Marathon Pace is 7:02 or 7:07

Kansas City Marathon 2011 Heart Rate Graph

Kansas City Marathon 2011 Heart Rate Graph

This is the graph of my heart rate during the Kansas City Marathon in 2011. For me, it reveals everything that went wrong that day.

I ran miles 3-6 at 94% of my max heart rate (based on my max of 170 bpm). At the time I knew I was running hot, but I figured I’d settle down. I did indeed settle down for miles 14-18 to a manageable 88%, but by then the damage was done, and I ran smack into the Wall at mile 22. This is where the course changes from a 1% uphill on Gillham to a 2% uphill from Harrison to The Paseo. I had run this part of the course many times in my training, and I was counting on being able to gut out the final 4-5 miles on fumes. I hadn’t counted on the Wall.

At mile 23.5, I had reached the top of The Paseo hill at Linwood (31st Street), and my heart rate was only 83% of max. On the downhill, I started run walking. From miles 21-23, my heart rate went from an average 149 down to 139 (87.6% to 81.8%), and I didn’t get up off the mat. By the end, my HR was 80%. The oscillations at the end are where I was walking.

Within sight of the finish line, the 3:30 pacers came up behind me. I was feeling kind of okay, but I hadn’t been able to call on my reserves. I have a mantra, “I don’t care where it comes from as long as it comes,” but nothing was there. I also use, “C’mon, Caveman!” but the caveman did not show up. I tried to hang with the pacers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I finished in 3:30:18.

This was a very disappointing result for me. I had gone out with the 3:10 group, thinking that, even on my sore and swollen Achilles tendons, the worst case scenario was finishing in 3:20. I had vowed not to walk. I struck out.

Now that I look back on it, I can see a lot of things that I did wrong.

During 2012, well after the marathon, I was reading Daniels’ Running Formula, and he says marathon pace is 89% of HR Max for elite runners. After reading that, I did a pretty good test for HR Max and got 170 bpm, which may still be a little low. So, if I was an elite (which I’m not) and my HR Max is 170 bpm that would mean marathon pace should make my heart beat at 151. And that doesn’t sound too bad! Daniels also says that marathon pace for elites is 10-15 seconds slower than threshold. And for slower (5 hour) marathoners it is 30 seconds slower.

By virtue of my 1:28:42 Garmin (1:29:18 Chip) time in the Hospital Hill Half, my predicted marathon by Daniels is 3:04:36, with a pace of 7:02. My threshold pace is 6:38. (That’s an “injury inducing, caffeine-loaded, awesome weather” threshold pace.)

I am also a devotee of Run Less, Run Faster, where my predicted marathon time is 3:06:31, with a pace of 7:07. Along with marathon pace, RL/RF gives me a mid tempo pace of 6:42, 4 seconds slower than threshold. (Mid tempo is where RL/RF does 4 – 6 mile tempo runs. Short tempo, another 15 seconds faster at 6:27, is for 3 mile tempos.) And RL/RF puts marathon pace at 25 seconds over mid tempo. So they are targeting a marathon pace of almost 30 seconds over threshold.

For me, the tempo and interval paces that are prescribed by both Daniels and RL/RF are daunting, while the long run paces are a joy. I struggle to hit pace on the shorter distances, and I struggle to go slow enough for the long runs. It’s a struggle either way. (Of course, I read constantly that people go too slow on fast runs and too fast on slow runs. That’s me!)

The difference in marathon paces between Daniels and RL/RF had me flummoxed for a while. I was thinking, “Which is it? Should I base my long runs on 7:02 or 7:07? 5 seconds per mile! That’s a big spread!” But after I thought about it a while, I decided there’s really no reason to choose. If I can run a sub-3:10 marathon (7:15 pace) in October, that would be a dream come true! Getting a Boston Qualifier (at 3:15 for me) would be enough. (And I’m not even interested in going to Boston. I just want to BQ!) I’m going to think of my marathon pace as 7:02 to 7:07 (especially for the long runs) and give myself that 5 second buffer.

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One Response to Marathon Pace is 7:02 or 7:07

  1. Katie H. says:

    I think living in a “zone” instead of one targeted number is a good plan. Whenever I try to run at a particular pace, I already stress myself out enough checking my Garmin obsessively every 30 seconds. If I’m constantly adjusting my pace (“That’s too fast! Ten seconds too slow! Gosh, now that’s too fast again! Okay, got it–shoot what did that feeling like?!”), I never get in a groove. So instead of telling myself I’m going to run at 8:30, I tell myself “in the 8-minute range.” Obviously, that’s a much larger range than your five seconds, but it’s the same premise.

    Good luck achieving your goal! It would be AWESOME to BQ. And, c’mon, you’d have to at least consider going out to Boston then.

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