Sunday, February 5, 2012

Marathon Pace Workouts

One of the disconcerting things about training for a marathon is the disparity between the pace you hope to run in the actual race and the pace you run the vast majority of your workouts. Training books and experts will tell you that most of your long runs and easy runs should be 1-2 minutes slower than race pace. Also, long runs are usually capped at 20 miles. The obvious question: “How the heck am I supposed to run both FARTHER and FASTER on race day?!!” Fear not, and trust the experts know what they are talking about. You’ll burnout trying to run all your workouts fast. (If running a first marathon don’t worry about pace at all. Since you’re breaking into new territory in terms of mileage, just run your long runs at a moderate pace you can sustain.)

There are two things that help with race pace fears: a heavy dose of faith in your training and doing a few workouts with most of the miles at marathon pace, called Marathon Pace (MP) workouts. In a marathon buildup, I aim for 3-4 marathon pace workouts. I’ll start with a 15 miler with 8 MP miles (defined as the pace I hope to run for the race), then 3-4 weeks later, I’ll do 18 miles with 10 MP. In the past I’ve gone up to 18 with 12 MP; this season I’m going to try to get one 20 miler with 14 MP. It’s best to do a longer warm up and run the MP miles at the end, when your legs are a bit more tired. For example, on the 18 miler with 10 MP, I did 6 miles easy, then 10 at marathon pace, followed by 2 mile cool down. (Never neglect a cool down! It’s not good to stop abruptly after a fast pace.) In my eyes, these are the most important workouts of the training season; they are more specific to the marathon distance than other shorter speed workouts (like tempo runs and track workouts.)

Marathon pace workouts also help promote faith in your training. Because they are only done every few weeks, there is time in between when the benefits of your training are taking effect. Even though you’re cruising through your long runs at a slower pace, when a marathon pace workout comes around, you’re able to see that you are actually able to sustain a faster pace. Second, they get longer as the season progresses, but if things are going well, they will also get faster, again proving your training is working.

This morning, I had my 18 miler with 12 MP. I was dreading it. Like I said, these are the workouts to nail, and I had been disappointed with the others I had done this training season. A few weeks prior I had done an 18 miler with 10 MP at 6:53 pace. After that run I was happy that I was seeing progress (a few weeks before had been even slower over 8 MP miles.) But I was aiming for the 6:40 range and so was simultaneously disappointed. To get myself going for today’s workout (and not stress myself out), I decided to aim for 6:50 for the first 5 miles, and then try to get down in the 6:40s for the last 7. Having recently run a tempo run (which was only 6 miles of fast running) in the 6:30 range, this still seemed overly optimistic. But breaking it up a bit (rather than trying to run all 12 MP miles at 6:40) made it seem more doable.

I managed a 6:48 for the first 5 and a 6:38 the second 7. (Average for all 12 = 6:42.) Even better than I had hoped! Last season I did the same workout on the same course with Fiancee biking at my side. I managed only a 6:52. Today I did better even though I was alone. Like I said, these runs are a great barometer you can compare from workout to workout and season to season. Despite worrying about the last couple I’ve done, I can see now I’ve made progress both over this season and since last year. Come marathon day, this will help give me confidence that it’s possible to go the extra miles at this pace. (Or faster...??)

Tonight I’m rewarding myself with the whole Superbowl spread. As an Eagles fan, I’m rooting for both these teams to lose. Hey, a girl can dream.... 

Dream big,

1 comment :

  1. Congratulations on how your training is going. Exciting to read about. Keep at it, and thanks for keeping us all up-to-date.

    As an antidote to the Superbowl teams, remember the Sixers, who are leaving the bball teams of those cities -- Knicks, Nets, and Celtics -- gasping for breath behind them. At the moment, at least.