How do you figure out what pace you should train at?

From the 5K distance up to the marathon – it’s not easy to know what the optimal training paces are with out help from someone with experience. My go to site for figuring out what pace I should train at is the McMillan Running website.

I think one of the biggest mistakes runners make when training for the half marathon and marathon distance is always running in their comfort zone. Runners often assume because they can run a certain pace easily – that they should run their long runs, easy runs and recovery runs, at this comfortable pace. On the flip side they often do not go fast enough in speed work because their bodies are tired from always being in the comfort zone. A runner needs to run fast on speed days, slow on recovery days and a mixture of speeds on other days.

Let’s use a 4 hour marathon as an example.

Goal sub 4:00

Plug in 3:58 to McMillan.

Note: I always plug in a tad faster than goal race pace because the likelihood of you running the exact pace you train for is small. There are always variables in the marathon that can slow you down – prepare for this.

Goal Pace: 9:06

Below are the basic training paces. I didn’t include the track paces because they can seem intimidating at first.

  • Recovery Jogs
  • 10:36 to 11:06
  • Long Runs
  • 9:36 to 10:36
  • Easy Runs
  • 9:36 to 10:06
  • Tempo Runs
  • 8:16 to 8:37
  • Tempo Intervals
  • 8:09 to 8:26
How many of you that have trained for a sub 4 marathon and ran as slow as 11:00 min pace on your recovery runs [this is not to say that 11 minutes is slow but that 11 minutes is slow for an individual who can run 9 minute pace comfortably]? I’d venture to say that many of you haven’t and some of you may have found that you fell short of your sub 4 goal on race day.
Optimal training paces are important for any distance race. You don’t do yourself any favors by always pushing the limits in training and training at a faster pace than you should be. It’s often hard to run your own pace but I like to remind myself on race day NO ONE is running the race for me. I run this body. No one else. If I train at someone else’s pace instead of what is best for me – then I might end up with a result I don’t want.
If you are the type of runner that does not care about time goals – it’s still important to vary your speed and distance. The human body is not meant to go full speed 7 days a week. Eventually you will break down. Vary your pace and distance to not only help you not get bored with running, but to also give your body a break and keep it guessing.

When looking at the paces at the beginning of a training cycle you should be able to hit the slow end of the range – if you can get in the range then your race goal is probably realistic. By the middle of training your paces should have improved. This is a reason why it’s important to keep a training diary or log your miles. Looking back over training cycles – what you did and didn’t do will help you prepare better in future cycles.

By the end of the training cycle the goal is to be at the lower end of the paces on all the runs. If a 9 minute pace is fairly easy for you for 10 miles or so then you would be in range for the easy runs, long runs, and recovery runs – but if you can’t get down to the lower end of the Tempo Run, Tempo Interval or Track paces then you are likely not in as good of shape as you think and may need to adjust your race goal.

During a training cycle I log into McMillan’s site weekly. I write out my paces for various different marathon scenarios and tape them up where I can see them. I want to live them. Breathe them. I want to be able to tell you how fast I need to run in any given workout to get my 3:05.

 

I have found from my 9 years as a marathoner that breaking down the marathon into small PR’s helps. My first marathon was a 4:20 my PR now a 3:11. I could have never have just trained for a 3:11 and hit that mark after my 4:20 marathon. I needed to make small training changes.

I went from a 4:20 to 4:14 to 4:09 to 3:59 to 3:36 to 3:31 to 3:21 to 3:13 and then finally 3:11. I had some setback marathons in there where I actually ran MUCH slower than my PR – but the point is that you want to knock off time slowly in the marathon. HUGE PR’s are nice but small PR’s should be celebrated. I want to respect my body when it comes to running. My goal is to be the 80 year old grandma winning my age group at races!

 

Do you use McMillan’s site? Is there another site you use instead of his? Thoughts on figuring out your training paces? Questions?

Comments

  1. Jess B says:

    As a new long distance runner this is really helpful — thanks!

  2. As a slow (and I mean slow) beginner runner, I’ve had a hard time using the McMillan pacing. Most of my runs would be slow enough to be walks! That just doesn’t make sense to me. For faster runners, it makes total sense!
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  3. Leslie says:

    This is so timely! I’ve been trying to figure out how to pace. During my last marathon training, which ended abruptly 2.5 weeks before my marathon with a stress fracture, I ran basically the same comfortable pace for my runs, throwing in random sprints. This will be SO helpful in this training round. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. Thank you so much for this!! I trained on my own for my first marathon with very little know how and the pace is what killed me! I ran too slow to be able to finish before they had to re-open the course to the public. I’ll for sure use this on my next race!
    Courtney recently posted..Celebrating the VictoriesMy Profile

  5. This post is great – thank you!!! I will definitely use this and it’s so helpful to know that I should be able to hit certain paces at certain points in my training.
    You mention at the end of the post that you had a few setback races where you were way off your PR. I’m a little new to the blog so, have you written about those setbacks before? I had a bit of a setback this year and would love to know how you have handled them mentally and how you bounced back physically and got back on track for the next race.
    Thanks again for a great post, as well as all of your fantastic posts! :)
    Katie @ Life… Discombobulated recently posted..Positive ThinkingMy Profile

  6. I like using the McMillan calculator. I still don’t really do things the way you are supposed to with speedwork and all but I still use those paces as references in my overall plan and have definitely seen lots of improvement!
    abbi recently posted..Guess I’m Sticking to DistanceMy Profile

  7. I just ran my 2nd marathon this past weekend, and in 8 months, I took 1 hour and 10 minutes off my marathon time! Granted, 30 minutes (no exaggeration!) of my first marathon were spent in port-o-potties, but regardless, I’m PUMPED about such an awesome improvement, and I’m starting to think that I can be pretty good at this whole marathon thing if I train properly and push myself. I dabbled with the MacMillan calculator early on in training this time around, but then ITBS sidelined me for a few weeks and made me wary of pushing the speed at first. For marathon #3 (in November!), I plan on focusing on hitting specific paces for my runs – recovery, long, tempo, and more! Love this post! :)
    Janene recently posted..Friendspiration, Girls on the Run Edition: Meet Jordanna!My Profile

  8. Good post, Dorothy! I use an iPhone app that is McMillan-based. It is HARD to run as slow as it suggests, but I am trying. I am still dealing with a pretty major injury that I got over a year ago, and the only way I can figure that I got the injury was by taking too many of my training runs too fast. Being hurt and out of running for months is a hard way to learn!
    Kim recently posted..LovelyVino: Murphy’s Law For Runners: http://t.co/pmjZtszkMy Profile

  9. I’ve found via coaching that the opposite is also true where a lot of runners I coach are running their easy and recovery runs way too fast and feel obligated to hold a certain pace. I like the mcmillan running calculator, but I think that a lot of runners take these paces too literally and rely a bit too much on the numbers and not enough on how they feel. My philosophy is simple, hard runs should be hard and easy runs should be easy where numbers are just numbers if we don’t tune into how we feel.
    Britt @ Chicago Runner Girl recently posted..Faithfully FearlessMy Profile

  10. There is also the VDOT Calculator (http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.htm) and, if you really want to get geeky, the Runner’s Projection Utilities (http://www.electricblues.com/html/runpro.html) which also allow you to look at the impact of weight on your potential race times, etc. However, one point I think you overlook in your post is that these tools should be used based on your recent race results – not your goal race. It becomes too easy to overreach if you select too aggressive of a goal and risk frustration or injury. Running solid workouts within your existing capabilities will provide all the improvement you need, and you need to “earn” your way to more aggressive pacing by delivering at your next race.
    Greg Strosaker recently posted..Physical Therapy Gone Wrong – A Case StudyMy Profile

    • Totally agree with this. The calculator is meant to project race times at other distances IF you do the proper training (a 5kPR will very often not equal the correlated marathon time for this reason). I see all too many people pull a goal time for the marathon out of thin air and plug it into the McMillan calculator to get training paces. It ultimately doesn’t end very well.

  11. This is all very true – and the other thing I find McMillan useful for is setting realistic target race time ranges. Of course you don’t want to limit yourself, but if you run a 25 5k in September, trying to train for a 3:30 marathon in December is probably going to lead to disappointment.
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  12. Great point. I’m about to start training for my second marathon, and while I know how to push the pace when training for 5Ks, this distance stuff is a whole other animal. I think McMillan is an important confidence builder: I plug in my 5K time and am told I can, in theory, run my target marathon time. But I agree the paces seem slow. I’ll use both this site and Hal Higdon’s training guides to come up with a marathon training plan.

    That being said, I would love to see a post on your marathon workouts. Looking at your time progression, you clearly have some experience in the matter! :)
    Rachel recently posted..Seattle-BoundMy Profile

  13. Thanks for the informative post! Based on this, I definitely need to slow some of my runs waaaay down. However, there is one thing that I’ve never understood: How do you know that you can run a certain pace for a marathon if you’ve never done a long run at that pace?

  14. Are you stalking my internet use? I spent yesterday afternoon on the the McMillan Running site checking to see if I was training for my sub 4 hour marathon in 6 weeks. I am “drinking the Kool-aid” and training at different paces.

    I refuse to kill myself trying to run every day at the same pace. Plus, it’s really boring.
    LouLou recently posted..20 mile run and new shoesMy Profile

  15. I have used the mcmillan running call training for my first marathon–it has been very useful! Can you address stroller runs? I have a harder time hitting my tempo paces if I am pushing a stroller….obvs I try to do these runs wo a stroller, but sometimes I don’t have a choice. I also found the comment about being on the lower end of the paces VERY USEFUL. That, in addition to battling an IT band injury 2 weeks before the big race tell me I probably need to adjust my goals.

  16. Love this post. For so many obvious reasons.
    Jocelyn recently posted..NJ Marathon RecapMy Profile

  17. Excellent! Thanks for sharing! That’s perfect for me as I begin my training for Chicago. Gives me a basis for looking at the times on my Garmin and something to shoot for! Thanks!

  18. The link to the Mcmillan running site is not working for me. Did you forget the http:// first?

    I also have to comment I cannot believe your improvement! It’s amazing to me. If I ran a marathon, I might hit 4:20 the first time, given that I have run a 2 hour half. But I cannot imagine ever being as fast as you are. You’re an inspiration!
    Brenna Kater, Oceanskater recently posted..Pumpkin Custard, Grain & Dairy FreeMy Profile

  19. And that site just told me I could run a 4:13 marathon. What a nice thought!

  20. I’ll add one more thing. I have no idea what half that stuff means. Really none. I guess it’s time to learn some running lingo and actually train for a race beyond logging miles!

  21. Awesome info thanks! I’m constantly looking at my paces on his calculator. I’ve also plugged in faster goal times and have had to adjust accordingly because my level of fitness wasn’t there yet. You’re right every run has a purpose and it’s important to try and stick with those paces for each of them.
    Laura recently posted..Running For Their LivesMy Profile

  22. Nice to read this and remember slow recovery runs. I went for a hard bike ride yesterday and running this morning on tired legs. Had to remind myself its okay to go slow and after reading this its another reminder that slow is really good for your body as well. Thanks again for inspiring me.

  23. Thank you so much for this comment. It is perfect timing- I’ve just spend hours goggling how to get faster. haha. I just ran my first marathon this past Sunday. I ran a 4:29, and was slightly bummed by the time because on all of my training long runs I ran at a 9:20 pace, even at 20 miles! One of the biggest reasons why I think this happened is because my Garmin died at the starting line and I had to run totally by feel, when I wasn’t used to that.

    But another reason is because I always ‘just run’ during my training. I don’t speed up, I don’t push it (unless it’s just a 3 or 4 miler), I just run. So sometimes I had great runs that were sub 9 min. miles and sometimes, on off days, I’d have 9:30 min miles. But I wasn’t training to run fast, just to finish the marathon. Now I want to run another marathon and will start looking at pacing and how to speed up. Thanks for the advice!!! I’m going to bookmark this page. :)
    Mrs. C. recently posted..Get Outta My Way! Things that P*ss this runner off :)My Profile

  24. Hi Dorothy! It was fun chatting with you at the zoo today! I love how you are exactly the same in person as you seem to be online. Your personality really comes through in your blog.

    I’ve only been running for three months, but it has really changed my mind and body. Thanks for your blog and for showing me that anyone can be a runner. The only difference between you and me is that you get out there and make it happen, with no excuses. Now I do, too, and it feels great.

    I hope to see you again sometime. :)
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  25. Thanks so much for the awesome post!
    I would eventually like to be a sub 4 marathoner with goals to BQ in a few years and this is just the post I needed to read. I have looked at mcmillian plenty of times but always thought running at an 11 min pace was just way to slow for me! But reading this post makes sense as to why it’s important. I hope for a fall marathon I can break my 4 hour goal
    Cynthia recently posted..Lake Lowell Half Marathon RecapMy Profile

  26. This is broken down really well. I have only run 2 marathons and certainly am guilty of goign too fast fr recovery miles.

    Once my feet heal (PF, relearning running form), I’m tackling my sub-4 and more goal. :)
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  27. I actually use the VDOT system. My coach uses it so thats just what I go with.
    Here is the website:
    http://www.attackpoint.org/trainingpaces.jsp
    Its pretty much the same thing as McMillian but the paces are slightly different between the two. I think its just good to have a chart that tells you how fast you should be running!
    J recently posted..I’ll have a side of taperMy Profile

  28. i LOVE this. thank you! i need to be better about planning and i have checked out the mcmillian calculator. i’m currently right at a sub 4 and need to not beat myself up about not getting that 30 minute PR at each race. i think finding a coach will be my next step in all of it. hoping you can tell me more at HTC :)

  29. I love McMillan, although I use it a little differently than you. I start with a recent race and use that to set my training paces. The predicted outcomes are really based on your current ability and most people train too fast – this helps keep things in line. I love the range, because when I trained using VDOT, it was too specific for me and I stressed about it. ;)
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  30. I use McMillan for speedwork, but for easy or recovery runs (or most runs!) I don’t run with time, so I am not really sure what pace i am at. I probably ought to focus on that, and start taking rest days. I wonder if I’d feel more fresh?
    My marathon history is very similar to yours: 4:15 to 3:06 in two years, with all shades of variation between.
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  31. Love McMillian!! This is an excellent post. I use HR guided training along with McMillan and have PR’d my last 3 races (2 half marathons and a 5K). Slowing down and listening to my body was key.

    Kim
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  32. I use the McMillan calculator and the calculator off of Runnersworld.com
    At one of my last races my time was actally in the middle of the times estimated by each site but, as you know there is so many factors that play into the race day.
    I use the paces on all my runs however, my question for you would be how do I figure out my “easy” training runs with the stroller? I push my 14 month old who is around 20 lbs and I have a BOB Ironman which weighs 21 lbs, so that’s 41 lbs of weight to push. Should I just aim for the slower side of the pace or just run “easy” how I feel that day as long as it’s in the necessary range?
    Also, would you recommend doing tempo or speed work runs with the stroller and just adjusting the pace, or do you think that could cause an injury?
    I do 2-3 of my “easy” training runs with the stroller and then my tempo, speed work and long run days I usually have someone watch my baby girl however, sometimes a sitter isn’t available.
    Kristie recently posted..Week 9 of Half Marathon Training and Bloomsday Race ReportMy Profile

  33. Great info – I never thought to use mcmillan for training, but I am going to check it out! I was totally guilty of always running too fast, never running slow recovery. Then I think I started running too many slow recovery and am now finding the right balance! Thanks for posting!
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  34. Also, would you recommend doing tempo or speed work runs with the stroller and just adjusting the pace, or do you think that could cause an injury?
    Claire recently posted..Chamonix Mont BlancMy Profile

    • Claire – I don’t typically do speed work with the stroller but yes I would just attempt to get into the slower end of the range knowing that it’s completely ok if you don’t make it in the range at all. Last summer when I first started training with the triple I was not in the range for any runs – by the end of the summer I was in the middle of the range – it helps to track your progression and compare stroller runs to stroller runs. Does that help?
      Mile Posts By Dorothy Beal recently posted..A Solo Run: Tea Party PicturesMy Profile

  35. I like that MacMillan running calculator, but I’m a little confused as to how it would pan out. I don’t understand the method behind running your long runs slower than your goal pace and then expecting yourself to run faster on race day. Any insight into this logic? I understand the benefit from an injury prevention standpoint, but I just feel like I wouldn’t feel very confident going into a marathon wanting to average around an 8min/mile, having run all my long runs almost a full min/mile slower. I really truly want to understand this method, but I’m finding it hard to grasp the logic.
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  36. This is an awesome explanation! Love to see where your times have been compared to where you are now.

  37. Thank you for suggesting this site!! I had been wondering, at my current level, how each of my runs should go as far as recovery, etc. This should come in handy for my first half in Chicago!
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  38. I so needed this post! I am getting ready to run my next marathon in a couple of weeks and looking at these numbers I now know that sometime in the future that a sub 4 is indeed possible. Thanks for sharing the McMillian site with us and going over there right now. By the way, I always say that I want to be that 70 year still running the race….LOL

  39. it’s great to see you use this calculator as well! luke and i also use it as a goal! i have found it very useful!
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  40. I have a question for you… I’m trying to speed up my time for my next race, a half marathon. When I type in the numbers, do I put in my best time (2:00:20) and my goal time (1:55) or do I put my goal time into both boxes? I’m a bit confused and I want to make sure that I train right this time. I want to stop ‘just running’ and want to finally work towards getting faster. Also, does a 5 minute speed up seem like a reasonable goal?
    Thanks for your help:)
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  41. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this
    post plus the rest of the site is also really good.
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  44. Christopher Rupert says:

    Nicely explained with examples and it’s easy to understand. Yes I have used Macmillan calculator and many other online calculators. The running pace calculator provided at Runnersworld http://www.runnersworld.com/tools/pace-calculator is as good as Macmillan. I have checked the results, they also provide similar results. I think people must share their experiences and views regarding the same.

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  1. […] at Mile Posts, Dorothy posted a great link, and wrote a great post about appropriate pacing while training for a goal. I’ll admit – I run my long runs too fast, and don’t do enough speed work. Which […]

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