The first step in beginning a training program is figuring out what pace you should train at.
Running fast all the time will not make you a fast runner. Consequently running long and slow all the time will also not make you fast. You must use a combination of fast and slow running in order to improve and lower race times. When to run fast and when to run slow can be challenging to figure out for yourself.
After you have spent some time base building, which is basically slowly building up your weekly mileage to the average mileage you plan on running during your training program. Meaning that if you currently only run 15 miles a week and you need to average 40 or more miles per week while training for a marathon, you slowly build up your base miles from 15 to about 35 or so. Once this has been accomplished and you are ready to begin your training program it’s a good idea to run a race to gage your current fitness level.
If you plan on training for a 1/2 marathon or marathon then a 10K is a good distance to race to get a base race time. Take your race time and plug it into Greg McMillans running website. We will use 45:11 for the purpose of this post. You will find that by entering this time Greg estimates based on scientific calculations you could run around a 3:32 for a marathon. What might surprise you is that this means your pace for a long run should be between 8:36 and 9:06. You do not attempt to run your long runs at the average pace of 8:06 that you plan on running your marathon at. Further it might surprise you that recovery runs should be at a pace of 9:36 – 10:06.
When I first started training for marathons I would run my long runs around a 10 minute pace. I believe this did me a huge disservice and ultimately caused me to have a slower time than I was capable of. My long runs should have been between a 10:30 – 11:30 pace[work backwards by plugging in your marathon time to see if you trained in the optimal training zones]. You may be thinking to yourself that a 30 second difference in pace on a long run isn’t much of a difference, I’m here to tell you it is. You do not get the long run training benefits if you are running the wrong pace on your long runs – be that too fast or too slow.
I have found based on my own personal training that McMillan’s calculations are usually pretty dead on. There have been times I have not been able to run as fast as he stated and times I have been faster than he thought, but overall it has given me a baseline of what times I should train at and what I am capable of running in a race. Simply having the calculation tell me a faster number than I thought possible has helped me push myself during races and lower my times.
Bookmark this running calculator and use it as a tool in your fitness arsenal. Re-evaluate your times throughout the season as your fitness improves. If you run races throughout the training period, plug the time in and see if you are still on target for your goal marathon time. Decide whether you need to adjust your goal faster or slower. Also be sure to read Greg’s explanations of equivalent performance and optimal training paces.