I received a few questions in the comments section of my most recent training update regarding how my pace on my long run seemed pretty fast given my goal marathon pace of 7:45-8:00 min/mile. Rather than leaving a long comment in response, I figured I’d write a post explaining my approach to long runs, and why my pace on long runs this training cycle has only been a bit slower than my target race pace.
I generally subscribe to the philosophy that easy long runs should be run at a pace about 1:00/mile slower than target marathon pace. My marathon PR (3:15:21) was set two years ago at roughly a 7:30/mile pace, so if I was in equivalent condition now that would suggest an 8:30/mile pace or higher for my long runs. I ran 16 miles last Sunday at an 8:10/mile pace, so a bit faster than that.
Long runs provide aerobic benefit, but the main goal for me is to get my legs used to working for a long period of time (i.e., time on feet). Running too fast on long runs tends to wipe me out for several days, and thus impacts subsequent training runs. The problem for me right now is that I don’t think I’m in good enough shape to run a PR this Spring. I set a half-marathon PR in the Fall (1:27:36), but my training suffered over the winter, I put on a few pounds, and it has only been within the past month or so that my mileage has gotten back to marathon training level. Knowing that my best time on the Vermont City Marathon course was a bit over 3:30, I set a conservative goal of shooting for a sub-3:30 this Spring, with hope that it will set me off on the right foot heading into summer training and a goal for a fast race in the Fall.
Given these goals, my approach to long runs has been to just run by feel. I rarely look at my GPS for pacing, I just go and let my body tell me how fast it wants to run. I find that I tend to settle in between 8:00-8:10/mile for my comfortable, easy pace. Trying to force myself to run slower actually makes feel as if I’m working harder, so what I instead do is walk up the really steep hills if I feel my heart start pounding (most all long runs where I live include some considerable hills). If I want to force a run to be really easy, I usually take my son in the BOB stroller, but I’m not brave enough to do that for double-digit mileage.
Right now I think I have the speed to run a marathon PR. However, the issue I face is mainly one of not enough mileage. I don’t know what pace I can sustain for the full 26.2, and I have no idea how well my legs will handle running that distance. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself and run a stronger race than I expect (as happened at Disney 2010). But, given that I haven’t run a marathon in two years and my mileage has been low, I’m going with a more conservative approach this time around. Also, given that I’ve smacked hard into the wall in about 3/4 of the marathons I’ve run, I know the results of making mistakes with pacing.
I’m trying to be smart and cautious, and we’ll see how it works out in about 7 weeks!
(Update: Just after posting this, I read a great article by Amby Burfoot on the topic of marathon pacing and listening to your body – check it out here)