The long run can be a daunting and confusing, however absolutely necessary, task in your preparation for a half marathon or full marathon. The purpose of this article is to take some of the confusion out of planning your long run pace (and to help you put faith in your coach when they tell you to slow down on long runs!).
The main goal of the long run is to make sure that your body is ready to spend 2-5+ hours on your feet on race day. By developing the ability to run for the same amount of time as you will spend running on race day, you will build the stamina and confidence that you need before hitting the starting line.
One common misconception that runners have while training for a marathon or half, is that they should run their long runs at their goal race pace to make sure they will be able to sustain that pace for the full distance on race day. Unfortunately, training is not that easy or straight – forward. There is a place for doing marathon pace workouts within your long runs – but these should only be performed a few times per training cycle for the typical runner. By running too far / long at race pace, your body will take an excessive amount of time for recovery and negate the training benefits that you would receive by training at race pace. If you run marathon pace long runs too often, you will have a much greater risk of overtraining and/or injury due to the stress on your body.
Running your long runs at a pace that promotes improved oxygen carrying capability is one of the major goals of your weekly long run. By running at a pace slower than race pace, the greatest improvements can be made to your muscles’ oxygen carrying ability, nutrition use and energy production capabilities.
The pace you should run to gain the most physiological benefits from your long runs while staying healthy is approximately 10-20% slower than your goal marathon race pace or 75-85% of your maximum heart rate. This pace is typically 1-2 minutes slower per mile than you expect to run on race day.
To find your long run pace, engage your math skills: convert your pace to seconds, multiply by 120% and then convert back into minutes and seconds to calculate your long run pace.
A 4 hour marathon goal is 9:09 pace = 549 seconds; 549sec x 120% = 658.8; 658.8 / 60 = 10.98; 0.98×60 = 58.8 = 10 minutes and 59 seconds per mile. Therefore, if you want to race at 9:09 pace, you need to run your long runs at about 11 minutes per mile!
Sometimes you have to slow down to get faster! Enjoy your long runs!