Sunday, October 14, 2012

26.2 Questions: Long Run Pace?

I've been pacing long runs for participants in Fleet Feet Huntsville's Rocket City Marathon Training program. During these runs, I've gotten some very good questions about marathon training that I'd like to address with the next few posts on this blog. The head coach for the program is David Rawlings. Assisting is Christy Scott. Christy is an RRCA certified coach and has written the running schedules that the participants use. I want to preface the next few posts by saying that am just a dude who decided to run a marathon in less than 3 hours, has run 7 marathons, and has read a few books on the subject. I am not an expert. I defer to Christy and David for individual advice during the program and welcome their opinions and corrections to anything I say here. But I hope I can offer some insight that is based both on experience and knowledge.

I believe both David and Christy would agree with me that there is no "one size fits all" training program.  We all have different abilities, goals, available time, and reasons for running a marathon. All of those affect your training for a marathon. However, there are some fairly fundamental physiological principles that any training program should be based upon. I'll try to provide some comment and application of these principles. Your mileage may vary. Ok, disclaimer done...

Probably the most common question I've gotten during my time pacing is something like, "What pace should I run for my long run?" Or "Why is my recommended long run pace so slow?" I have at least three ideas that can shed some light on those questions.

  1. One of the most fundamental principles of training is the principle of specificity. Your training needs to be specific for the event that you're training for. You need to replicate the demands of race day on your body as closely as you can without putting so much stress on your body that you end up getting injured. That's why long runs are the bread and butter of marathon training. That may not have helped with the original questions, though. Stay with me...
  2. Unfortunately (Or fortunately, I'm not sure which!) the human body just cannot handle running 26.2 miles as fast as possible very often. Training specificity might seem to imply that you should run 26.2 miles over and over, faster and faster until race day. Or it might seem to suggest that you should run marathon pace at progressively longer distances until you get to 26.2 miles. However, neither approach is good. Do either one, especially while training for your first marathon, and you'll almost certainly get hurt. So how do we apply the principle of specificity?
  3. Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, in their excellent book Advanced Marathoning, recommend that long runs should be 10% to 20% slower than your target marathon pace. So, for example, if you plan on running a 4 hour marathon (about 9:09 per mile), then 10% slower is just over 10 minutes per mile and 20% slower is about 11 minutes per mile. What this means is that if you run 22 miles (that just so happens to be the longest run of Christy's excellent schedule) at 11 minutes per mile, then you will have run for about the same amount of time that you will run on race day! Twenty percent slower is close enough to race pace that it promotes strong form and it gets you moving on your feet in a reasonably similar posture as marathon pace for the length of time of the marathon.
In summary, you won't have run 26.2 miles at your goal marathon pace before race day, and that's right. However, you will have a very solid training base. You will have lots of miles on your legs. You will likely be in the best condition of your life. You will have run for the same amount of time as the marathon should take.

Trust your training! Christy and David know what they're doing.

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