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Marathon Training: Long Run Pacing

Pete - 4 on 4thI 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)

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Andres Botero says:

    I see you are wearing the old Brooks Adrenaline (Are those the 7’s?) in the photo above. It’s amazing to think how shoes have drastically changed in the past 8 years or so. Good luck training for your marathon.

  2. Hi Pete,
    I like that approach/advice of ignoring looking at pace averages during long runs. I believe our body tells us what pace is natural/right.
    On another topic, I cannot believe the shoe search/testing/fitting/researchIng that I just went through.
    Here is the story. I started runnIng 3 years ago after birth of my first child. I went and bought a pair of Asic Gels that I ran in all three years? After reading up more on running and taking it more seriously, I bought myself a pair of Kinvara 3’s this Jan and ran a bunch on them up until a couple weeks ago. I over did it on a 5k practice run (keeping an eye on my mile pace) that Bruised my metatarsel head area on. Too fast too soon. Anyway, my time on that run was a whole
    Minute faster than my best 5k? I believe the K3’s helped me transition from major heel striker to a heel/mid strike and between less heel on shoe and better form, im running so much faster. At any rate, the sore meta really scared me and I’m so glad that’s all it was cause I feel great right now and am about to have a great running season.
    Now here is my shoe finding story. I felt that the K3’s didnt protect my metatarsel area as much as I needed. Felt like I needed some more/better cushioning. I bought and tried out Brooks ghost, adreniline, Flow and Cadence (cadence felt better on my feet) I also jogged around in Saucony Guide, Ride and Hurricane, Asics Nimbus, Kayano and another that was a 10 mil drop(can’t remember model),I also tried a bunch of New Balance shoes and Nike shoes. I Guess I left no stone unturned? I would have liked to try Sauc triumph and mirage but stores didn’t have them. I thought I would have ended up with a lightweight trainer with 8mm drop? However, the shoe that felt best was surprisingly the Saucony Viratta?

  3. michael borre says:

    Personally I use Jack Daniels running formular to calculate my training and race pace.
    Long runs should be run in an easy pace like you do Peter – or else the injury risk is way too high.

    I’m training for a marathon in 3 weeks where my goal is to set a new pr in 3.15 (or faster if its possible :P ).

    I will run in the Brooks Pure Flow 2 which are my favourite shoes right now :)

  4. nicole orriëns says:

    I always find it hard to listen to my body, because it’s like a two year old: always whining that he wants to go home.

  5. I’ve only run one marathon but the thing I will repeat in training for my next one is running my long runs at Goal marathon pace. Yes, I agree that would be ridiculous for my husband who runs a 2:30 marathon, but I’m trying to eek out a 3:45 and running around at 9:30 pace was painful- like you eluded to- and certainly didn’t give me confidence to be able to suddenly run 8:30 on race day. It just worked for me. Essentially I was running how I felt as I don’t use a GPS, but it always ended up being around GMP if not faster. I never felt like I was running outside of myself or too hard. I’ve read a couple articles recently that suggest this point – but can’t put my hands on them this second. Recovery was also a key. We have Daniels, Hudson, and Fitzgerald on our shelves…and Larson. :) But you know your body and how it responds- so keep it “general” and run how you feel!

    I didn’t hit 3:45 last year at VCM (3:57) but it was the heat that killed me… I didn’t have any runs in heat! So it’s a fall marathon for me next time. My husband was 15 minutes off his time too so I considered it a success!
    Good luck at VCM!

  6. Stephen Boulet says:

    One potential pitfall of running by feel is peaking too soon. If I ran by feel during marathon taper time, I’m pretty sure I’d run too fast. That said, I’m doing an 8:08 min/mi 13 mile run tomorrow, but hey it’s on my training plan. :D

  7. 1.5 month till Vermont. What do you think your Vermont shoe will be?

  8. Scott Revlin says:

    100% agree. Time on feet. Made this mistake prior to my only marathon, ended up giving back 15 minutes in the second half. But the training I did was perfect for the 15k two weeks later. Time on feet.

  9. blaise dubois says:

    Pete, are you running with a Brooks Beast?

  10. I have to take issue with this post now that I have bit more experience. Doing races by feel has seemed to work so far, but didn’t turn out so well for the marathon Sunday. I find it’s really easy to go too fast in the Universe, so I lined up next to the 9:30 pacers at the start of the race. It’s my fault that I promptly forgot about them, and left them behind when we started running, but I did feel really good, so I just went with it. At about mile 11 or 12, I overheard someone telling somebody else that we were at an 8:30 pace. That made me feel pretty good, but then it started to get hotter, and I realized I was in trouble. After worrying for a little while, I just decided to goof off, and half-assed my way to a 4:32 finish. I had a lot of fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to think about it some more, I wish I had worn my Polar GPS thingy so that I would have made sure to stay somewhere around 9:30 or so for several miles. I know I could have done better, because I wasn’t really wiped out at the end, I just felt uncomfortable enough for the second half of the race that I felt discouraged and slowed down. Oh well, you live, you learn.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Maybe run by feel in a marathon isn’t such good advice, I suspect I might wind up doing the same :) I have to be very disciplined to hold back early in a marathon, and Garmin’s are great for helping with that.
      Sent from my iPad

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