Why you shouldn’t feel you can maintain marathon pace in training.

If you have ever targeted a specific time in a marathon, you have probably had the thought “how on earth am I going to maintain this pace for 26.2 miles?”. If so, you are definitely not alone. It may be that your marathon pace is too fast, and you need to pull back, but more likely, it could be the fact that these worries are normal, and you shouldn’t feel you can maintain marathon pace in training. Here’s why…


  1. Cumulative fatigue. Your long run or pace section doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It will usually happen at the end of a heavy week of training, and the tiredness and stress (physiological and psychological) from not just that week’s training, but all the training in the block before will contribute to you feeling like the pace is unsustainable. In fact, your marathon plan may even aim to make you more tired before a long run, to get you practise running on tired legs. Cumulative fatigue is a vital part of marathon training, but it is difficult to quantify so often gets overlooked. However, come marathon day, if you’re training correctly, you will be well rested and tapered for the actual race and run on far fresher legs.


  1. Reduced glycogen stores. Related to the above point, your normal weekly training runs will have helped reduce your glycogen stores, which affects both your physical performance, but also your mindset as your brain uses glucose too. Hopefully you’re topping up on carbs regularly and fuelling runs longer than 90 mins during the run, but you will not have had the rest and full carb loading that you will (hopefully!) undertake prior to race day, so it will impact on your performance. Don’t worry, you’ll carb load in the days before the race (which along with resting will top up your glycogen stores), and on top of that, fuel well in the morning and try and take on board 40-60g carbs an hour during the actual race.


  1. No race support. On your long and paced training runs you won’t have the amazing race atmosphere, the adrenaline rush at the start, any possible crowd support, other people to run with or race, no drinks stations and other support, and no finish line to count down to. You also have to make decisions on route choices, road crossings, etc, which also causes more mental fatigue. It all makes a huge difference!



So, if you don’t feel you can maintain the pace in training, how do you know its your marathon pace?


The best way to be confident of this is to base it off your training. Even though you haven’t run the full distance at pace in training, you should have tested out your proposed pace for some miles (8-14 miles ideally) during your long runs or steady runs during the week. How did it feel? Comfortably hard? It may feel too hard for 26.2 miles but you should feel reasonably confident of completing another 2-4 miles at that pace in any run where you practice marathon pace.


Another way of confirming marathon pace is to run a tune up race. A typical one would be a half marathon 4 weeks out from your target marathon. You can then use an online calculator to work out your equivalent marathon pace (or double it and add 10-20 mins). However, the calculator estimates vary considerably – the best way by far will be to get an experienced running coach to write your training plan and review your paces throughout, or ask a coach to review your training logs and suggest a suitable pace.

Above all, remember, if you can hit the paces in training segments, don’t let that little voice in your head tell you that you can’t hold it for 26.2 miles. You’ll be rested, fuelled and pumped full of adrenaline, so believe in your training and go for it!


How are you feeling about your current marathon pace? Please tell us in the comments below…


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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

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