MCR 26.2 Blog W18/20: Deciding on your final marathon pace

Last week I wrote about my final-ish goal setting for the Manchester Marathon. The truth is I’ve still been humming and harring about whether my final goal target, or more specifically my final goal pace per mile.

How should you be deciding the pace that you are planning to run at though? Whether you have never run the marathon distance before, or whether you are setting out to run it faster than you have previously, we are all heading into unknown territory. So what are the best ways to decide your marathon target?

"Luke, you switched off your targeting computer, what's wrong?"
“Luke, you switched off your targeting computer, what’s wrong?”


(Like many of you out there preparing for your marathons, you can guess that I’m having some last minute worries, and some of this is very obsessive in terms of detail!)

1. Run a simple achievable target
Your goal may be really simple – just to finish the race on a run walk plan, or to get inside a certain time that you know you are fit enough to run. In that case, just don’t get carried away. Run conservatively and don’t be tempted to go faster. Run at a pace that will get you to that goal and stick to it.

Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to me – although it kind of did last year, this year I haven’t got a set ‘time barrier’. Under 2:50 would be nice but I’m probably capable of slightly more than that, but not quite capable of under 2:45.

2. The Bart Yasso 800s
The Yasso 800s are both a great speedwork session and a great predictor of your marathon form, when alongside all of the other key aspects of your training week, and one that I’ve written about many times before. Either run on a clear flat road or trail route or on a track, the session is 800m intervals with 400m float recoveries. During your training, build this session up until you run a session of 10 intervals, and your average in minutes and seconds should equal your marathon potential in hours and minutes.

Unfortunately for me I did this session on the Friday of a 100 mile week, so I can’t really rely on this due to the fatigue.

3. Compare your runs to your previous marathon performances
If you’ve run a marathon before, it’s worth analysing your performance. If you use a heart rate monitor, have a look at how hard you pushed your body during the race. If you struggled towards the end then it probably indicates that your body was working too hard, and maybe maintaining that heart rate effort for the marathon is too much. Alternately if you had plenty left in the tank, it may mean that you could sustain a higher heart rate. This is a useful indicator as if you are faster and fitter than you were in the previous years or during your last attempt, it should broadly mean that you can just sustain a higher pace for the same heart rate.

For me this still leaves me unsure. I had plenty left in the tank last year, but how high do I dare push the pace and my heart rate during the race?

4. …or compare it to previous half marathon performances
Most of us will run a half marathon in a training block before the marathon. If you ran a half in preparation for a previous marathon, and you’ve run another half in preparation for your current marathon, then it should be reasonably easy to extrapolate how much you think your marathon time may have improved.

If you’ve run a half, then you can also work out a potential time this way. Generally multiplying your half marathon time by 2.2 will give you a reasonable enough estimate. So for me back in 2012 I was looking at my half marathon performance of 1:27:51 – calling that 1:28, multiplying that by 2.2 would have given me 3:14 – In the end I ran 3:15:08.

5. In the final few weeks either run slow or at marathon pace
In the final three weeks I’ve needed to recover from the final weeks of training and heavy mileage, but as is normal I’ve been tapering, cutting the intensity and the weight of training. All of my runs have either been super easy ‘trundles’, trying to get through a short run with my heart rate as low as possible, or runs at a target marathon pace. The other runs have been of differing length to test out my final pacing decision.

For me this has meant running around 10-12 miles at 6:25 pace, trying to hit the pace per mile rather than trying to run easy but hoping that at the end it did feel easy. At the end of the run I put it up on Strava and compare it to my last marathon effort, and working out how my heart rate compared.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 18.31.50

This morning I went out to do a 12 mile run at 6:25 pace. This felt very easy until I got to the out and back turn at 6 miles, and I turned into the full force of Storm Katie – just like Kamworor and Farah at the World Half Marathon Championships. I was then running for four exposed miles straight into the wind and the rain, having to work harder than needed to maintain the pace, so this didn’t give me a great yardstick to compare against.

I hope this helps you to plan your final marathon plan, but where does this leave me? Probably I am still wedded to a 6:25 strategy, although if this mornings run taught me something, it’s that looking at my heart rate it is probably too big a risk to try and do ‘6:25 unders’, and a strategy of ‘6:25 overs’ should help me to run a much more solid race and have the ability to push at the end.

Philip Goose

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