Pushing the pace on long runs?

When I was training for the NYC Marathon and my first ultra this summer/fall, I completed all my long runs at an easy pace.  NYC would be my first marathon after giving birth and since I hadn’t completed long runs consistently in over a year, my goal was to get the miles in without worrying about what my Garmin 610 was telling me.  I got very comfortable with doing my long runs at an 8:30 pace.  I was happy with that pace.  I didn’t feel the need to push myself any harder on my long runs – as long as I ran 20, 25, 30 miles, I was satisfied.

I competed in the Foot Locker 5 Borough Challenge [FL5BC] as part of the NYC Marathon in November.  After separating from the other 4 runners at the halfway point (we had to run the first 13.1 miles together), I immediately tried to speed up to hit my target pace of 7:45.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get my pace any faster than 7:50-8:00.  And it wasn’t that my legs were tired – they actually felt surprisingly good.  I just couldn’t pick up the pace without getting out of breath.  I actually didn’t run one mile at my target pace [6x miles were sub-8:00 and my average pace for the final 13.1 was 8:01].  I’m not complaining or upset with my performance at the NYC Marathon – my primary goal was to win the FL5BC.  But now that I am beginning training for my next marathon, I have to look closer at my training and determine what I need to tweak in order to improve my time.


My goal for the New Jersey Marathon on May 6 is sub-3:10.  One of the biggest changes to my training is my goal pace on long runs. I am now shooting to run :30 (30 sec) slower per mile on long runs than I hope to for the marathon. What does this mean?  3:10 marathon = 7:16 pace ->  Long runs = 7:40-7:45 pace.  This is a huge change for me since I have always been a fan of long, slow runs – runs where I listen to my body to determine the pace.

My first long run at the new target pace was Saturday.  It was a 12 miler and I plan to work up to 20-24 milers at this pace.  Here are my splits:

1:  8:34 (warm-up mile)
2:  8:03
3:  7:53
4:  7:49
5:  7:54
6:  7:38
7:  7:46
8:  7:41
9:  7:36
10: 7:33
11: 7:53
12: 7:14
Average pace: 7:47

The first couple of miles felt slow, but after I warmed up, I got into a comfortable rhythm and felt really good.  Mile 5 was closer to 7:40 – I stopped to chat with one of my friends and didn’t stop my Garmin. Mile 11 was the only mile I really had to push to make sure I kept it under 8.


What did I learn this weekend?

It’s so easy [and tempting] to fall into a comfort zone on long runs after you build up to higher mileage.

Staying within my comfort zone on long runs will NOT improve my times for my next race.  How can I expect my body to run substantially faster on race day than what it’s been training at?

Long runs are not meant to be “easy” days on the training schedule – they are one of my 2-3 key workouts a week.

I should be pushing myself on long runs [not race pace or an all-out effort where I need to take days off to recover].  Long runs are designed to get my body used to the longer distances close to race pace.


[*Note: If you are training for your first marathon, then you should be concentrating on logging the miles and getting used to the longer distances and their effect on your body.  But, once you’ve done a few and want to start taking off chunks of time, your training goals need to change.]


When you are training for a marathon, how far off from your target marathon pace do you do your long runs??  Do you push yourself or do you prefer LSR [long, slow runs]?

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    7 thoughts on “Pushing the pace on long runs?

    1. Pingback: My Pumpkin

    2. I have one week to figure out how I am going to train for Boston and am trying to soak in as much knowledge as I can. I may play around with my long run pace this training cycle.

    3. Ohh I can easily fall into the ‘easy pace’ for long runs! My husband (and running partner) used to tease me endlessly for loving my pace and keeping it too comfy during longer runs. While I definitely don’t push it as much during long runs as I do shorter, speed runs, I do pay closer attention to my pace now on longer runs and it makes a difference in how I push myself. Great reminder!!

    4. I can definitely agree with you. I LOVE long slow runs but that seems to not help me when training. You’re times look great this past weekend. You have a lot of time between now and May, I think with you’re determination you’ll get that sub 3:10! :)

    5. Really great topic. After years of doing marathons and doing them with different approaches, I’ve decided that what works best for me is to run the long ones at a pace about 1-min. slower than MP. I do insert miles (up to 10) in there as it gets closer that are MP, but make sure those miles are sandwiched by the easier miles. Truly, I think by virtue of being on your feet as long as you are for a 20-miler, it is a hard run, whether slow or fast, and should count as one. For more concentrated speed, I do the work on another day. It’s a slippery slope–you want to ensure you have enough to give the big quality workouts during the week, which to me, means being conservative on the long run pace. All that said–everyone is different! Hope it works for you.

    6. I am so guilty of that (the low, easy slow run), but have realized over the last couple training cycles that it will NOT get me faster. I still think those runs have their place, but I think most of our long runs should include 10-15 miles at MP. Nice work this past weekend!