Training Pace for a Marathon – Slow Down to Speed Up?

I remember the day my neighbor showed me how to properly pit an avocado. I was so glad to find out there was a better, smarter method that rendered much better results than my clumsy approach. I was equally grateful when my Greek friend taught me the best way to seed a pomegranate. Again –more efficient, less messy, much better results.

Now I’m hoping to have similar results with my running. I’ve heard there’s a better, smarter way to train for a marathon than the slipshod training I’ve done in the past, and I’m hoping for more efficiency, less mess (i.e. injury) and much better results.

I recently decided to return to marathon running after a four-year hiatus, and with the help of Fleet Feet’s marathon training program, I plan to run the Go St. Louis Marathon this spring.

That’s where the “I’ve been doing this all wrong” thing comes into play.

Turns out that burn I love while I’m running? Well, that’s probably me doing my distance runs above my anaerobic threshold. And while runners tend to be Type-A, push yourself, pedal to the metal kind of folks, training in that heart rate zone is counterproductive, according to Brandi Barbre, Fleet Feet’s training director.

Based on the results of my VO2 Max test, she wants me to Slow. Way. Down. At least on my long, slow, distance runs. (Not that I was ever fast).

She wants me training in the aerobic zone, or Zone 2. In this heart rate zone, your body uses fat as its energy source, and that’s a good thing, because almost all of us have plenty of stored body fat to sustain us for a long run.

Alternately, when we train in the anaerobic zone, our body has to burn carbohydrates as its energy source, and our bodies cannot store or consume enough carbs to get us through a marathon. Thus, the wall or the bonk, the muscle cramps. Perhaps this explains why I got slower with each of my marathons rather than faster?

Brandi tells me that I’ll enjoy a couple of training adaptations if I keep my heart rate below my anaerobic threshold for my long runs. The first is what I mentioned above – I’ll be burning fat as my energy source, and that’s a good thing. I’m not doing this marathon to lose weight (I’m kind of done with that, as I mentioned here). But she’s seen several runners lose weight when they slowed down their training pace. Truth be told, it will not break my heart to see a reduction in my body fat.

Second, I’ll increase my capillary size, which means more blood flow, which means more oxygen to my working muscles, which means I can run longer. That’s a good thing in marathon training.

Interestingly, Brandi tells me that I might even improve upon my marathon personal record by slowing down my training. And she says the pace I train at will be a lot slower than my race day pace if I do my due diligence during my track/speed workouts each week during the training program. She says trained at an 11-mintue pace one season because she was leading that pace group, but then completed the actual marathon in 3:30, which would be a 8-minute pace.

My best marathon time is 4:30 – I said I wasn’t fast. That means I averaged a 10:30 pace. I suspect I’m going to be put in training group that will be even slower than that, at least to start out. I’ll find out what my pace group is at Fleet Feet’s kickoff meeting this Saturday. This is going to take some getting used to and I have to get out of my own way.

It’s counter-intuitive, but I’m ready to try.

I’m also prepared to be diligent about stretching, foam rolling and cross training. I’m still in the process of deciding what my cross training is going to look like, but I’m considering a CrossFit program and some yoga.

I’m ready to get started. I’ve got some good audio books downloaded to my iPhone, because I love getting lost in a good story while I run. Bring on 2016!

If you have a New Year’s Resolution or Smart Goal to train for a running event  or race in 2016, there’s still time to sign up for one of Fleet Feet’s programs. Go here to learn more.

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