Goal Pace Marathon Long Runs

By Rick Morris

When many runners think of marathon long runs they envision long slow distance runs of 12 to 30 miles. That type of run has been the cornerstone of marathon training for many years. What marathon runner hasn’t made a habit out of their weekend 20 miler? It has even become a social event. There are many running clubs around the world that organize a weekly long run, complete with hydration and refueling stations. These are goal pace marathon long runs.

There is good reason for the popularity of marathon long runs. It is almost without question the most important workout in marathon training. You can finish a marathon without any speed work, lactate threshold training, hill running or strength training. You may not set a new PR, but you would finish as long as you completed your long runs. On the other hand, if you skipped all your long runs, you would have a very difficult time finishing the race. If you did manage to finish you would probably be carted away from the finish line in a cardboard box.

The standard easy paced long runs do a good job of preparing you to run 26.2 miles. They increase the capillary density in your muscles, build energy producing mitochondria and train you to spend a lot of time on your feet. You need all of those benefits to finish a marathon. But, what if your goal is more than just to finish? Do you have a goal pace you would like to meet? If you are trying to run a specific race pace you should be incorporating goal specific running into your long runs. The easy running prepares you to finish the 26.2 miles, but you need some goal pace work to get you ready to run at race pace.

There are many ways to include goal pace work in your weekly long run. Here are a few useful goal pace marathon long runs that I have found to be very effective in training runners to race at goal pace.

Marathon Mimic Long Run

This is one of the most effective types of goal pace long runs because you practice running at goal pace when you are fatigued and have dropping glycogen stores. To perform this workout you simple run the first part of your long run at an easy pace and speed up to your goal race pace for the last section. Your first marathon mimic long run should only include about 3 miles at goal pace. For example – run 15 miles with 12 miles at an easy pace and the last 3 miles at goal marathon pace. As you progress through your training program you would gradually increase both the distance at goal pace and the percentage of your total run at goal pace. Your last long run before your taper should be run with half your miles at goal pace. For example – 24 miles with the first 12 at an easy pace and the last 12 miles at goal marathon pace. This is a hard run that places a considerable strain on your body, so you should this type of long run no more than twice per month leading up to your race

Fast Finish Marathon Mimic Long Run

This type of marathon long run is the same as the marathon mimic, except that you run the last mile at 10K pace and the final ¼ mile at full speed. This is a very effective workout for competitive runners who expect to be competing for top overall or age group positions. It is not uncommon to be in the position of needing a fast finishing kick to maintain your place or accelerate to catch a rival runner. This workout will prepare you to reach deep down for the faster than race pace kick at the end of the marathon.

Marathon in the Middle

This is an easier version of the marathon mimic long run. Instead of speeding up to goal marathon pace at the end of your long run, insert some goal pace work in the middle of your workout. This slightly easier version is most appropriate for marathon runners that are new to competition and goal pace running.

Marathon Long Run Fartlek

For those of you who do not know, fartlek is a Swedish word for speed play. This is a fun way to add goal pace training to your weekly long run. This workout is easy to perform because there is no structure to it. Simply speed up to your goal marathon pace for brief periods of time during your standard easy pace long run. Just use your own judgment on when and how long to run faster. This is a good entry level goal pace long run.

Goal Pace Repeats

This training run is a more structured version of the marathon long run fartlek. To perform this long run, alternate repeats at an easy pace with repeats at goal marathon pace. A good starting workout would be a 20 mile long run. Run 10 x 1 mile goal pace repeats with 1 mile at an easy pace between the goal pace repeats. You would end up with a 20 mile run using 10 miles at goal pace and 10 miles at an easy pace. You could advance to 5 x 2 miles at goal pace with 2 miles easy between the repeats or even as far as 2 x 6 miles at goal pace with 6 miles easy between the goal pace runs. This is another great goal pace workout. You can also add a fast finish to the end of this workout to simulate race conditions.