Marathon Pace Strategy - Use the Ultimate Marathon Pace Guide to Learn What Marathon Time to Aim For

Marathon pace strategy is a crucial element of your marathon race preparations.

We all train so hard for our marathons. Months and months of work.

So, you don't want to be one of those people who throw it all away on race day.

In this marathon pacing guide I will try to give you all the info you need to work out what marathon time to aim for. And on the marathon pacing page I'll provide you with all the marathon pacing tips in order to explain to you how to achieve that time.

Sounds alright? Then let's get right into it!

Oh, before we do that... let's see if you can answer "yes" to the questions in this video... If so, then I'd be comfortable you have done the hard yards and are well prepared to go for that sharp time goal.

WARNING: This video focuses on trying to hit a specific goal time and is aimed at more experienced runners.

It assumes you have done the required training to really hit a marathon training program hard. E.g. you are able to regularly clock 13+ miles long runs. Before you start marathon training.

Clearly, you don't need to be able to answer "yes" to all these questions in order to finish a marathon. And there are multiple ways to get to the finish line. But if you want to race your marathon, then I would expect that you are answering "yes" to the majority of these questions!

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 1: Do You Have a Goal?

So, why are you running this marathon? Do you just want to finish? Have you run one before and you now want to improve upon your previous time? Do you have a firm idea of what that improved time should look like?

Aiming for that attractive "sub-4", sub-3:30" or "sub-3" personal best?

marathon pace

It is great to have a goal.

In fact, everybody starting their marathon should have one.

Even if it is your first and you just want to finish it.

It would be great if you had a good idea about which time you are going to go for.

However, make sure you back up this goal with the right data. In the following paragraphs I'll try to cover off on that. It is going to hurt massively if your goal is not aligned with how fast you can run. So, let's make sure your goal is a good one.

running tips

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 2: Do You Have Multiple Goals?

For marathons especially, but for any race it is good to have multiple goals. One goal is your "this is what I can realistically do"-goal.

However, when you feel halfway during the race that things aren't going your way, then you should have a back-up goal. This is your "tough day in the office"-goal.

And then there is your "this is the absolute best day of my life"-goal. This is for when you are at the 20 mile mark, still feeling incredible, and you are feeling brave enough to speed up.

lewis carroll quote

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 3: Can You Pass the "I Have Done My Marathon Training"-Honesty Test?

Has your training really been sufficient for the marathon pace goal you have in mind?

Now this is where the "I Have Done My Marathon Training"-honesty test comes in.

Can you answer all of the below questions affirmatively:

1) Have you been running four or more times per week for the last six months without much interruption (losing one week of training here or there can happen, losing more time can start to affect performance)?

2) Did your marathon training program consist of plenty of quality workouts (i.e. intervals, tempo runs etc, anything that isn't easy pace)?

3) Have you hit 20 miles multiple times in training? Ideally you would have hit it four times at least. And did you finish those runs without fading too much in the final miles?

4) Have you done 90+ minute runs every week for the last three months, preferrably twice a week (or more)?

5) Have you done marathon pace runs including a marathon pace run of 90 - 120 minutes?

Can you answer five out of five affirmatively?

marathon pace
Think about it: have you done your training?

If so, well done, the basis is there to hit your marathon goal. It is more than likely that your marathon training program is serving you well to hit that marathon pace goal.

There are no guarantees in the marathon, but a great marathon training program which consists of consistency, plenty of quality workouts, sufficient 20+ mile runs, many 90+ min runs and marathon pace runs will serve you well.

Not getting five out of five?

Then be mindful that your marathon pace goal could be unrealistic. We'll get into some ways to determining your marathon pace goal in a minute. Just be prepared that your training and previous race experiences may not provide you with the right race goals.

E.g. your previous races and your running training may predict a 3:40 marathon. However, without the proper marathon running training this goal is most likely too aggressive. It would be better to shoot for 3:50 or so instead.

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 4: Determining Marathon Pacing Based on Your Training Paces

When you are doing regular running training, you most likely see improvements over time in your long run pace, tempo run pace and interval running pace.

The great thing is, your running training paces can give you an indication of what your marathon time could look like.

All you need is the marathon pace calculator on the marathon calculator page.

Now, a little note of caution when using this marathon pacing calculator.

marathon pace, marathon calculator

You need to keep in mind that it is your training that will help determine your goal time, not the other way around.

So, don't think that you can plug in a 2:59 marathon in the calculator above.

And then start doing your running training based on the calculated training paces.

It does not work like that.

In fact, it is a path straight to disaster.

First of all, you will not get the optimal benefit out of your long run when it has become a tempo run.

Same with your tempo run when it has become an interval session!

Second, you can imagine that this is just way too exhausting. And pushing yourself over the brink will only lead to injury. So, don't do it.

Do your consistent training and your running training paces will improve over time. Then use your training as a marathon pacing guide.

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 5: Determining Marathon Pacing Based on Your Previous Races

Have you done tune-up races?

It can be incredibly helpful to do a half marathon (or 10k/15k) within the last month before the race. In addition to your training pace information it can help you get the right expectations for your marathon pace.

All you need is the marathon race conversion calculator on the marathon calculator page to establish how your race performance relates to your possible marathon performance.

Keep in mind: this is only a marathon pace indicator. It's just another tool. you can’t rely on this tool alone.

You need to have put in the  right amount of training and you can't rely on very short races to calculate your marathon time.

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 5: A Quirky Tool - The Yasso 800

The Yasso 800 workout is a workout created by Runner's World editor Bart Yasso. The idea behind it is that the time you run in minutes and seconds in your 800m repeats is the time you'll run in hours and minutes in the marathon.

E.g. suppose you do 800m repeats at 3 min 45 seconds, then your predicted marathon time is 3 hrs and 45 minutes.

It is a quirky workout. 800m repeats to predict a marathon time? Surely not. And you are half right. You need to use it with a bit of care. I have seen many, many people who are slower than their predicted marathon time by 10 - 15 minutes.

It's a good third help though.

Check out the following link to learn more about the Yasso 800.

Marathon Pace Strategy Part 6: The Ultimate Test - Marathon Pace Training

Have you done marathon pace training? Pretty much the ultimate test of whether you'll be able to hit your marathon goal is to run at marathon pace and see how it feels for you.

Whenever you look at elite running training programs, they feature a whole lot of tempo running and a whole lot of marathon pace long runs (usually alternated with traditional somewhat slower long runs).

marathon pace 

The ultimate test is if you are able to build up to a 25k / 16 miles marathon pace run.

With all your other training in check (see the above "honesty test" under part 3) and a marathon taper which will help you get all rested, it is believed that you can do the full marathon at that pace.

Follow the link to learn more about all the essential marathon taper tips and tricks.

Using all the info above, we should now have a decent idea of what kind of marathon time we are capable of.

Always use multiple inputs!

Establish your predicted time based on your training and tune-up races. Then test this doing a Yasso 800 workout. Do your marathon pace long runs and see if you are able to work up to running that pace for 25k / 16 miles.

Now, these are all just tools. But they should all point in the same general direction. It would be very rare to have one prediction tool tell you you'll do a 3 hr marathon and the other one to tell you you'll run a 4 hr marathon.

Of course, it will be very rare that these are all perfectly aligned.
The Yasso 800 may point to a 3 hr 30 min marathon. Your recent 10k race might point to a 3 hr 25 min marathon and your recent training may point towards a 3 hr 35 min marathon.

When you are well-trained and your training is reasonably balanced than the results will not be far off. They should give you a good idea about which time to shoot for.

Always err at the side of caution.

In the above example, please don't assume that 3 hr 25 is the goal to go for, just because it is the prediction you like the best. The 3 hr 35 goal is probably most realistic. Test it out with your marathon pace long run!

I hope this article helped you think about marathon pace and helped you work out what a realistic marathon goal looks like for you!

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