To train at marathon pace takes a new approach to what you may have been told over your running career.
I can tell you this because it was never something I would have considered back in 2002 when I first started running marathons.
I ran my first marathon in 2002 at the New York City Marathon debuting with a finish time of 2.43.36.
I can say with all certainty that if someone would have told me back then that I needed to train at marathon pace I would have probably starting scratching my head.
Wait a minute.
Quality Vs Quantity
You mean doing 24-mile long runs will not prepare me to break my (then) goal of 2.22.00?
How can that be? I mean, I can build so much strength from doing long runs of 24 miles in length at 7.00 mile pace….
The truth is, I never received this advice until I started working with the last American female to win the Boston Marathon, Lisa Rainsberger.
What The Best Do
The best believe in recovery but when it comes to preparing for a marathon the best train to perform. They do train at marathon pace and for long durations.
Why do you think they make it look so good on television?
I am not trying to insult your intelligence but I want to see you make faster progress then I did and succeed.
You have the potential to make it look and feel easy to but the question I want to ask you is this.
Patience and persistence
Regardless if you are a 6-hour marathoner trying to gain fitness, an athlete who is overweight dreaming of running your first marathon or a sub 3 hour marathon this is universal truth.
To Maintain Pace You Have to Train At Marathon Pace
Back in 2002 I had no idea what I was doing. 11 years later I can at least say I have an overall understanding of how I can truly help runners maximize their God-given ability.
What I don't want is for athletes who have all the drive and focus that they know what to do with but grow frustrated when the results aren't coming.
I firmly believe in working smarter, not harder.
An athlete seeking to improve their marathon time can considerably lower their present personal best by learning to train at marathon pace but obviously other factors go into it as well such as sleep, nutrition and how much attention you pay to your easy, recovery runs.
If you fail. Keep trying.
I failed over and over at this before I finally started to learn what was going wrong.
First Major Mistake
Listen to me on this.
You can train at marathon pace and have all the motivation anyone can dream of, but if you take in less then 10 ounces of fluid for the entire 26.2 miles, don't plan on running up to standard.
It isn't just the workouts but what you are doing the other parts of the day. This goes out to all of you who have absolutely demolished the sub 3 hour marathon to the total novice.
It can affect anyone from the beginner to the most competitive elite athletes.
You can ruin your marathon build up in a matter of minutes by ignoring your calorie and fluid intake.
If you are concerned that as you pass an aid station that you are going to lose ground on your competition consider the alternative by passing that crucial aid station.
What matters most. Losing a few seconds or several minutes by races end because you were careless early in your marathon.
The runners that don't drink will pay for it later and you will be the one passing them because you made the right decision and took the time to stop or grab a couple cups of fluid.
Second Major Mistake
Far too many miles run above race pace.
20-milers at 6.30 pace did me no good in trying to race 26.2 miles at what I wanted to achieve in 2002, 2.22.00 or better. It took me 5 long years to earn that time, a time I could have probably achieved two years earlier had I considered this form of training.
I was trying to break my current best of 2.19.35 in 2011 and qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials and earn the needed 2.19.00 “A” standard time. I thought doing 15-milers at 5.45 pace was going to get me there.
I had a rude (but truthful) awakening from my friend, Nate Jenkins (see video), who ran a 2.14.55 marathon to place 7th at the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City.
I told him about that workout and how things were going. What was his response? Typical Nate, ‘Good job Nathan, but how is a 15-miler at 5.45 per mile pace going to prepare you for racing a marathon at 5.18 pace (2.19.00)?
It is true too. There is certainly something to be said in the physiological benefit of doing a 15-mile tempo at 5.45 pace.
It could be 7.00, 8.00, 9.00 mile pace for you, regardless what pace it is, the magic happens when you start to train at marathon pace. If your goal is to hold 9.00 mile pace for 26.2 miles, you need to get to a point where you can do 14-18 miles at 9.00 mile pace, not 9.45 pace.
How Do I Do This, Nate?
The best way to get to that type of fitness is to break your long runs into segments.
I totally get it, doing a 15-22 miler at goal marathon race pace is not only daunting, it is extremely difficult to put together, especially earlier in your training phase when a run 30 seconds slower then goal pace may be a task.
If I am a few weeks into my training I always aim to do my long runs at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute. This is, when 100% fit, paces that range from 5.17-5.35 pace.
Take Your Time
I usually can't sustain that type of pace but only for a 3-5 miles in the beginning so I'll do a 20 miler and close the last 3-5 miles as close to my goal marathon pace as possible.
So if you are early on in your build up try to aim for doing your long runs easy, build up the tolerance to finish the entire distance without having to walk. If you are feeling that bad in the run and you must, do so.
I promise you, over time, and if you are patient you will grow much stronger. A 20-mile relaxed run will not challenge you and you will seek faster paces. What I try to do is alternate doing my harder long runs (done at 160BPM) with an easy long run the following week.
For example, leading into the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon, I did a 20-mile log run in 1.50.02 (averaging 5.30 per mile). The following week I did a 22-miler at 7.00 mile pace.
Focus On Recovery
So recovery is just as important to training yourself to train at marathon pace. The reason is that it is so demanding on the body to do these forms of workouts that not taking recovery seriously is quick way to burn out and frustration.
I don't want this for you so please hear me out on this. It does nothing to do great workouts and not get returns on your training investment if you cannot slow down on the days it calls for you to do so.
Remember, work smarter, not harder. Ask of yourself to do the tough tasks in training so that come race day you will be fully confident to react to any move that is made on your within the race.
No one should be able to touch you come race day. Training hard breeds confidence and assist you being more relaxed then those around you.
Power In Progression
You can start by gradually building your long run to 10-miles.
Run the first 8 miles relaxed running the last two-miles at your goal marathon race pace. The following week, try going the first 4 miles easy, 4 miles at 10 seconds slower then your goal race pace, 2 mile cool-down.
As you gain fitness you can graduate to doing long run workouts extending out longer distances.
Your workout a few weeks down the road could be a 15-miler with the first 5 miles easy, next 5 at 10 seconds slower then goal pace with the last 5 miles at goal race pace.
Don't Get Discouraged
One of the hardest things to do in our sport is to be patient.
You may want to lose weight, running your first marathon or have a specific goal time in mind.
The importance in being patient in this sport is the difference between those who achieve their goals and those who let setbacks get in the way.
This is an endurance sport and it isn't just about how far we run but how far we endure.
Do Not Be Afraid To Fail
Those who can withstand the struggles that come along with it and somehow, in their own unique way, see this as pleasure rather than pain are going to be the ones who create breakthroughs.
The kind that make others scratch their head and wonder, ‘how did he or she do that'. It isn't art going out jogging. What is art are those people who continue on and persist toward the hard goals while others give up and move on to other things.
There is nothing wrong with moving on to something else if you feel it is your time.
All I am saying is this, don't move on until you are certain you have done everything you can to reach your goal.