A new reader sent this very interesting question: I train all year round, at a variety of paces, and throughout the year I run races, from 5Ks up to marathons. At the moment, for example, I’m planning to do a marathon in early November and a half-marathon 3 weeks later, and may well do a 10K race in mid-October as well. So, I’m not training for a specific race just at the moment, I’m training for a range of them, and will focus more closely on the individual race as the time approaches. So, what is my goal pace run now? I’m aiming for something inside 3:10 for the marathon, so goal pace runs for that would be 7-7:10 pace. But seen from the viewpoint of half-marathon training, that training run’s a ‘tweener’, isn’t it? So what’s your take on training paces for a mix of races, like I’m doing? – John
John, first your paces and times show you are doing some very good racing. Congrats! You are also like so many other runners who don’t just do one race or have only a couple in the year to focus on. And like most adult runners we don’t have traditional “track” or “cross-country” seasons to focus our training.
You are also hitting on the #1 reason why most age group runners never hit their true potential in any event. They do well at 5k and run a good race at 10 miles and then do their marathon and then jump in and run a “fun” mile on the track. They may or may not set PRs in any of those events.
Exploring your potential and pushing limits is done by focusing your training. You cannot be equally good as a 5k runner and marathoner.
Let’s take a lesson from the elite runners. How many milers or 5000 runners are running marathons? (If they do it’s only to explore their options in future racing.) On the other hand, almost all Olympic level marathoners did start racing at shorter distances and when they found out their 3:58 mile pace wasn’t fast enough to be a miler they moved up. Ditto for the 13:30 5K runner. Two points here:
- Runners get fastest at longer events by first optimizing their shorter races and then moving up.
- Runners get fastest at a single event by specializing.
I know in a practical sense age group runners don’t establish race calendars and that contributes to a helter-skelter approach to training. It gets us out of phases of training and we never do proper peaking or tapering. The end results is that we indeed are in very good overall condition but we cannot run our fastest.
So, to now answer your question – the solution may be to use shorter races in your preparation for longer races. You replace some quality workouts and replace them with a raced 5k or 10k in your months leading up to a marathon. Skew your faster training earlier so that you can race well in these and focus more on those marathon goal miles afterwards. Of course 5k and 10k speed work enhances your marathoning.
Another solution may be to take half of the year and focus on the mile and 5k and do track events. Then after a brief pre-season phase to the next half – focus on your half-marathon or marathon training.
Finally, you are also right about the marathon goal pace equating to half-marathon junk or as I call them “tweener” miles. And so the fix is that you must run HM goal miles to get physiologically efficient at that pace. Now, the compromise is how many miles can you infuse into marathon training that end up HM goal pacing. This is tricky but it is exactly what you need to find a balance to if you want to optimize your chances in both. But, once again typically the paces are 16-25 seconds per miles different… and that is substantial.
- You can mix training for a variety of races – err on training on the faster paces.
- You can do well at many distances and even set PRs if you train sufficiently at goal paces.
- You will never be absolutely be your best at any distance until you focus on that one event.