On Running Faster than Marathon Pace

(Source: Pinterest)

(Source: Pinterest)

I have a confession to make. A run confession. I think I’m selling myself short with my training for Marine Corps.

Let me explain. In the year and a half that I’ve been running, I’ve never once set a time goal for a race, and I’ve especially never set a time goal for a marathon. I mean with a marathon, there are 26.2 miles of opportunities to make a mistake that could completely sabotage any time goal you had at the starting line. Not only that, there are 16 to 18 weeks of training to make mistakes that could prevent you from even getting to that starting line. So yes, the marathon is an intimidating distance and honestly, setting a time goal has me freaking out a bit. Ok, a lot.

I ran my first marathon at Big Sur this past April, just over a year after I ran my first mile. I ran a very conservative (i.e. slow) 4:33. I went out very slow because I knew the hills that were ahead of me were going to be tough but thanks to my by-the-book training I was more than prepared for Highway 1’s hardest inclines.

When it came time to pick a training plan for the Marine Corps Marathon I wanted to set a time goal. I knew I would be able to beat my Big Sur time but I wasn’t sure by how much. Based on some advice from coworkers, I thought breaking 4:15 would be reasonable- that’s a 9:44/mile marathon pace.

I’m five weeks into the training plan and have been running all of my training runs much faster than the prescribed pace. I know this is generally a major no-no in marathon training but it isn’t feeling hard. When my plan tells me to run 4 miles easy at 10:34/mile pace and I go out and run 4 miles at 8:45/mile pace and it feels easy I don’t think I should have to scale it back.

According to my training plan I should be running my long runs at 10:40-12:10/mile pace, which to me feels more than painfully slow. I tend to average between 9:20-9:30/mile pace for long runs and that feels good.

So what does this mean? Do I need to readjust my race goals? Should I stick to following the paces on my plan? Or should I stick to my faster paces that feel comfortable and hope I don’t hit the wall on race day?

The reason I didn’t set a harder goal in the first place is because I was scared. I considered setting a goal of breaking or going just over 4 hours but then I came to the realization that would be a 33-minute PR, which is huge. I’m very new to marathoning and I still consider myself a beginner runner, but when I look down at the paces on my Garmin I realize, I am getting better. I’m getting faster.

I’ve decided to continue with this plan by following the mileage and most of the workouts but going with the paces that feel comfortable to me. If that means I’m running my easy runs at 8:45/mile instead of 10:32/mile so be it.

As far as any new time goals, I may just keep that one to myself for now!

What do you think I should do? Re-adjust my time goal or stick to this one and see what happens race day?

33 thoughts on “On Running Faster than Marathon Pace

  1. I’m not an expert on this, as I’m still training for my second marathon too — but I think you could re-adjust your time goals. I ran my marathon in December around the same time as yours, and this time I am going to aim for sub-4. I have seen other runners drop significant time between first and second marathon.

    • Thanks for the advice Kristen! I am anticipating dropping significantly in my finish time but I’m still unsure of how much. It’s good to know you’re aiming for sub-4 too especially since you had a similar finishing time as I did. Maybe I will reconsider :)

  2. It’s so hard to say, everyone is so different. I have been through marathon training cycles when I felt the same way as you and then on race day I bonked. I did a training plan and stuck to it even though it felt slow and achieved my goal no problem, but then latter thought I should have put more effort into my training. I would go with how you feel, if it truly feels easy then stick with what your body is telling you.

    • I agree. There are just so many “what ifs” in running, especially marathons, that it’s hard to know what the right thing is to do. I think I’m going to go with how I’m feeling though.

  3. I think every body is different. Running on a high school and college track team, you see people who workout faster than others, race better than others, and/or do runs faster than others and could all run the same race time. For me, I found most programs prescribe too slow of a pace for my easy runs. If you are comfortably holding a significantly faster pace, keep going! As for readjusting your goals, I would leave your goal the same because it is important to continually progress in baby steps. Start the race off around what you planned on going out in with your current goal and see what happens! I think you will really surprise yourself!!!

    • Thanks for your advice! It’s such a toss up but I think I’ll try to go out at my target pace and if I’m still feeling really good at 13.1 I’ll ramp it up a bit.

  4. Everyone is different when it comes to race pace and everyone is different when it comes to determining goals! I would run based on effort throughout your training and readjust your race goals based on that – though it sounds like you are already doing that!

  5. Kind of glad to see you posting about this…I’ve been noticing how many of your “easy” runs were being done much faster than prescribed pace! I’m also training for the Marine Corps Marathon, and it will be my first. So while I’m by no means an expert, I’ve consulted those who are on this same issue.

    I think the answer to your question is yes, adjust your goal, and yes, slow down a little. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. When I signed up for MCM with Team USO back in January, my goal (based on the 13.1 times I was putting up back then) was 5 hours. Now, based on the progress I’ve made, it’s 4 hours! I find I’m able to run at faster paces far more easily as my training has progressed and my fitness has improved. That said, I still run a significant number of miles a good bit slower than marathon pace. There is specific value in slow, easy running, such as developing capillaries for increased blood flow to muscles and proliferation of mitochondria and enzymes needed to convert fuel to energy. When we run at fast paces, the body is too busy just keeping up to make these adaptations, but at slower paces, it’s not working so hard and can take advantage of the opportunity to build this infrastructure that will make us faster on future runs.

    I still run several miles a week at or faster than goal pace so that I am training my body and my mind to run at that pace for long periods of time. But I try to follow the 80/20 rule (80% of miles easy, 20% at or above lactate threshold) because according to the research I’ve read, that’s the optimal ratio for maximizing performance, allowing you to get the benefits of slow running (and increased mileage that your body can handle at slower paces) as well as fast running. Matt Fitzgerald described one study in which a group with an 80/20 split in their 5-month training program improved 30% more than a group with a 67/30 split! That was enough to convince me to slow things down on easy days so I can really push myself in the hard workouts.

    This may be WAY more than you bargained for when you posed the question, but I hope my two cents will be of some help! Good luck on your training, and let us know what you decide to do!

    • Oh my gosh! Thank you so much for this comment! I agree with you as well. I think I do have to do both- readjust my goal and run slower sometimes. It sounds like you’ve collected quite a bit of knowledge for your training which is really great and this definitely helps! Good luck with your training! See you at MCM :)

  6. I’ve been there, it’s really hard to predict race paces, even after you have done one (or many) before. As long as that is an EASY pace then go with it. Back off as necessary. I constantly struggle with people telling me my easy runs are too fast, when in reality my easy pace depends on the day.

    • I totally agree with your last thought. Easy pace definitely depends on the day. For example a post-long run shakeout is going to be much slower than an easy midweek run. It’s whatever feels easy and comfortable at the moment you’re running that matters.

  7. This is something I struggle with constantly. I feel I need to run every single time at my best. I honestly have a very hard time running 9+ minute miles. It just seems too slow and actually makes me feel sluggish. I think doing what feels comfortable to you is a great idea…but like others have said I am no expert :)

  8. Have you tried using a heart rate monitor? I’m no expert, I ran my first full also at a conservative 4:31, but when I strapped on the HRM for my next bout of training I realized I have probably never ONCE trained at a true “low intensity”. Maybe that’s why I was so sore after the full – in training I had run faster (using the fast twitch muscles) almost all the time, I didn’t properly train my slow twitch muscles at slower paces, so they took a hit when I ran 4.5 hours slower than I’m “used” to.

    The long slow distances we train at (the aerobic zone) are intended to build new capillaries to deal with the build up of lactic acid better, and if we are always creating a lot of lactic acid and we’re not giving ourselves the building blocks to deal with it, we’re cheating ourselves out of better results in races. (This may be extremely generalized, but that’s my understanding of what I’ve learned.)

    HENCE I have humbly started running most of my easy and long slow runs at a 10-12 minute mile, and I save the speed for Tuesdays and every other Saturday. I plan to run my next half marathon at an 8:15 pace (which is a full 45 seconds faster than my last half marathon a year ago) which I know will push my heart rate into the anaerobic zone for most of the race, but that’s what I’ve built those capillaries for over the course of my base training for, to deal with the by products…

    This is all in experiment phase but it sounded quite logical to me. I think my point is, even if you feel like you aren’t working hard enough, you’re actually doing incredibly great things for yourself at lower heart rates.

    • This all sounds really good to me. I’ve never trained with a heart rate monitor but it might not be a bad idea to try that out. I know I’m probably running my easy runs too fast but it just feels good! I think going forward with training I’m going to try to take my easy runs a little slower than I may like to but I know it will pay off on race day. I really appreciate all of your comments though! It truly is an experiment!

  9. Your training sounds like it is going well. While this speed feels easy on your training runs it will not be so easy during the marathon.
    Start out slow for the first few miles to get warmed up. A lot of people run the first half a bit conservative and then run negative splits. If you use it all up in the first half you could bonk.
    No one wants to finish and feel they could have run harder. If you get to mile 21 and still have some kick, then go for it!

    • Thanks! I think this is what I’m going to do. I think running the first half very conservative is smart. That’s what I did at Big Sur but because I was still so new to the marathon I decided not to speed up during the second half (although I did run a negative split). Now that I have a little more experience I have more to go on. We’ll see what happens!

  10. Yes you should adjust your goal! By the sounds of your times, you’re in better shape than I, and according to pace converters, I’m capable of running under 4:00. Anyone would predict a sub-4 for you, the only problem here seems to be that you’re afraid to set your sights too high! Honestly, if you don’t admit to yourself that you’re capable of running sub-4, you won’t do it, even if your body is able. Admit that you’re speedier than you had dreamed, and embrace it. Adjust your training (as you have started doing) to help you reach your full potential. Don’t waste your talent because you’re scared or your own progress!

    • Thanks so much Emily for the vote of support! :) I will admit I’m afraid of setting my sights too high because I’m afraid of not reaching the goal but that’s no reason not to set goals, right?

  11. You’re definitely capable of running faster than 4:15. The usual trouble with running too fast in training is that by constantly exceeding your lactate threshold you aren’t giving your body a chance to build itself up. Sounds like that isn’t happening, so stop being so scared and give yourself a tough goal!

    BUT DON’T get too down on yourself if you don’t reach it!

    • See, I need someone like you to talk some sense into me! I really do need to stop being so scared and just go for it. If it happens it happens, if not, there will always be more marathons!

      • EXACTLY. Look, failing to reach a goal is tough. But, if you don’t push yourself you’ll know in the back of your mind that you didn’t.

        You got this Hannah. Pick something reasonable but aggressive and give it your best shot.

  12. Pingback: Marine Corps Marathon Training Week Six | Fit Girl. Happy Girl.

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