Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

Running A Faster Marathon

Running A Faster Marathon

running a faster marathonRunning a faster marathon is a common goal among countless runners.

Running success comes from a great deal of patience and persistence on the part of the individual.

A runner who has the goal of maintaining a 6 minute per mile pace or the equivalent of a 2 hour 37 minute marathon must train extensively at or below that pace to achieve that standard.

It isn’t just about fast running either.

Runners have to have the discipline to maintain a balanced equalibrium between anaerobic and aerobic workouts.

Italian Renato Canova, one of the world’s top distance running coaches, emphasizes race pace training for athletes seeking specific race goals.

You can only do in a race what you’ve practiced in training.

Pace, not distance, is the guiding principle. Better to run 16 miles at your goal marathon pace, than slog through a 24-miler that does little to improve your endurance at race pace.

The Mindset Difference

The difference I have learned from training with some of the world’s top distance runners is this.

A Kenyan focuses on the proper speed, the western athlete focuses much more on the proper distance.

We are too focused on mileage thinking that is the secret to running a faster marathon entails running 100+ mile weeks.

Running is an individual sport.

One runner who is putting in 120 mile weeks may achieve the same results as the athlete putting in 60 mile weeks.

What works for me perhaps may not work for you and vice versa but understanding marathon training will get you to your goal much faster and more efficiently.

Guarantee Marathon Success

Too many miles run at speeds too aerobic in nature is not going to assist the marathoner seeking to hold a specific pace.

Athletes who feel running high mileage is the secret to running a faster marathon are missing an important fundamental.

Specific pace goals demand specific training

I went as high as 142 miles a week in seeking to run a faster marathon time.

I had set a personal best time of 2.19.35 back in 2007 and thought putting in higher mileage was the answer to breaking my long-term goal of 2.15.00.

It felt me sluggish, fatigued and burned out.

I was losing the joy for the sport when I was running 140 mile weeks.

It isn’t specifically about mileage but the duration you spend at your goal pace.

More importantly, is gradually extending the amount of time you spend running at the speed you wish to run the marathon at.

Following Crucial Fundamentals

running a faster marathon1. Change your mindset

The greatest marathon runners have an un-shatterable belief in what they are doing.

If you were to talk to a Kenyan after what we might call a disappointing race, he or she will already be energetic about their next race only minutes after finishing.

Their world doesn’t end when they miss their goal.

They simply keep trying when others let go.

I was traveling home with a 2.12 Kenyan marathoner who ran a subpar performance finishing with a time of 2.51.

He was talking about how he was going to meet his goal time of 2.08.00 in his next marathon effort.

You can never let a mediocre performance dictate how you are going to perform in the future.

Americans usually say you are only as good as your last race.

A Different Mindset

Kenyans, have a different mentality.

They believe you are as good as your best race or equally as good as your future goal.

You have to have the winners mentality.

There are far too many people who live as though they have unlimited time.

We don’t.

We have to train with all our heart, put all of our emotion and focus into what we are doing to achieve a difficult task.

Running a faster marathon means putting all focus into the task to ensure you are set up for success

2. Increased emphasis on faster long runs

If you have as your goal to run a marathon at 9.30 mile pace, doing a 20-miler at 11 minute pace is not going to assist you.

Will it help you burn fat?


Will it help you lose weight and build endurance?


What it will not assist you with is running a marathon more economically (more efficient).

Marathon success comes when an athlete has learned to use fat, rather then carbohydrates as their primary fuel source at race speeds.

Understand Your Fuel 

The faster you run, the more carbohydrates you burn

Far too many marathoner sell themselves short believing that their best days are behind them, are too old or just not talented enough to achieve their racing goals.


A common mistake runners make is not a lack of initiative or drive but a lack of training long enough at the proper speeds.

If you can’t run 10 miles in training at your goal marathon race pace how can you expect to run 26.2 miles at an equivalent effort?

Runners have what it takes.

A mental shift in how you conduct your training is all that is needed.

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Running for longer periods of time at speeds closer to or faster then you want to hold in your marathon will help you to burn fat more relative to the speeds you want to compete at.

Afraid of failure?

I was a 2.40.02 marathoner prior to arriving to the 2007 California International Marathon.

I dealt with many failures before I broke the 2.20 marathon barrier.

Failure can be your best success advocate and many of the world’s greatest success stories stem from a long line of failure.

The key to success is failure. Success is made of 99 percent failure – James Dyson, Inventor

I had breaking the (than) 2008 USA Olympic Trials “B” standard time of 2.22.00 as my goal while still a 2.40 marathon runner.

How do you go from holding 6.06 per mile pace for 26.2 miles to 5.25 per mile pace?

You do it from focusing less on how many miles per week you are running and more on what percentage of those miles were run at or below your goal pace?

I had to do this to make major gains in my own marathon performances.

The secret in successful marathon racing is finding pleasure in doing something others consider painful.

Training should always be more difficult the race and you must always challenge yourself in training so that when you get to the race you will have no doubt that you can react to whatever your competition throws your way.

running a faster marathonFind A Mentor 

I was blessed in that I was assigned Lisa Larsen Rainsberger, the last American female to win the Boston Marathon, as my coach while assigned to the US Army World Class Athlete Program in Colorado Springs.

I will share with you the same advice she shared with me.

You don’t run faster marathon efforts by running tons of mileage for mileage sake.

If someone says, ‘Hey, I ran 100 miles this week. How far did you run?’ ignore him! What the hell difference does it make?…. The magic is in the individual, not the 100 miles. – Bill Bowerman

She was the first person in my career that emphasized doing long runs at faster speeds.

I was not used to this train of thought.

I thought hard efforts were for the track or sprinting up hills, not for long runs.

The long run is now the hardest workout that I do.

I would do 22-24 mile long runs at 6.30-7.00 mile pace yet was having a hard time wondering why I couldn’t maintain 5.25 per mile pace for 26.2 miles.

I was doing mile repeats at 4.40-45 per repetition at elevation.

Surely that should give one strength right?

It does produce strength and stamina but running 6, 1-mile repetitions on the track at 4.40-45 mile pace with breaks is not the same as running 26.2 consecutive miles at 5.25 per mile pace with no breaks.

Practice Goal Pace

You have to compliment your training and part of that is doing longer runs at speeds equal to or exceeding marathon pace.

Let’s say you have a goal to hold 7.15 mile pace for the marathon.

A major contributing factor in helping me go from running 2.43.36 for the marathon to 2.19.35 was breaking my long runs into segments at higher speeds as well as varying the intensity.

Lisa would have me conduct my long runs maintaining a heart rate of 160 beats per minute or around 85% of maximal effort

Once I was in great anaerobic shape I could run between 5.20-5.45 per mile pace at that heart rate.

What made the long run even more difficult was if a 20 miler was planned, Lisa would have me run the 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th mile at 4.55 mile pace.

What happens is you force your body to react to faster speeds when it is extremely fatigued.

Anyone can run 20 miles. It’s the next six that count -Barry MaGhee

Use Your Fat

It has to rely on fat burning at very fast speeds.

In addition, conducting long runs of a 20-mile (or longer) duration means your muscles are running very low on glycogen.

You are asking your body to do something it is not accustomed to doing.

Running slow burns fat but what happens when you adapt to the stress load and you start to burn fat at higher speeds and don’t rely as much on carbohydrates?

Runners that train in this manner do not hit the so-called ‘wall’.

They conserve carbohydrates and have them to call upon when they need them most, preferably in the last 10 kilometers of the race.

running a faster marathonFaster Marathon Performances

Runners who spend longer durations at higher intensities are teaching their body to rely less on carbohydrates and more on fat relative to the speeds they wish to race at.

You want to teach your body to clear lactic acid faster then it is building up.

You simply cannot obtain this physiological adaptation by running easy mileage.

If you watch the top runners do you notice how they make it look effortless?

Have you ever watched a Kenyan or other top marathon runners and seen how in control they are?

They finish the race looking as if they just started.

The reason is they have spent such an enormous amount of their training time at such high intensities that once they taper off their training, racing becomes automatic.

Focus On Recovery

It doesn’t matter who is the fastest in training.

The smart athlete will always come out on top.

Watch the greatest runners on the planet and you will see that their easy days are painfully slow.

I have seen school children running faster then world-class marathon runners on their easy days.

The best runners in the world understand the importance of rest.

They know when to push and when to back off.

Closing Thoughts And Suggestions

I hope these above mentioned fundamentals will help you edge ever closer to your marathon goals.

I live by the words of one of my running mentors and one of the world’s top authorities on Exercise Physiology, Dr. Joe Vigil, who said,

He who would ignite a fire in others, must himself glow.

I wish you blessings and health in your next marathon attempt. Practice your pace, focus on your recovery, hydration and nutrition. Listen to what your body is telling you.

If you feel awful yet feel as though you have to continue to hit that mileage mark for the week, don’t do it.

You will yield better results on less then more in that case.

It took the knowledge of a Boston Marathon champion to show me the error in my own marathon ways.

Will you listen?

Running a faster marathon simply involves patience and the willingness to put in the work long enough to see the end result come to pass.

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