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Marathon Training Plan: Pace/Effort Guidelines
This marathon training plan makes reference to four different paces or levels of effort. Experienced runners might be familiar with these terms, but all runners can strive to get accustomed to ‘changing gears’ between these levels. Knowing how each of these levels of effort feels to you will quickly become instinctive.
S – Steady. A pace at which you can talk but it becomes slightly more challenging. Likely to be mid to high 70s% of maximum heart rate (MHR).
T – Lactate Turnpoint (‘threshold’ in old terminology). This is about the pace you can maintain in an all-out effort for about 50 minutes (or maybe 35/40 minutes for newer, less established runners). For many runners this will be fairly close to 10k race pace. Coaches who are really keen to stress the positives about structured running describe this as the fastest pace at which you remain comfortable. Whereas coaches whose real idea of comfort is sitting in a padded sofa, left hand cradling a glass of wine while the right one clutches a large piece of cake, will more likely view this as when it just begins to get uncomfortable. Typically around low 80s% MHR.
R – Repetitions. Let’s call this your 15 to 20 minute race pace, so it’s clearly going to be quite tough. If you have just 20 minutes to give your all, and you are trying to do this at an even pace, then after 3 or 4 minutes at the right level of intensity your breathing will be at an intensity that will restrict any chat to fairly rushed half sentences. Typically high 80s – low 90% MHR.
I – Interval. This is fast; it will be at about 100% of your velocity at your maximal oxygen uptake, or vVO2 max. It’s about your notional one mile race pace, or perhaps a little quicker. Within about 3 minutes of starting this sort of effort it will be extremely hard work. Hence when you train at this sort of pace, the bursts will be fairly short, with a recovery long enough to enable you to repeat the effort. Do be aware that Interval training is not, either technically or metabolically, sprinting. Sprinting is your absolute maximum speed, so, give or take, what you can muster for about 15 to 20 seconds. Interval training is clearly a sub-maximal speed. Simplifying and generalising, as you get fitter aerobically the difference between your Interval speed and your sprint speed should become narrower. Mid 90s% MHR.
Typically the difference between each of the paces in these levels of effort is about 20 to 25 seconds per mile. There’s no need to agonise over the exact numbers session by session, whatever level of complexity of Garmin you may be using, but do try to be aware of the clear difference of perceived effort as you move between the different paces.
“Which Marathon Training Plan is Right for Me?”
Use the following information to decide which marathon training plan will suit you best. All three plans assume a certain level of fitness which not all readers will have. Be honest with yourself when choosing which plan to follow, as an “in at the deep end” approach is unwise, and will leave you wide open to injury. If you’re not yet at the level required for Marathon Training Plan 1, you could check out some of the beginner training plans available on sites like the Race for Life website, or Runner’s World (though note that the latter are not free.) You could also consider building up to marathon distance more gradually, perhaps by following one of our half marathon training plans.
You are regularly running at least 2 or 3 days per week and, 6 months before your marathon, can currently run/jog for at least 60 minutes without needing to walk. The pace doesn’t matter, but this marathon training plan should get you to a training run before the marathon of something over 3 hours without stopping to walk. You might need to factor in some short walking breaks in the marathon itself but, broadly, we are looking at low to high 4 hours to complete the marathon.
At this level, the actual result will vary hugely depending on age, gender, weight, lifestyle, commitment to training and pace judgement (not to mention whether you are lucky or less lucky on the endurance genetics.) The pace details are less important than at more advanced levels and the absolute key factor is simply heading out the door (or onto the treadmill, that’s fine) more often and for longer than you have been used to doing. Developing some understanding of varying the effort so that you can distinguish between ‘ easy’ ‘steady’ and ’harder’ will also make life considerably easier.
For this level of marathoner, interval training is of far less significance than some articles may suggest (albeit it remains a useful part of the package.) You should be clear, however, that the midweek harder run is at a stronger effort than the weekend longer run. The long run should not be a scenario where every week you run as far and as you can as fast as you can, though some such runs are included. If you follow this plan you will finish somewhere in the middle of any large marathon field, mainly because so many will be much less well prepared than you.
The ParkRuns and 10ks are strongly recommended as milestones, both for motivation and because they will help guide you on pace judgement as you go up and down the endurance distances. Your marathon pace is not likely to be within one minute per mile of your 10k PB pace so bear that in mind as the marathon approaches. Think in terms of about 80-to 90 secs per mile slower than your 10k pace.
This marathon training plan does not show weekly mileage as it is all based on ‘time on feet’ and the paces will vary considerably among runners. No-one need worry that they have done ‘only’, for example, 23 miles in a week instead of a supposed 28 miles. If you are doing the time at the right effort level, that is just fine.
Note – do try to do these runs in the order shown, particularly as the long runs get longer. The idea is that you don’t push yourself too hard in the day or two before or after the longest runs, and that you are getting a well-spread variety of harder training efforts.
You are already running regularly 3 or 4 times per week. You have a long run most weeks of at least 11 or 12 miles and regularly do at least one session per week that includes some tough faster interval training. This marathon training plan should be a manageable, progressive yet challenging step up towards a good marathon result. Six months before your target marathon you already have a fairly clear idea what your race paces are for 5k, 10k and half marathon, so can carry out runs and sessions that go through these paces.
The ‘headlines’ for this marathon training plan are:
- 4 runs per week, each week
- 26 Week Average = 34 miles per week
- Single week maximum = 47 miles
- Majority of males aged less than early 40s should typically run between 3hr 25 and 3hr 45 off this plan, given a balanced diet, BMI around 24 or less and very good pacing on the day and in good conditions
- Majority of females aged less than early 40s should run between 3hr 35 to 3hr 55 off this plan, given balanced diet, BMI around 24 or less and very good pacing on the day and in good conditions
- Note that the ‘majority’ will not cover everyone. There are genes involved, both in terms of natural aerobic ability and one’s response rate to aerobic training, and some people have relatively good or relatively bad luck which coaching can’t override.
You have been running at least 2 years. You run at least 4 days a week and typically average at least 35 miles/55km per week, with a longer run of at least 11/12 miles and at least one and more often two harder sessions most weeks. You think you have capacity to push things further. You may not have actually done a marathon but you have done 10ks and at least one half marathon and know what sort of paces you can sustain for these distances. You have looked at marathon training plan 2 and it looks like a step backwards for you! You might alternatively be an experienced triathlete who is putting in at least 5 to 8 hours per week across the swim/run/bike disciplines.
The headlines for this marathon training plan are:
- 5 or 6 runs per week, each week
- 26 week average = 49 miles per week
- Single week max = 62 miles
- Majority of males aged less than early 40s should achieve between 2hr 50 and 3hr 10 off this plan, given a balanced diet, BMI around 24 or less and very good pacing on the day and in good conditions
- Majority of females aged less than early 40s should achieve between 3hr 05 to 3hr 20 off this plan, given a balanced diet, BMI around 24 or less and very good pacing on the day and in good conditions
- Note that the ‘majority’ will not cover everyone. There are genes involved, both in terms of natural aerobic ability and one’s response rate to aerobic training, and some people have relatively good or relatively bad luck which coaching or training can’t override
- E = Easy, which should be 7.40 or more likely slower. This is the most flexible pace and main thing is to keep it easy.
- S = Steady – around 7.10 to 7.30, avoid it drifting slower
If you are over 40/45 years old you might think about replacing one or two easy/steady runs per week with aerobic cross training to keep the aerobic load high without the almost daily impact of running.