Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marathon Myths

As I approach what will be my 23rd marathon, thinking about the finishing time I want to achieve and my strategy to get there, I have doubts.  There are many things I know to be true about marathon running...and yet.  It is so hard to believe them as that start line draws closer.

For example, when I think about the pace I want for a marathon - let's say somewhere around an 8:35 or 8:40 pace - I feel that I should run that pace for all of my long runs.  This makes sense.  If I want to run 26.2 miles at that pace, I should be running my 15 and 18 and 20 mile training runs at that pace.  Right?  Wrong!  But why?  How is that possible?

When I had it in my head that I wanted to qualify for Boston, I figured out that I needed to run around an 8:25 pace to do it.  That freaked me out.  Most of my long runs were around 10 minute pace or a little less.  And even the training plan I downloaded from said I needed to run my long runs at 9:10 pace.  That didn't make any sense.  How can I train at 9:10 pace and then expect to run almost a minute faster per mile in the marathon?

Now, I do realize there are other training runs incorporated each week that are aimed at increasing speed, and my shorter runs and races are over a minute faster than 8:25 pace. But still...I'd have to hold that pace for 26.2 miles!

This past weekend I ran my 18 miler and tried to push the pace.  Now, I had a few little challenges before me - sore muscles and icy sidewalks and roads, but for the most part I held it.  But after 18 miles at 8:54 pace, I was tired.  I was glad to stop.  I was glad I did not have 8 more miles to run.  So how is it that I hope to run faster than 8:54 pace in the actual marathon? 

Two days later I did my 8-mile tempo-esque run.  My tempo runs are always a bit backward in that I allow my first mile to warm me up a bit and then I run all the others as hard as I can go, trying for negative splits the entire way.  The average pace for this run was 8:10, with the last two slightly under 8 (7:59, 7:37).  I was pleased with this because I knew I was still tired from the 18 miler Saturday and the 10 miler Sunday.

But still, as I sit and think about it, it is hard to imagine going 8:40 pace for 26 miles.  I know it will be a race, which affects adrenaline levels and such.  I know I will fuel more.  I did nothing for the 15 miler and only a sip of water in the middle of the 18 miler.  I've even seen this truth in my own marathon running experiences...

And yet...I still doubt.  It seems like a marathon myth.  But is it?


  1. I liked this post! I always have that nagging feeling about running faster long runs to prepare for race day. It really doesn't add up, does it? But, I have to remind myself to look how much faster I can do my shorter runs and how I'm not as tired after longer runs. We'll see how it all pans out in February. Ask me then what I think, ha!!

  2. We will have lots of good post-race discussion on the way home! :)

  3. Jane, I believe the mental component on race day plays a HUGE role in taking you past your training. Of course, the long runs have to be in place but with me they are usually 90 seconds or more slower than my marathon pace. That being said, your training seems to almost guarantee that you will be able to hold that pace race day. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thank you, my friend. I am feeling good about the long runs. And you are so right, the mental component is a MAJOR part of that race. I'm working on training that as well. :)