to know about a race pace band.
Purpose Of A Pace Band
Pace bands are a bracelet that you wear on race day that is pre-printed with mileage, pace, and accumulated time for each mile of the race.
They show you how fast you should be going each mile so you can adjust your pace if you are running too fast or too slow.
Following a pace band can provide discipline and keep you from going out too fast. They can also keep you in check and encourage you from slowing down too much as you fatigue near the end of the race.
Do You Need A Pace Band?
If you don’t have a specific race time goal in mind, you likely don’t need a pace band.
If your race offers a pace group for your goal time, you may also not need a pace band, although it can still be helpful to have so you can follow along, either in case you get separated from your group or in case your pacer is off the pace.
If you have a specific race goal, having a pace band makes it much easier for you to stay on target and met that goal.
If like me, you set multiple goals on race day (best case, worst case, and likely case), have multiple bands ready to go so you are ready for any race day eventuality.
Anatomy Of A Pace Band
Pace bands have several components:
- Average Pace. This is the overall average pace you’ll run over the course of the race.
- Accumulated Time (or cumulative time) At the mile marker for that mile, this is the time elapsed from your start time.
- Pace For This Mile. If your band is course specific, your pace may vary on hills.
How To Use A Pace Band
At each mile marker, check your watch for the total length of time you’ve been running. Compare that number to the cumulative time on the band for the mile marker you are at.
If the numbers match, you are on target. Great job!
If the numbers don’t match, you are off pace. If you are too fast, slow down. If you are too slow, speed up.
What To Know About Your Pace Band
Is It Course Specific?
If you race is flat, this really won’t matter since you will run an even pace.
However, if your course is hilly, know if your pace band is course specific.
Course specific course bands account for elevation gains and will modify the pace so that you will run the course at an even effort (not even pace), slowing on the uphills and going faster on the downhills.
The photo in the above graphic is a course specific band for the Oakland Marathon. There are lots of uphills in miles 9-13 and down hills in miles 14-16. To account for these hills, the goals pace slows down and speeds up accordingly.
Gun v. Chip Time
When you finish a race you’ll have two finish times: your gun time and your chip time.
- Gun Time: the time from when the starting gun went off to when you finished.
- Chip Time: the time between you crossing the start line and you crossing the finish line.
In small races, these numbers may vary by only a few seconds.
But in larger races or races with wave or corral starts, these numbers can vary dramatically. I’ve done races where it has taken me almost fifteen minutes to cross the start line after the ‘official’ start.
Your chip time is the time used to determine your finish place, age group, and other awards. However, if your race has timing clocks at mile markers, these are going to show the gun time.
I recommend using your watch (which will be an indicator of your chip time) to track your times, it is a better indicator of the race you are running, but in any case, be sure to only use one or the other so your numbers are consistent.
You Don’t Need A Fancy Watch
If you have a GPS-enabled watch, you can use your watch mileage and the pace band together for tracking.
But assuming your course has mile markers, you don’t need a fancy GPS watch to use a pace band.
While not every race will have mile markers at each and every mile, it’s rare for a race to not have markers at least every few miles.
These mile markers and the cumulative time or stopwatch time information from any basic fitness watch will work.
No GPS required.
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Pace Band Options
Official Race Band
Some races offer pace bands at the race expo either for free or for purchase.
The race may mention this on their website ahead of the race (or they may not).
You can make your own pace band(s).
Generate a band, print it out, and cover it with clear packing tape to waterproof and sweat-proof the band.
Voila. DIY pace band.
Purchase Your Own
If you have a long-term goal, you can purchase different types of bands for use on race day.
The two most popular are silicone bracelets and temporary tattoo versions.
The silicone pace bands I have seen most often as from Pacebands.com.
I love the tattoo versions and I’ve used them a few times, but fair warning, they are REALLY hard to take off. When I last used one, I used every temporary tattoo removal trick in the books and it still took days to remove.
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Try one out at your next race!