When Do I Run at Race Pace?

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As summer draws to a close, many runners are in the heat of their fall marathon race training. Cooler temps and decreasing humidity are being celebrated. The tempo runs, intervals, and hill workouts are in full swing, and the really long runs have begun.

Many training plans have runners running short-n-easy, long-n-slow, and hard-n-fast. The shorter easy runs keep the weekly mileage base strong. The slow long runs build endurance as you acclimate to longer and longer distances. The speed work builds power, increases VO2Max and pushes out that lactate threshold. 

So begs the question, "When do I get to run at race pace?"  There are some great opportunities to let you body experience race pace running throughout your training.  Here are a couple of options:

Weekly Tempo Run: I have my runners run a weekly tempo run. They begin at 4 miles and every three weeks increase the distance by one mile. For the three weeks at a particular distance, they do three different types of tempo runs—traditional tempo, tempo intervals, and a race-pace tempo. Each type begins and ends with a 1-mile easy warm-up/cool-down. The miles in between are run at the specified tempo pace. A traditional tempo pace is run 30seconds slower than 5K race pace. Tempo intervals rotate between 5-minutes fast (20 secs slower than 5K race pace) and 5-minutes slow (about 30 seconds slower than marathon race pace). The race-pace tempo is run at marathon race pace. So, during their 18-week training, they experience three different types tempo runs at 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 miles before they begin to taper down the last three weeks. These longer race-pace tempo runs are great for helping you guage your race-pace speed.

The Long Run: Traditionally the long run is run about 1-minute slower than marathon race pace. The long run slow pace should be respected. Its purpose is to help you build endurance as you acclimate to longer and longer distances without increasing your chance of injury. But there's always room for a little tweaking.   For example, throw in some race-pace fartleks.  Every fifteen minutes throw in a 1- to 5-minute race-pace fartlek.  Or, pick-it-up the second half with a negative split. Do the first half of the run at the slow long-run pace, then increase your speed to race pace the last half.

Run Shorter Races: I encourage my full marathon trainees to run a half marathon about half way through their training as well as a 30K (18.6 miles) about two-thirds through their training. I have them run both at marathon race pace. This has several benefits—gives experience with running in crowd, dealing with pre-race jitters, and monitoring pace as well as getting to run a pretty good distance at race pace without over extending themselves.

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