Let’s Talk about Marathon Pace Runs

In the marathoning community, you will find that people hold differing views on the “Marathon Pace Run.” Some go so far as to say that marathon pace runs are absolutely useless. These critics claim that training runs at goal marathon pace are too slow to reap the same benefits of a pace closer to that of your all out 10 miler or half marathon, but too fast to reap the benefits of your long slow distance runs.

Yet, it seems to me that marathon pace runs have gained a following in recent years. I’m curious, does your training program call for them?

As for me? I definitely believe in marathon pace runs.

First, they help the runner learn what marathon pace feels like. I believe muscle memory plays a significant role come race day. You want your muscles to have some memory of your goal pace. Otherwise, with only long slow distance runs and tempo/speedwork under your belt, you may find your own brain telling you “this doesn’t feel right!!!” The last thing you need come race day is another mental battle to fight.

Second, marathon pace runs simultaneously build endurance and speed. Tempo runs, though beneficial, are relatively short compared to the marathon pace runs. Marathon pace runs should be anywhere from 5-10 miles, not including the VERY important warm up and cool down. So yeah, maintaining a marathon pace for that distance will not feel easy. However, with practice, it will feel “doable.”

Marathon pace runs can be tricky to execute. Many training programs try to throw marathon pace runs at you during your long run. As I have written in previous posts, I do not advocate adding speed to long runs. Read more here.

So when do you find time to run them? Between tempo runs, speed work and long runs, a weekly training cycle contains no more room for another significant effort day. Well, I advocate replacing one of the above with a marathon pace run approximately every other week. I most often replaced my tempo days with marathon pace days. However, you can play it by ear. If you are starting to feel some tightness in your hammy after speed sessions, feel free to ease up on them for a while. Have a weekend commitment that makes your long run impossible? Do a marathon pace run instead.

Now, the biggest mistake people make in terms of marathon pace runs comes when choosing what marathon pace ACTUALLY is. Don’t make the same mistake I made some years ago. I knew I wanted to run a 3:35 marathon, so I ran my MP runs at goal pace of 8:11. The problem was that, at that point, I was not actually capable (based on my fitness level during training) of running at 3:35. I would have been much better off running an 8:23 or slower. Don’t choose your training pace based on where you want to be. YOU MUST choose it based on where you are at the moment. It’s ok and even recommended to re-evaluate your fitness with a race every 6 weeks of training or so, but you must train WHERE YOU ARE. There are a number of great training pace calculators out there based on your current race times. Always keep in mind that the closer you’re racing distance to that of the marathon, the more accurate your prescribed training paces will be. I hope that makes sense.

I apologize for the time between this post and my last. I’ve had a lot on my plate lately, but I haven’t forgotten about the readers here. I know many people are gearing up for spring marathons.
Here’s just a hint of what’s to come:

*The elephant in the room (do you guys know what I’m talking about?)

*Shalane Flanagan’s experience with dehydration at the Olympic trials reminded me of the often difficult task of maintaining our water and sodium levels during the marathon. I may not be a world famous running coach, but I think I know what went wrong.

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