Long runs vs. marathon pace runs

In my last post I mentioned that I attended the RRCA coaching certification class. Well, I’ve now passed the test, so after next week’s CPR/first aid course, I’ll officially be a coach!

I touched on the fact that one of my take-aways from the course was the fact that I run my long runs too fast. I’m guessing lots of people make the same mistake. From the comments I received to this post, it seems that a real gray area is the long run versus the marathon-paced run. Let me try to clear it up for you:

Long runs are just that–your longest run of the week. Your main purpose in this run is to build your endurance. For many reasons, you want to keep this run on the slower side, about 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes slower than marathon pace. For more explanation on the whys of slower long runs,Tonia at racingwithbabes does a great job of explaining all the reasons behind the theory here.

Running a slower long run does not mean, however, that you won’t be incorporating marathon pace (MP) runs into your training, if that is what you are training for. How to run a proper MP run? First, make sure you schedule at least one easy day in between it and your long run and any other speedwork you might be doing. Then follow these principles:

  • Run the MP at an even pace
  • Run it at or near race goal pace
  • This is a continuous run–start with a nice one to two mile warm-up, do the MP, and follow with a cooldown of one to two miles.
  • Over the course of your training period, gradually increase the amount of miles you devote to MP runs.

You’ll find that by doing your MP runs separate from your long run, you’ll maximize the benefits you get from it. What are the benefits? Optimizing your lactate threshold and getting a good feel for your race pace, something that will come in plenty handy on marathon day!

I hope that helps clear up any confusion anyone might have had.

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  1. Keri says

    Congrats on becoming certified! And thank you for sharing your newfound knowledge :) This actually is very encouraging because last weekend I went out for a 15 mile run and it was super slow. (about 9:30 overall) After all the speed work I have been doing I felt guilty for going so slow, so it is nice to hear that I was doing exactly what I am supposed to do!

  2. Ewa says

    Now what I want to know how one can keep the slow pace. Most people tell me that it comes from experience. I think 4 years of trying and checking my Garmin every 15 sec or so is more than enough experience. Now obviously since I am injured now I don't expect an answer today but could you please, please, please tell me one of those days how to slow down?
    (BTW, that does not mean I am fast. I am just too fast for my own good.) :) Thanks.

  3. Meg says

    This is such a hot topic…I used to only run my long runs at a slow pace. For the past year, I've been spicing up my long runs towards the end with about 4-6 miles at MP, depending on the mileage. This has really worked for me because it's helped me work on fatigue and getting through the rough part at the end of the long run. It's not for everyone though because I think that just getting through the long run is key…that's a priority. Some days it's a challenge to just do that!
    Again, thanks for the peppermint pill idea, it TOTALLY worked at Boston!

  4. MCM Mama says

    Congratulations! Thanks for the info! Maybe you and TMB can coach me through my next marathon LOL. (Did I just say that out loud?)

  5. Jon says

    Thanks for posting! Really informative and I'll be referencing this when I start building up for my first marathon next fall.

  6. ajh says

    Did you say where to get the peppermint pill? Should I try a health food store or what? Thanks for this post and all your helpful info.

  7. ShutUpandRun says

    Congrats on passing the test. Already! Was it difficult? Can you send me the answers? JK. Great advice on the long runs vs. marathon pace. I never really knew why they were compeletely separate, but that's what the plan said, so that's what I did. I'm anal that way. Now I know the real reason!

  8. Erica says

    Congrats! I feel so lucky to "know" the two of you lots of good information between you and TMB and I live equal distances from both of you :) ha!

  9. Caratunk Girl says

    Congrats on becoming certified! And awesome explanation of the importance of running slow on the long run.

  10. Candice @ I Have Run says

    Thanks for explaining this. I have always wondered where I should be focusing on my different runs.

    Congrats on the certification!!

  11. Julie says

    Hi Zippy,
    Woohoo!! Congrats to you for making it all official and passing all of your exams:) This is very excititng!! I am now going to run my 10 miles tomorrow much slower than planned….and I am not going to feel guilty:) Thanks for the info!

  12. KBam says

    If my goal MP is around 10:50, do I really need to do my long runs a minute and a half to 2 minutes slower per mile?? That'd put me over 12:00/mile and I think that may be torture for me. Or if I can run my 20-milers around 11:00/mile or a tad faster, should I be aiming for a faster MP? I know that I rarely push myself hard enough pace-wise, but I don't want to go all kinds of crazy during my first marathon this weekend. What do you recommend, coach? :)

  13. blissfulrunner says

    Way to go on your certification! I'm in the same boat as KBam… my goal MP is 10:00, if I were to slow it down 1-2 minutes I might actually be walking! Currently, I'm running my long runs somewhere between 10:00 and 10:20. :/

  14. Cynthia O'H says

    With me, the slower pace sets me up for running longer. Then, on race day at race pace, everything seems so much faster.

  15. shellyrm aka jogging stroller mama says

    Great clarification. You are going to help loads of runner not only be faster but be safer. So many injuried could be avoid with proper training.

  16. H Love says

    Thanks so much! When you say a MP run in between that warm up and cool down…how long would that MP run be??? You are so awesome!! Thanks again!

  17. Laura (also known as Angel31!) says

    Thanks for that really informative post. I'm going to start my proper training plan for my half next week and was thinking of having a distance run, a mid distance run with either hills or speed work and then a treadmill run increasing my speed. I feel like I might be along the right lines now! Thanks, and congrats on your certification! x

  18. Johann says

    Nice post! Bruce Fordyce, ultra king of the eighties, measured his long run times from the moment he stood up until he sat down afterwards. He measured the time on his feet, not the time of his run. His longest training runs were usually about 6 hours, but he stayed on his feet for 8 hours. He would log 8 hours for his LSD.

  19. Molly says

    Okay, now I feel better about my long runs taking "longer" than my shorter ones. That whole building of endurance theory makes a lot of sense.

  20. Running and living says

    I've heart about the coarse's emphasize on LSD, but I don't fully buy into it. How about specificity of training? Also, Matt Fitzgerald discussed up to date research on this issue in his latest racing book. I also think that there is not a uniform rule when it comes to long runs. The worst thing, I think, it to start fast and slow down!

  21. Kenley says

    Congratulations on the certification course. I am interested in that in the future as well before I start up a running ministry in PH. Thank you for sharing the information on MP runs verses Long RUns. One question. So do MP runs equal the distance of the long run?

  22. Thomas says

    Congrats on passing the test to become an RRCA certified coach! You'll be a great coach, no doubt. Coach Zippy does sound like a great nickname:)

  23. LMC says

    I'm glad I found your blog! You always have useful running information or interesting questions for your readers. Based on this post, I now have a better idea of when and how to incorporate MP runs and long runs. Thanks!
    Congrats on the test!!

  24. Robin says

    Congrats on certification! What a great accomplishment.

    Re: LRs – I always find this discussion interesting…seems nearly all runners equate speed with running success, so slowing down is seen as a fail. What a shame b/c it sounds like there's real benefit to slowing down to build endurance, which is my primary goal, as a self-described slow (and diabetic) runner. Speed isn't even in my script! :)

    Thanks for the great info and clarification, MZ!

  25. run with Jill says

    Thanks. Great information. I love my Garmin watch so I can control my pace on the long runs. I tend to go out to fast and end up running an inconsistent pace.

  26. 5 Miles 2 Empty says

    Congrats on becoming a coach! i have been looking into do that too! I just cant find a course close enough for my budget right now!