One of the hardest things to master when training for a marathon is your pace. Many factors are involved in being able to nail the consistent pace you need to either hit the marathon goal time you set or finishing well and not feeling like someone just beat you with a hammer for the last four hours. As you train, you need to teach your body to run at your desired pace for longer and longer periods of time. While your nutrition and hydration help you accomplish this, the real key is getting the right work in during your training.
I turn to one of my favorite books, Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pftizinger & Scott Douglas, for advice on pace. “Your goal for the marathon is to be able to maintain your goal pace for 26.2 miles…Long runs at marathon race pace directly prepare you for the demands of the race…If you run too far at marathon pace, the required recovery time will negate the benefits of the effort. Similarly, if you do long runs at marathon pace too often, you will greatly increase your likelihood of self-destructing through injury or overtraining. You should include one or two runs in which you’ll run 12 to 15 miles of a longer run at goal marathon race pace…The intention is to stress your body in a similar way to the marathon, but to limit the duration so that your required recovery time is held to a few days.”
If you look at a marathon pace chart and your goal is to run a 3:15:00, your average pace for 26.2 miles needs to be 7:26 per mile. As recommended by Pfitzinger & Douglas, you need to be running that specific average pace during your longer marathon race pace training runs.
I like using a 26-week marathon training program, which was written by former 2:-09:00 Boston Marathoner, Benji Durden. In his program, he recommends running a race every few weeks to replace your longer weekend run. This race should be close to the same distance as your scheduled long run. If you are scheduled to go long for 10 miles, find a 15K (9.3 miles) to race. This has very much the same effect as Pftzinger & Douglas recommend, but teaches you how to do it under race conditions. Again, it is all about teaching your body how to adapt to the pace you desire to race your marathon by slowly and progressively teaching it how to do just that for longer and longer distances.
Other tools and ideas will help you pace well. Pacing teams are available at most large races, including the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. The runners who are assigned pacers for a particular average per mile are capable of a much faster pace than the one they are running. Following one of these pacers can aid you in achieving your desired marathon finishing time.
Do your homework and do the appropriate training. When you come within view of that finish line, instead of your body feeling like you are on the space shuttle about to go out of control, you will see that you are about to successfully hit your goal time.