Marathon Pace

When people talk about a steady run, I think about marathon pace. Marathon pace is aerobic, so you should be able to do your whole weekly long run at this speed. It is also faster than your easy pace and so more interesting for those of us who are not running swift times. 

Marathon pace

Variety: Steady run or long repeats (e.g. 2 x 4 miles at marathon pace)

Intensity: Generally in the range 75-84% of VO2max or 80-90% of your HRmax.

Purpose: Used to experience race pace conditions for those training for a marathon or simply as an alternative to Easy pace running for beginners on long run days.

The RUN SMART project

I have been reading the Frank Howitt archive on the Serpentine running club’s website; most of the pro-level training plans he suggests, from the mile to 10k, involve running 13 miles at a pace similar to an athletes marathon speed. Jack Daniel’s advises beginner runners could use this pace as an alternative on easy runs.

Pete Magill in ‘Fast 5K‘ says that the comfortably hard marathon pace is the slowest speed for a tempo run and recommends runners targetting the 5K build up to workouts of 25 to 30 continuous minutes. Pete advises initially breaking tempo runs into 5-10 minute blocks with 2-3 minute jogs as recovery to reduce the resulting fatigue and help you to auto-regulate the pace.

Fast 5K Marathon pace progression:

  • Beginner: 10min
  • Intermediate: 2 x 10 min w/ 3 min recovery jog
  • Advanced #1: 2 x 10 min + 5 min w/ 2 min recovery jog
  • Advanced #2: 3 x 10 min w/ 3 min recovery
  • Elite: 30min

Once comfortable performing 30 minutes of continuous marathon pace as part of your weekly 13-mile long run, you could pick up a marathon training plan for progression ideas. In Daniels’ running formula, Jack Daniels recommends 40-110 minutes and under 18 miles marathon pace per workout and between 15-20% of weekly mileage. Daniel’s says to use marathon pace when training for a marathon or building confidence in sustaining longer efforts.

Daniel’s running formula marathon pace workouts:

  1. 60 min E, 30 min M, 10 min E
  2. 60 min E, 40 min M, 10 min E
  3. 60 min E, 60 min M, 10 min E
  4. 30-40 min E, 80 min M, 10 min E
  5. 40-60 min E, 70 min M, 10 min E

Marathon pace is a fun, comfortably hard pace for steady runs to build stamina and confidence. The pace provides more muscle activation and physiological benefits than the traditional long-run easy pace but can be tougher on your body. Build up slowly to including more of the long run mileage at this speed until you can perform 13 miles at the pace. This approach will introduce enjoyment to the long miles, building a solid engine and strong legs to tackle any distance you choose to race. 

Train all your running muscles

Running is a full-body activity, and the faster you run, the more of your body you use. There are close to 700 muscles in the human body, and you use most of them when running fast. If you do all of your training at a slow pace as many long-distance runners do, you do not train the majority of your muscles, and you miss the opportunity to get faster.

There are three types of muscle fibers; slow-twitch, Intermediate fast-twitch, and fast-twitch. At low intensities, you only use your slow-twitch, and as the workout gets more intense, you start to include your intermediate and then fast-twitch fibers. Pete Magill in Fast 5K suggests that you need to vary your runnings paces to train each type of muscle fibre and reach your maximum running potential. 

Jack Daniels suggests that you need to train using five specific paces relative to your V02Max. Daniels provides an online running calculator to work out these paces based on your most recent race performance.

Training intensitypercentage of V02MaxPace based on 1:35 1/2 marathon
Easy59-75%5:18-5:50 min/km
Marathon75-84%4:41 min/km
Threshold83-88%4:24 min/km
Interval95-100%4:03 min/km
Repetition100%+3:48 min/km
Running training paces

If you miss any of these five paces from running training, you leave gains in speed on the table. Start to build in all five paces into your running to get faster and wait till eight weeks before any race to start introducing specific workouts targeted at that event.