What pace should I run my Marathon?

Pace, pace, pace what a dilemma!  If each runner has an optimal running pace that uses the least amount of oxygen to cover a given distance, how do we know what is that pace?

Yesterday, my friend Amanda who is training for her first Marathon, asked me a very common question that has to do with predicting her pace in her first marathon.  Figuring out where you’ll finish in that first race is a difficult question, because there are multiple factors to consider that include both your physical capabilities and the training that you’ve done to prepare for the race.  That said, it is important to get a reasonable estimate of your marathon pace time to get an idea of how to strategically run you race..  Mostly because when on race day the gun will go off you will be charged with adrenaline that will make you start off too fast possibly making you run the first half of the race faster than you had planned based on your training pace.  You might think: ” What’s wrong with that!” right?  Nothing really, until the disaster hits you really hard.  Your legs start to feel heavy, you start to slow down, you might start to take walk breaks or worse of all you are not sure anymore if you can finish the marathon.  What happened?  You had no idea of what your body was capable of and how fast to run.  Add this to the fact that you actually never tested your marathon pace for 26.2 miles prior to the marathon and you are facing a big unknown risk.

You need to have a better idea of how fast you can rationally expect to run.  There are a many ways to determine your marathon pace.

  • Predictor Calculator.  One of the most common and easiest method is to use a predictor based on your performance in another race of some kind.  It is best to use an actual time from a race, as that is when you are performing at your peak. You can find many such predictors on the web like Marathon Guide and Running times.  The most famous one is the McMillan Running Calculator.  Here you can plug in your last half marathon race time and get a projected marathon pace and completion time.
  • Jack Daniels’ Table.  Another way to estimate your marathon time is to double your half-marathon time and add 5-15 minutes.  For example, if you run 2:00 for a half-marathon then this method would predict that you could run a marathon between 4:05 and 4:15.  You can check out Jack Daniels’ Table.  Jack Daniel is a well-known running coach and author of the book, Daniels’ Running Formula, and you can use his table for predicting any common race time, given any other common race time.
  • Yasso 800’s method.  This was named after Bart Yasso an editor of Runner’s World.  This is how it works.  During your training, you incorporate 800 meter-repeats every week at a constant pace.  The time of the 800-meter interval in minutes and seconds is your predicted marathon time in hours and minutes.  For instance, if you run 800-meter repeats at 3 minutes 10 followed with 400 meters recovery jog for the same amount of time and, you do this for 10 repetitions, then your predicted marathon time will be 3 hours 10 minutes.  A lot of people say that Yasso 800’s are too optimistic, so adding 5-10 minutes to the time you predict is probably a good idea. Here’s a link to Runner’s World’s take on Yasso’s.
  • Galloway’s Magic Mile.  Former Olympian and coach Jeff Galloway (he made up the walk-run training program) has his own method for predicting race times, and not just marathons.  The great thing about his method is that it’s simple.  Here’s how it works.  Run one mile as fast as you can.  Then to predict your marathon time, take your mile time in seconds and multiply by 1.3.  The result is your marathon pace per mile, in seconds.  Just to give an example:  If you run one mile in 8 minutes.   That’s 480 seconds, and 400 x 1.3 = 624 seconds, or 10:24 marathon pace, for a 4:30 marathon.  Galloway actually make you run four one-mile time trials, drop the lowest one, and average the remaining three to get your mile time.

All of these predictors are estimates and they assume that you have done all the prerequisite training for a marathon, consistent amount of running, long runs, etc.  You can’t expect a predictor to be accurate if you’ve not done the training.  Also, the predictor workouts are for a normal marathon, one with mostly flat terrain and good weather.  Adjustments should be made for difficult courses (like Boston), races where the weather is hot/humid or windy.  In these cases, just be more conservative and create a race plan that is ideal for your particular race.  Prepare the best you can, believe in yourself and in your training, respect the distance, use these predictor workouts to establish a smart race plan and hope for the best on race day.

Buona Fortuna!


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