Pushing The Pace On A Long Run

Contributed By Michele Gonzalez, Author of NYC Running Mama
When I was training for the NYC Marathon and my first ultra this summer/fall, I completed all my long runs at an easy pace.  NYC would be my first marathon after giving birth and since I hadn’t completed long runs consistently in over a year, my goal was to get the miles in without worrying about what my Garmin 610 was telling me.  I got very comfortable with doing my long runs at an 8:30 pace.  I was happy with that pace.  I didn’t feel the need to push myself any harder on my long runs – as long as I ran 20, 25, 30 miles, I was satisfied.
I competed in the Foot Locker 5 Borough Challenge [FL5BC] as part of the NYC Marathon in November.  After separating from the other 4 runners at the halfway point (we had to run the first 13.1 miles together), I immediately tried to speed up to hit my target pace of 7:45.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get my pace any faster than 7:50-8:00.  And it wasn’t that my legs were tired – they actually felt surprisingly good.  I just couldn’t pick up the pace without getting out of breath.  I actually didn’t run one mile at my target pace [6x miles were sub-8:00 and my average pace for the final 13.1 was 8:01].  I’m not complaining or upset with my performance at the NYC Marathon – my primary goal was to win the FL5BC.  But now that I am beginning training for my next marathon, I have to look closer at my training and determine what I need to tweak in order to improve my time.
My goal for the New Jersey Marathon on May 6 is sub-3:10.  One of the biggest changes to my training is my goal pace on long runs. I am now shooting to run :30 (30 sec) slower per mile on long runs than I hope to for the marathon. What does this mean?  3:10 marathon = 7:16 pace ->  Long runs = 7:40-7:45 pace.  This is a huge change for me since I have always been a fan of long, slow runs – runs where I listen to my body to determine the pace.
My first long run at the new target pace was Saturday.  It was a 12 miler and I plan to work up to 20-24 milers at this pace.  Here are my splits:
1:  8:34 (warm-up mile)
2:  8:03
3:  7:53
4:  7:49
5:  7:54
6:  7:38
7:  7:46
8:  7:41
9:  7:36
10: 7:33
11: 7:53
12: 7:14
Average pace: 7:47
The first couple of miles felt slow, but after I warmed up, I got into a comfortable rhythm and felt really good.  Mile 5 was closer to 7:40 – I stopped to chat with one of my friends and didn’t stop my Garmin. Mile 11 was the only mile I really had to push to make sure I kept it under 8.
What did I learn this weekend?
It’s so easy [and tempting] to fall into a comfort zone on long runs after you build up to higher mileage.
Staying within my comfort zone on long runs will NOT improve my timesfor my next race.  How can I expect my body to run substantially faster on race day than what it’s been training at?
Long runs are not meant to be “easy” days on the training schedule – they are one of my 2-3 key workouts a week.
I should be pushing myself on long runs [not race pace or an all-out effort where I need to take days off to recover].  Long runs are designed to get my body used to the longer distances close to race pace.
[*Note: If you are training for your first marathon, then you should be concentrating on logging the miles and getting used to the longer distances and their effect on your body.  But, once you've done a few and want to start taking off chunks of time, your training goals need to change.]
When you are training for a marathon, how far off from your target marathon pace do you do your long runs??  Do you push yourself or do you prefer LSR [long, slow runs]?

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