May and June marks the beginning of summer marathon training for thousands of Chicago area runners.  Every year, numerous runners take to the Lakefront to crank out the miles and get ready for fall races throughout the midwest and across the nation.

One of the biggest issues for marathon runners, whether they are experienced or first timers, continues to be the prevalence of running-related injuries. Injury rates vary from study to study, but tend to fall between 40 and 55 percent.  Several factors can cause injuries, however, at the heart of it all is simply running too fast for too long. Before embarking on marathon training it is important to understand and identify at least two distinct paces that will help you stay healthy. It is also recommend to do “multiple pace training,” essentially mixing up your pace and workouts in order to avoid using the same muscles over and over.

Choosing Your Goal Time and Long Run Training Pace:

The two specific paces to keep in mind before deciding on a training plan to follow are goal marathon pace and long run training pace.

Goal Marathon Pace: Pace at which you plan to actually race at. Will typically start around an 80 percent effort and increase to 100 percent as the marathon distance plays out. Is typically around 30-60 seconds slower per mile than your half marathon PR pace. Effort on race day will steadily increase, weather conditions and hydration levels also have a dramatic impact on goal times.

Long Run Training Pace: Training pace should be easier than race pace, starting much closer to 60 percent effort and trying to not go above an 80 percent effort.  Pace should feel like you can easily hold a conversation. Effort will increase the longer you run and depend on weather conditions and hydration levels. 

While you may have a specific marathon goal time in mind before you start your training, you will not always be running at that pace. Instead you will be running at a self-selected training pace that is typically between 60-90 seconds slower than your goal race pace. This is done for many reasons, mainly for the sustainability of your training and to avoid injury or burnout. You also want to avoid having each long run feel like a race effort versus a training effort.

When calculating  what the best training pace is for you, think about a speed at which you are mostly training aerobically in order to build your heart as a muscle, along with developing the rest of your cardiovascular system. Developing your body’s ability to pump oxygenated blood to working muscles is the goal. Running the correct pace first, then worrying about the distance second is a better approach. Simply running hard every long run and increasing mileage each week is a common path to injury.

Additionally, adjusting your pace as the miles start to increase and having some flexibility in your pace range can really help offset running too hard. There are also some telltale signs that you might be running too hard on your long run and need to adjust to a more sustainable speed:

  • You are having trouble keeping up with your group
  • You feel the pace is fast and have a hard time finding a good breathing rhythm
  • You feel extremely tired and spent after each long run
  • It is taking you up to four to five days to recover from each long run

With an understanding of different paces and how each one can impact your training, you can greatly reduce the injury rate and set yourself up for a more sustainable and enjoyable training experience. Closely monitoring your pace for each run can give you a better chance at improving your fitness and crossing the finish line happy and healthy!


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