Posts

Marathon Tempos: 2019 Update


In 2018, I did a podcast on tempo runs, and it really discusses how Marathon pace should feel. That post is still relevant and will be unless our physiology drastically change. If you haven’t read or listened yet, I encourage you to do so HERE.

Over the last several years, as more and more people have read the HMM books, some questions have arisen. I have had this discussion several times now about how the book and the plans are meant to fit a wide spectrum of people. Now as more and more people have read the books we can dive into discussions about how to make things more specific to your individual needs. So today, I want to comment on the four most common areas of specificity when it comes to the marathon tempo runs.

The first is “Small Jumps vs Big Jumps” in marathon training.

By this I mean, are you making a big jump in goal pace or are you making a small goal in pace? I would say that anything within 10 seconds per mile of what you have currently run is probably within your standard of deviation already. So, if your current marathon pace is 9 minutes per mile, then you probably hit 8:50 per mile fairly regularly in training and doesn’t represent any major adjustment to pace. However, if you ran 8:50 per mile instead of 9:00 pace, then you run nearly 5 minutes faster for the marathon!

Funny how small increases in pace over 26.2 miles can drastically change the outcome of your race…

Anyway, let’s use that same 9:00 per mile pace and now you want to run 8:30 pace. For some of you, that new pace might represent a pace that looks more like your half marathon pace than it does your marathon pace. This, obviously, is a big jump in pace and is going to drastically alter how your marathon tempo runs feel, especially the early ones. Even a four mile tempo will probably feel more intense than your speed work! I will discuss how to handle this in a minute but recognize that if you are making a big jump in pace, you’ll need to exercise a certain amount of caution and recognize that your early tempo runs may feel harder than what your later tempo runs feel.

Building on the jump in pace, the next logical step is how your early paces feel versus later tempo runs feel.

The basic assumption here is that you are coming off a rest and are now starting a buildup to a marathon.

Now, if you aren’t coming off a rest, but simply moving from one segment to another, then chances are your early tempo runs will feel easier than they should and that’s a sign of trouble.

However, that’s another discussion for another time. For now, let’s assume you are coming off rest, and are making a small jump in paces. If that’s the case, then marathon pace will feel uncomfortable, but not super taxing. This is mostly because you have slightly decreased fitness levels and this slightly above your current marathon ability. The idea that is that as your fitness improves (and it will quickly) your marathon pace will feel easier as you go on- to a point. Now, as we mentioned, if you are making a big jump in paces, the marathon tempos will feel difficult. They might even be discouraging. However, if you are committed to the goal, I say give it several weeks before deciding if it is too much. We’ll discuss ways to combat this later on.

The third area is your progression of fitness:

The whole goal with a training plan is to improve your level of fitness. So, in theory, MP should feel easier, right? For some, it might, but for most, there are confounding factors involved that will affect how you actually feel. In reality, I have only had pace feel slightly easier. What’s more important is that unless I was overtrained, I never felt worse. So, I felt roughly the same for a 10 mile tempo later in the segment as I did during a 4 mile tempo 8 weeks prior. Even more important than that, my confidence increased as I felt more comfortable (or familiar) with the new pace. Notice that I am differentiating between easier and comfortable. I find this to be true for modest increases in pace and for those who are adjusting to the bigger increases in pace.

The fourth is the effect of cumulative fatigue and its effect on your “feel” of tempo pace.

Using that early four mile tempo, it feels hard because your fitness is at a lower level. When you get to those 10 mile tempos, you are doing them with several weeks of hard training in your legs. So, your fitness may be leaps and bounds higher, but the fatigue you feel is not allowing your tempos to feel easier. Now, under normal-heavy training, tempo runs will still be hard and the first couple miles might not be wonderful, but you will settle into a pace and end up being just fine. If you are overcooked, what you’ll see is that effort will increase, but your paces will be slower and slower. If this is the case (which is usually with the “big jumpers”) then you may need to reconsider the pace that you are trying to attempt.

How do I combat this?

For big jumpers- a segment that focuses on getting other race times down

So let’s assume that you just ran a marathon and it went well. Now, you want to jump in and start training for another one, but you’ve gotten the idea to make a go at that once impossible BQ. It’s still a big jump of 15 minutes, but what the heck!

Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t. However, what I am saying that you will not want to jump right into it for your next segment. Let’s say you ran an end of April marathon and were thinking you want to make a go at it in the fall. What I will see is a lot of people will want to jump right into another marathon attempt to try and reach the deadline for Boston. For those who don’t know, if we are in the year 2019 and you want to run the 2020 Boston marathon, you need to have your qualifying time by early September of 2019. So, what we have seen is a number of “last chance” Boston qualifying races for that weekend of the deadline. The problem is this doesn’t give the person who is trying to make a big jump in performance enough time to adjust to that new level. Those just needing a couple minutes is another story. They can probably make that turnaround.

What I would propose is that the person take their recovery, then utilize the rest of May, June, July, and part of August to work on shorter races.

I don’t particularly care if it’s a 5k/10k segment or a half marathon segment, but just something that shifts the focus. The reasoning is that if the person trying to make the big jump is aiming for a new goal that doesn’t line up with anything that they have run in the past, then it’s going to be a hard go trying to run that new pace for 26.2 miles. Let’s pick, say a 10k, goal that is more in line with what would suggest that the marathon goal is possible. That way, we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket, we are giving our body an opportunity to train at faster paces, but not be under the grind of marathon training. Then, once you come back to the marathon, the paces won’t be as daunting and you’ve hopefully increased your fitness enough to tolerate the new paces. Essentially, we have made an attempt to bridge the gap between where you are at and where you want to be.

 

Break up the tempo runs early, treat as rust buster workouts

This is something that I will do in many of my other Final Surge plans. Essentially, these

are soft toss workouts. Something that you are confident in hitting, but an introduction to

new marathon paces. It can be pretty simple like 6-8×800 meters at your goal marathon with short recovery jogs. Each week, simply lengthen the distance of the repeat until you get to where you are more comfortable at doing a straight up tempo run.

  1. Add a day of recovery.

    I am a big fan of going Monday, Thursday, Saturday or going Tuesday, Friday, Sunday. I also like our alternator and 9 day cycle to spread out your intense workouts to a more manageable recovery period.

  2. Start from slower to faster (or fast to slow?)

    You can employ this strategy regardless of whatever strategy(ies) you employ from above as a supplement. There are really two ways to approach. The first is to start your tempo (or marathon repeats) at your current marathon pace and progressively work towards your goal marathon pace. I personally like this method the best, as I like to have your train how’d you should be racing. However, there the other side of this, too. That would be to start at your goal marathon pace and simply hold it as long as you can. This, I feel is acceptable when you want to test yourself after a few weeks, but it’s not something I’d attempt on a weekly basis. I feel like frustration would lead to doubt and more negative self talk. Regardless, the end goal would be the same, and that would be to accumulate more time, each successive workout, at your goal marathon pace.

How am I going to go another 16 miles at this pace?

This is what I want to end with because it’s probably the biggest question I see in the Facebook group after they do a 10 mile marathon tempo. It’s certainly a valid question. I have talked about it in this post (the how do I know I am ready). However, I will say, if you are hitting your 10 mile tempos within a few seconds per mile and not adjusting any of your training to get there, then you have a good chance.

If you get through a 10 mile tempo and felt like you just raced the workout, then you might be in trouble- especially if you are trying to take a big jump.

If you get to that point where it was a hot mess or you just can’t even come close to that goal pace, then you really have some decision making to do. If you are ok with rolling the dice, then go ahead and roll the dice. However, if you are ok with splitting the difference and scaling back to a smaller personal best effort and building that bridge (rather than potentially burning that thing all the way to the ground) to BQ land then now is the time to make that decision.

Need a plan? Check out all our training plans and our Run Club 

Marathon Tempos: 2019 Update


In 2018, I did a podcast on tempo runs, and it really discusses how Marathon pace should feel. That post is still relevant and will be unless our physiology drastically change. If you haven’t read or listened yet, I encourage you to do so HERE.

Over the last several years, as more and more people have read the HMM books, some questions have arisen. I have had this discussion several times now about how the book and the plans are meant to fit a wide spectrum of people. Now as more and more people have read the books we can dive into discussions about how to make things more specific to your individual needs. So today, I want to comment on the four most common areas of specificity when it comes to the marathon tempo runs.

The first is “Small Jumps vs Big Jumps” in marathon training.

By this I mean, are you making a big jump in goal pace or are you making a small goal in pace? I would say that anything within 10 seconds per mile of what you have currently run is probably within your standard of deviation already. So, if your current marathon pace is 9 minutes per mile, then you probably hit 8:50 per mile fairly regularly in training and doesn’t represent any major adjustment to pace. However, if you ran 8:50 per mile instead of 9:00 pace, then you run nearly 5 minutes faster for the marathon!

Funny how small increases in pace over 26.2 miles can drastically change the outcome of your race…

Anyway, let’s use that same 9:00 per mile pace and now you want to run 8:30 pace. For some of you, that new pace might represent a pace that looks more like your half marathon pace than it does your marathon pace. This, obviously, is a big jump in pace and is going to drastically alter how your marathon tempo runs feel, especially the early ones. Even a four mile tempo will probably feel more intense than your speed work! I will discuss how to handle this in a minute but recognize that if you are making a big jump in pace, you’ll need to exercise a certain amount of caution and recognize that your early tempo runs may feel harder than what your later tempo runs feel.

Building on the jump in pace, the next logical step is how your early paces feel versus later tempo runs feel.

The basic assumption here is that you are coming off a rest and are now starting a buildup to a marathon.

Now, if you aren’t coming off a rest, but simply moving from one segment to another, then chances are your early tempo runs will feel easier than they should and that’s a sign of trouble.

However, that’s another discussion for another time. For now, let’s assume you are coming off rest, and are making a small jump in paces. If that’s the case, then marathon pace will feel uncomfortable, but not super taxing. This is mostly because you have slightly decreased fitness levels and this slightly above your current marathon ability. The idea that is that as your fitness improves (and it will quickly) your marathon pace will feel easier as you go on- to a point. Now, as we mentioned, if you are making a big jump in paces, the marathon tempos will feel difficult. They might even be discouraging. However, if you are committed to the goal, I say give it several weeks before deciding if it is too much. We’ll discuss ways to combat this later on.

The third area is your progression of fitness:

The whole goal with a training plan is to improve your level of fitness. So, in theory, MP should feel easier, right? For some, it might, but for most, there are confounding factors involved that will affect how you actually feel. In reality, I have only had pace feel slightly easier. What’s more important is that unless I was overtrained, I never felt worse. So, I felt roughly the same for a 10 mile tempo later in the segment as I did during a 4 mile tempo 8 weeks prior. Even more important than that, my confidence increased as I felt more comfortable (or familiar) with the new pace. Notice that I am differentiating between easier and comfortable. I find this to be true for modest increases in pace and for those who are adjusting to the bigger increases in pace.

The fourth is the effect of cumulative fatigue and its effect on your “feel” of tempo pace.

Using that early four mile tempo, it feels hard because your fitness is at a lower level. When you get to those 10 mile tempos, you are doing them with several weeks of hard training in your legs. So, your fitness may be leaps and bounds higher, but the fatigue you feel is not allowing your tempos to feel easier. Now, under normal-heavy training, tempo runs will still be hard and the first couple miles might not be wonderful, but you will settle into a pace and end up being just fine. If you are overcooked, what you’ll see is that effort will increase, but your paces will be slower and slower. If this is the case (which is usually with the “big jumpers”) then you may need to reconsider the pace that you are trying to attempt.

How do I combat this?

For big jumpers- a segment that focuses on getting other race times down

So let’s assume that you just ran a marathon and it went well. Now, you want to jump in and start training for another one, but you’ve gotten the idea to make a go at that once impossible BQ. It’s still a big jump of 15 minutes, but what the heck!

Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t. However, what I am saying that you will not want to jump right into it for your next segment. Let’s say you ran an end of April marathon and were thinking you want to make a go at it in the fall. What I will see is a lot of people will want to jump right into another marathon attempt to try and reach the deadline for Boston. For those who don’t know, if we are in the year 2019 and you want to run the 2020 Boston marathon, you need to have your qualifying time by early September of 2019. So, what we have seen is a number of “last chance” Boston qualifying races for that weekend of the deadline. The problem is this doesn’t give the person who is trying to make a big jump in performance enough time to adjust to that new level. Those just needing a couple minutes is another story. They can probably make that turnaround.

What I would propose is that the person take their recovery, then utilize the rest of May, June, July, and part of August to work on shorter races.

I don’t particularly care if it’s a 5k/10k segment or a half marathon segment, but just something that shifts the focus. The reasoning is that if the person trying to make the big jump is aiming for a new goal that doesn’t line up with anything that they have run in the past, then it’s going to be a hard go trying to run that new pace for 26.2 miles. Let’s pick, say a 10k, goal that is more in line with what would suggest that the marathon goal is possible. That way, we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket, we are giving our body an opportunity to train at faster paces, but not be under the grind of marathon training. Then, once you come back to the marathon, the paces won’t be as daunting and you’ve hopefully increased your fitness enough to tolerate the new paces. Essentially, we have made an attempt to bridge the gap between where you are at and where you want to be.

 

Break up the tempo runs early, treat as rust buster workouts

This is something that I will do in many of my other Final Surge plans. Essentially, these

are soft toss workouts. Something that you are confident in hitting, but an introduction to

new marathon paces. It can be pretty simple like 6-8×800 meters at your goal marathon with short recovery jogs. Each week, simply lengthen the distance of the repeat until you get to where you are more comfortable at doing a straight up tempo run.

  1. Add a day of recovery.

    I am a big fan of going Monday, Thursday, Saturday or going Tuesday, Friday, Sunday. I also like our alternator and 9 day cycle to spread out your intense workouts to a more manageable recovery period.

  2. Start from slower to faster (or fast to slow?)

    You can employ this strategy regardless of whatever strategy(ies) you employ from above as a supplement. There are really two ways to approach. The first is to start your tempo (or marathon repeats) at your current marathon pace and progressively work towards your goal marathon pace. I personally like this method the best, as I like to have your train how’d you should be racing. However, there the other side of this, too. That would be to start at your goal marathon pace and simply hold it as long as you can. This, I feel is acceptable when you want to test yourself after a few weeks, but it’s not something I’d attempt on a weekly basis. I feel like frustration would lead to doubt and more negative self talk. Regardless, the end goal would be the same, and that would be to accumulate more time, each successive workout, at your goal marathon pace.

How am I going to go another 16 miles at this pace?

This is what I want to end with because it’s probably the biggest question I see in the Facebook group after they do a 10 mile marathon tempo. It’s certainly a valid question. I have talked about it in this post (the how do I know I am ready). However, I will say, if you are hitting your 10 mile tempos within a few seconds per mile and not adjusting any of your training to get there, then you have a good chance.

If you get through a 10 mile tempo and felt like you just raced the workout, then you might be in trouble- especially if you are trying to take a big jump.

If you get to that point where it was a hot mess or you just can’t even come close to that goal pace, then you really have some decision making to do. If you are ok with rolling the dice, then go ahead and roll the dice. However, if you are ok with splitting the difference and scaling back to a smaller personal best effort and building that bridge (rather than potentially burning that thing all the way to the ground) to BQ land then now is the time to make that decision.

Need a plan? Check out all our training plans and our Run Club 

How should marathon pace feel?

PlayPlay

“So, what exactly should marathon pace feel like?”

This was recently a question that my athlete, Lisa, posed to me. I sat there and thought about it, but ultimately I only came to the conclusion that this was a great question. My answer is, (insert drum roll) that it depends. Unfortunately, a question like this has a ton of different answers  with caveats. However, I do think it deserves a look into because one of the items I always stress is to learn how paces feel.


While thinking about it, I think there’s four major areas we need to look at.

  1. Your strengths as a runner
  2. The timing and length of the workout
  3. How big of a jump you are trying to make
  4. What your goal pace is

Strengths as a runner:

Your strengths as a runner will initially play a role in how marathon pace should feel. We have done a few blogs about finding these strengths and how to “score” yourself. We actually start the Hansons First Marathon book on these premises. I won’t dive into those here, but the bottom line is, the makeup you possess as a runner will dictate how marathon pace feels. If you are a speed demon who loves ripping up the track every Tuesday evening with the local run club, then there’s a chance you dread the Thursday tempo. It seems to be harder to run 6 miles at a pace that’s significantly slower than what you were whipping around the track at a couple days earlier. On the other hand, if you are a person who loves going out and putting in miles, marathon pace is probably your place of refuge.

Timing  and length of the workout.

This could mean the timing of the segment, but also the time of year. For instance, people training for an October marathon will begin their training in early to mid June. If they took some down time and then jump into training, they aren’t very acclimated. This certainly isn’t going to make marathon pace feel very easy. Luckily, you aren’t running very long tempos at that point, but it can certainly be a dream killer.

On that note, the first marathon workouts may be tough because it’s pace and duration . We’ll talk about those making big jumps in a second, but for now we are just talking about the distance at that new pace. Initially, that workout might feel like a lung burner because it’s currently out of the realm of possibility to run that pace for an entire marathon. In some cases, it might actually be more like half marathon pace. However, as time goes on, your fitness will improve. Ideally that pace feels more an more comfortable. Your effort is harder because of the increasing distance of the workout and the pace isn’t your primary issue anymore.

How big of a jump are you trying to make?

Along the lines we have already talked about, the amount of improvement you are trying to make will play a big part in how pace feels. If you have someone whose running their 15th marathon, they probably aren’t swinging for the 30 min PR fences. They are just trying to eek out that 0.5% to 2% improvement or maintain that BQ status. On the other hand, if you have a relative newbie whose just now learning about structured training, they might be trying to hit that walk off homer. For these folks, they are talking about doing tempo runs at what they might have been doing speed workouts at last year. This is going to be a major effort, especially early on for them. Mind you, I am not saying they should or shouldn’t be going for it, rather just pointing out that they might be in the “what have I gotten myself into” camp for a while.

What is your goal pace?

Before I get any emails about being elitist, let me be clear, I am not downplaying anyone’s ability. I am simply talking about training. With that disclaimer out of the way, slower runners will have a harder time differentiating tempo runs from easy days, especially early on. What I have noticed is that the grey area for prescribing paces occurs about that 4 hour goal mark. This is where things get a little blurry. At this point, runners will sometimes be running their easy runs faster than what their goal marathon pace is. Why? For most folks, their general endurance is going to be their limiting factor. In essence, can they just cover the 26.2 miles and keep it together? So, I don’t necessarily worry about these folks as much because if I can just keep them healthy and putting consistent miles in, then they will run pretty well. THEN, we can start really laying out some goals for them.

But Luke, you never really answered the question- how does MP feel?

You’re right, but what I wanted you to think about was all the factors involved and how you personally react to these variables I discussed. This whole layout was for you to think about what you go through on the tempo days. However, I’ve training with the Hanson philosophy since 2004 and I will tell you this. When I was at my highest fitness levels, the 10 mile tempo was always a big workout, but when I ran it, I always finished feeling that I could have went farther.  Not 16 miles, but I felt like I could have gone another 3-4 miles at that pace. I could talk to my teammates in short sentences. I was breathing hard, but I wasn’t labored. When I got to that point, I knew I was ready to go.  If I could do that in the middle of a 120-140 mile week, I knew I could run that on fresh legs for a really long time. For you, that might mean feeling like you could go another 2-3 miles after a 10 mile tempo in the middle of your peak weeks. If you get to those 8-10 mile tempos and they are essentially races, then you are probably in over your head a little bit and need to evaluate goal pace, recovery, overall volume, etc.

Bottom line is that if you struggle early, don’t panic. But if by the time you’ve reached 6-8 weeks to go and you just can’t find your rhythm, then don’t be scared to re evaluate. I think this is especially true for the folks trying to make the big jumps.

An athlete’s question: Hill repeats or hilly run?

I really like these and maybe we should make it a regular part of blogging! I got another great question from Jill, an athlete we wrote a custom schedule for. She emailed me a very simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer: “What is better hill repeats or a hilly run at marathon pace?” Great question! The answer is… Both! Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Just kidding! The answer is both, but for other reasons. Let’s first look at hill repeats. Let’s ask ourselves what the main purpose is of hill repeats is? What is the benefit? Well, we know they’ll make us stronger, so let’s knock that one out of the way. One big aspect of hills is that it is a great form of speed work, or working at close to VO2max effort (not pace). With shorter, but faster hill repeats we are working very close to our VO2max if we are hammering hard up a 1-4 minute hill a few times in a row. You can tell just by how hard that you are breathing that you are working hard, right? With that, we are working on some neuromuscular components as well. With the intense effort, we begin recruiting all of our muscle fiber types to help out. This eventually “opens” up channels to some fast and intermediate twitch muscle fibers that you didn’t even know you had. At the end of the day, think of hill repeats as helping more with overall strength and top end components- lactate buffering, VO2 max, and things like that.

A final note about short hill repeats is that I will use them as gateways towards other workouts. With Boston Marathon people, what I will do is start out with UP hill repeats and a slow recovery back down the hill. Eccentric contractions are crucial for hill running, but they beat you up pretty good in the process. Over time, we’ll adjust and hard UP hill repeats, recover, and then DOWN hill repeats to prepare their legs for the thrashing they’ll get over 26 miles.

What about a tempo run on a hilly course? You’ll get a lot of benefit from theses, both physiologically and structurally. You’ll build your strength obviously, but it’s more like lifting 2 sets of 20 reps of medium weight, compared to like lifting 2 sets of 8 reps as hard as you can with hill repeats. You’ll still get muscle fiber recruitment too, simply because you’ll fatigue your muscles with a fairly intense effort over 30-70 or 80 minutes. For marathoners, that’s great because it’s very race like. These are all great benefits, but to me, one thing we can’t overlook is their eventual impact on our ability to judge effort and pace. For instance, right now, many people have awoken from treadmill hibernation, where they’ve simply set the pace on the hamster wheel and zoned out to their latest podcast of Dateline, or whatever you listen too. Now, they go outside and after letting their eyes recover from the new found sun, realize that there are hills and turns and beautiful scenery. I’m partly kidding, but you know what I mean- we forget and have forgot if we haven’t run in situations where we need to say, “man my pace is slow, but it certainly feels like a hard effort.” I reference back to folks training for Boston. There’s only small section of that course where it’s really flat. It seems like that you are either going up or down most of the time. This means splits will be fast and splits will be slow. It may be hard to find a rhythm. If you’ve practiced pace and effort on hills, then you’ll have more confidence and trust yourself that the effort is there and in the end, the pace will average out.

So there you have it, they are both important but for different reasons. Both have a place in training and can be utilized to your benefit.

– Luke

 

A reader’s question

I get a lot of emails and do my best to answer as many as I can. Luckily for all of us, our readers ask great questions that allow me to write a quick blog post that can help out many runners at once! This morning, I woke up, made coffee and sat down to a full inbox. One reader, Rico, made a comment on one of our blog posts. It was in a spot that will probably get buried, so I thought it made a great excuse to write a quick note here.

Ok, so his question is basically this- “I’m 14 weeks into the marathon schedule and have my last 16 miler this weekend. I also have the Gate River 15k. Not sure what to do?” In this case, I know the 15k is on Saturday morning and if he’s kept the schedule, the 16 miler is on Sunday. Oh snap! For Rico, the 15k is a good race distance because it’s a good distance for a tempo replacement. However, the long run is super important. That is quite the predicament…

There’s a couple of ways to approach to approach this. Let’s explore our options.

  • Don’t do the race. It’s as simple as that. Just stick to the schedule. I know that’s not you wanted to hear, but you have to consider it. How important is the marathon? How important is this race? Answering that question can make your decision for you.
  • Run the race as a tempo and not do the long run. This is not desirable either because you do three 16 mile long runs while doing a tempo of some distance every week. At this point, what’s going to give you a better training benefit?
  • Do the race as part of the long run. In this case, the race is 9.3 miles (15k), so there is about 7 miles to account for. I think if you are going to run the race, then this is the least evil of the options. I would approach by warming up 3-5 miles and cooling down 2-4 miles to achieve the 16 miles.
    • The caveat here is that you should run easy on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday at mileage high enough to keep the overall total close to what it would have been without adjustments.

These are the three most viable options. At the end of the day, decide what is most important to you, what your training needs the most, and how you are going to be able to move forward with the schedule. Hope this helps!

 

-Luke