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Training at Marathon Pace

Training at Marathon Pace

By Lauren Evans


An EFAST athlete recently posed this question to her coach, Lauren Evans. We encourage all our athletes to ask questions. It makes us better coaches and the athletes start to understand the “method behind the madness” with their training programs.




If I’m currently fit enough to hold an 8 minute miles for 13 miles, can I train by upping my long runs slowly in mileage, but keeping the same 8 minute per mile pace?  If my goal pace in a marathon is 8:10, seems like I would want to know ahead of time if I can sustain a pace close to that for at least 20 miles. Why do I run my long runs quite a bit slower?


Answer from Lauren:


Your question is a good one! On the surface it would appear to make sense to train that way, but there are many variables. Here are some things to consider:



The cons:


– If you do all of your training runs at 8:00 – 8:10 pace, then you are running at the threshold of your aerobic ability. Instead of burning fat, you could be burning carbs. This is a fine line to cross and sometimes it is hard to tell if you are in the aerobic zone or utilizing some anaerobic metabolism. We want to train your fat burning capability, and utilize your anaerobic fitness for just a small portion of the race.


– If you train at 8:00 – 8:10 pace, the intensity level jumps significantly. We’d have to run less and still be aware of injuries. All training is specific (i.e.) the more you practice running the better. However, we can only practice more if we lower the intensity and focus on aerobic running. Otherwise you risk burnout and/or injury.


– If you can aerobically run 20+ miles at 8:00 – 8:10 pace in practice, it is a great indicator that you can do that in a marathon. However, I personally think that doing a marathon paced long run that is THAT long is really pushing you towards overtraining and injury. You’d have to rest and taper beforehand and rest afterwards, meaning that we lose valuable training time. Sometimes overtraining symptoms don’t show up for several weeks so it will be hard to time your peak marathon performance if overtraining rears its ugly head.


– It is important to BELIEVE and KNOW that you have to save something special for race day. On race day, you can execute something that you weren’t able to do in training because you are rested, trained, and peaking.


– I believe doing long runs at marathon pace that are even as low as 10 miles cannot be done week after week–this could lead to burnout and injury. The intensity and the distance are just too high. If we take the intensity down then we can execute long aerobic efforts, time on your feet, and get a lot of good training in. Then we’d look at 1 – 2 days during the week when we can run overspeed workouts and get the speed we need for the marathon.


– Marathon pace takes a lot of mental and physical energy. If you are unable to execute that pace, do you just stop and give up on the run? Mentally it is very demanding and can cause burnout.


– It is better to train at your current fitness rather than the future fitness you desire. So, if you can currently race a 5k at X pace, we train you in speed work at X pace and assume that is working your lactate threshold. If you go out and run a 5k race 3 weeks later and run Y pace, we train you at that fitness. The same applies to long runs: if you can execute a half marathon at X pace, then you probably can’t execute a 15 miler at X pace at this time.


The pros: 


– Practicing running at marathon pace is key. Think running 10 – 15 miles at marathon pace can well prepare an athlete for the demands of a marathon, especially if that is sandwiched within a longer effort or executed on tired legs. You can’t do what you don’t practice.


– Running at that pace for a long distance gives you the confidence that you can hold the pace on race day.


– If you did it in practice, it is likely you can do it on race day.


So how does this apply to you (the question asker)?


I agree, I would like to see more marathon paced efforts in your next training cycle. The good thing is that you have a good aerobic base and we can start doing these marathon efforts sooner without stressing you too much. I’d rather see them built into longer efforts and also into repeats (i.e. 3 mile repeats at marathon pace) so that you get a break from that physical and mental intensity but still build your fitness. The closer to race day, the longer your marathon efforts become. If it makes you feel confident to do 15 – 18 at marathon pace, we can plan to build that into your schedule. I also believe that your fitness will be there to execute a difficult workout like this during the next training cycle. However, I would caution against building up the distance weekly at marathon pace without having slower long runs in there that give you a rest but still train your aerobic pathways.

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