Thursday, June 10, 2010

The plan and paradox of "easy" pace

I have absolutely confirmed, in MY mind at least, my 4-year old theory about marathon pace training. Here goes: by following the pace charts, my "easy" pace is more difficult for me to maintain than is my true "marathon" pace. I have always thought it to be the case, now I am certain that it's true.

Roughly four (4) weeks into marathon training, here is what I have witnessed: 
My marathon finish time goal for the upcoming Ridge to Bridge Marathon is sub 3:40. According to the McMillan running calculator (as well as the pace charts at Runners World and Hansons Running), my "easy" pace is around 8:50 min/mile. For the past several weeks, I have followed my training plan explicitly and stuck to that pace. It's crazy, but I feel so much fatigue at that pace, I have found myself absolutely zapped after a relatively short 8 miler. I've never been tired after a short run like that... what gives? 

I had nearly concluded that Father Time is just catching up on me and imposing basic fatigue on my 40 year old carcus...

...but then...

I got up at my usual 4:32am Tuesday morning and prepared for an "easy" 9 miler. Now, I had been holding strictly to my 8:50 "easy" pace as prescribed in my well thought out training plan until this point. When I got outdoors though, I decided that I was going to find out what I was still capable of running. In addition to my assumption that my age was affecting my performance, I had likewise assumed/concluded that I wouldn't be able to run faster than easy pace for a marathon distance. Heck, if I can't run 8:50 pace without tiring, how in the world would I EVER run 7:50 pace again during a race?

Here's what I found out: After about 30 yards of warmup (not much, I know), I started to stretch out my legs and get "back into the groove" of what, for me, feels like "easy" pace. I didn't look at the Garmin because I wanted to lock in on "my pace" and get to where I could feel it again as I did in marathon training cycles past. After about 2 miles of what felt like easy running, I looked at the Garmin on my wrist.


Then it hit me. Easy pace, according to the charts, is simply not natural for me. It causes more fatigue, more mental strain, more recovery needs and more sheer frustration  than running at a faster clip ever did. Long story short, but I ran my 9 miler at an average 8:04 pace, and I could have kept going for another 10 miles. When I called it complete, I felt no fatigue, no labored respiration, no muscle soreness, nothing. The only thing I felt was sheer, re-invigorated confidence. Confidence that I hadn't lost everything to "40", that I hadn't lost fitness and that I hadn't lost my mind thinking about all of this.

So, where do I go with training now? Not sure. I'm going to try and find a happy medium between "my easy pace" and race pace. Once I find that sweet spot, I am going to try and focus my racing energy into that zone. I think it will reap benefits for me in North Carolina on Oct 30.

Who would have ever guessed "easy" could be so "hard"...


  1. While I'm no where near as fast as you are, I know how you feel about easy run pace. I always find it too slow as well. Instead of sticking strictly to that pace on easy run days I let my body determine what is easy/comfortable and go with it. I find that it helps me recover better than trying to keep to a pace that I have to think to hard about. Right or not, it works for me.

    That being said I still push harder on speed and tempo days and make sure that I get a good hard workout in on those days.

    I'm sure you'll find what will work best for you and do great in your marathon!

  2. Hi, I found your blog looking for posts on Ridge to Bridge - I'll be running it this fall, too. I hear you on the "easy paces" not being easy. My prescribed easy pace is around 10:30, while my natural pace tends to be about 9 minutes per mile. I find myself getting more fatigued as I stray from that number in either direction, so I'm struggling with how to train to hit that pace for 26.2.