At the time of writing, 7 weeks remain until the Brighton Marathon 2018 (Sunday April 15th) and 8 weeks until London (April 22nd). This article will of course apply to preparation for any marathon but being from Brighton I am obviously biased, so forgive me in advance.
If you have read my piece about training for a half marathon then there will not be an awful lot new here. The reason for this is simple – the most common mistake I see runners making when training for a distance race is the same whether it be a half or full marathon: incorrect/unaware pacing. Do you know what your target race pace is for marathon day? Do you have a target finish time or do you “just want to finish”? If the answer is no, fear not. There is still time to get this sorted!
Why Is Pace Important?
Pace is a measure of how fast you are running, based on how many minutes it would take you at your current speed to complete a mile (or km if you are that way inclined). Most of us can run 100 metres in under 17 seconds, but maintaining that pace for one mile (i.e for 4 minutes and 41 seconds) would be another matter! Elite runner Dennis Kimetto of Kenya can maintain it for just over twenty six miles, which is why he holds the current marathon world record of 2:2:57. Paula Radcliffe ran the 2003 London Marathon at a pace of 5 minutes 1 second per mile, setting a female world record of 2:15:25, and still never beaten. Even if this is the first time you have ever run a marathon, it is vital that you know what pace your body will be able to run for 26.2 miles, otherwise you may find yourself running a fantastic first half and then grinding to a sudden halt.
Target Race Day Pace
“I just want to finish” may have been enough to get you to sign up, but for most runners one of the best ways to avoid injury in training and have no nasty surprises on race day is to calculate your race day pace, i.e. the speed you plan to run the 26.2 miles. Unless you monitor your pace, you are highly likely to make the classic mistake of setting off way too fast (e.g. at your 5km parkrun pace) and then wondering why half way through your legs start feeling like lead. Unless you are a highly experienced runner, you can rarely trust your instinct during a marathon. Your target race day pace will feel frustratingly slow for the first half of the race, but unless you stick to it you may well find yourself slowing down rapidly in the second half of the race and ‘hitting the wall’.
How Do I Calculate My Target Race Day Pace ?
With a month or so to go, there is still ample time to calculate your target race day pace and modify your training runs if necessary. First we need to calculate your predicted race time. There are some fantastic online calculators that can do this for us, using surprisingly accurate scientific formulas. Runner’s World offer a free Race Time Predictor – all you have to do is enter a recent time for a particular distance, e.g. 5km parkrun, hit the button and bingo… it’ll give you predicted race times for half marathon, marathon, whatever distance you want (based on you putting the training in of course!). If you haven’t done a parkrun yet (free, weekly, 5km timed runs all over the UK), I encourage you to do so as they provide a wonderful, fun opportunity for you to get used to running in a timed event and more importantly see how long it currently takes you to run 5km. The table below shows predicted race times for a marathon based on common 5k times:
Now you know your predicted race time, you can use another online calculator to calculate your Target Race Day Pace. Try the Cool Running Pace Calculator here – just enter your predicted race time, the race distance (in this case half marathon) and your target race pace will be calculated.
Below, I have expanded the original table so that it now includes 5km pace (in miles and km) and corresponding target race pace for a marathon (BM). As you can see, your target pace for a marathon is obviously slower than the pace you are able to run 5km. This is very important as many new runners merrily set off at their 5km pace thinking that eventually they will be able to maintain that for 26.2 miles. It doesn’t happen that way. In fact, you may find you need to slow down during your long runs and save the faster pace for your tempo run or interval session during the week!
I Have My Predicted Race Time & Target Race Pace… What Now?
Armed with your predicted race time and target race pace, you are already far better prepared than a lot of other runners going into a marathon. You can now ensure that in those final few weeks to race day, your training sessions are designed to help you happily maintain your race pace for the full 26.2 miles.
The Long Run
Getting the miles in is obviously a vital part of training for a half marathon. Distance running relies on having a strong aerobic system; the greater your ‘aerobic capacity’, i.e. the ability of your body to use oxygen (also known as VO2max), the more energy can be created. That said, many runners actually perform their long run at too fast a pace to efficiently develop their aerobic capacity. Let’s imagine your PB for a parkrun is 30 minutes; looking at the table above we can see that your target race time for a marathon is 4 hours 47 minutes. That means, on race day your aim is to run each mile in 10 minutes 58 seconds. If you have been doing your long runs at a faster pace than this, then you have not been training for your marathon. But don’t worry! There is still ample time for you to practice this race pace, and you may even start enjoying it! Bear in mind that during your long runs, you should really be operating at a ‘tiredness level’ of only 3 or 4 out of 10 (where 10 is a sprint). Open your eyes, take in the scenery, and enjoy your predicted race pace!
Mid Week Runs
Mid week is where you up the pace, where you take your ‘tiredness level’ up to the 7’s and 8’s. Sessions will vary according to the individual, but even with 7 weeks to go most runners could still benefit from incorporating some interval sessions in which let the breaks off and for example run your fastest possible half mile followed by a slower paced recovery mile, and repeat a few times (depending on your level of fitness). If you have not done any hill work yet, you may want to try some (again it will depend on the individual runner’s level of fitness – see a professional for advice before embarking on anything drastically new). Hill sprints, like interval training, are a terrific way of building your neuromuscular fitness, i.e. the ability to keep your legs moving in an efficient manner even when fatigue sets in. When you start fatiguing in the latter stages of the marathon, your running form will start to deteriorate and even if you have the aerobic capacity to continue (provided by your weekly long run), the fall in running economy will hinder your overall performance. Building your neuromuscular fitness through intervals, hill sprints and ancillary strength training will help those legs keep turning over efficiently all the way to the finish line.
If all of this has sounded a little bit daunting, don’t let it be. There is still time for you to have a chat with a running professional in order to make sure these last few weeks go smoothly. If you are in/near Brighton, you can find me at Studio57clinic by Hove Station. With a team of ten therapists, we can help you with any of the following:
- Creation of a training plan
- 1:1 or group strength conditioning
- 1:1 or group outdoor coaching
- Injury Treatment
- Running Gait Analysis