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Is marathon pace actually useful for training?

Training at marathon pace might not be as useful as you think

Frequent runs at marathon race pace is a training strategy used by elites. They will use marathon pace in their training as a stand-alone workout or practice the pace in the second half of their long run. But how useful is marathon pace training?

In Jack Daniel’s 4th edition of his Running Formula training book, he comments on how marathon pace runs in training aren’t physiologically more useful than doing easy and moderate training runs.

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Most training programs for other distances include speed work at your goal race pace, so why is the marathon different? In a marathon build-up, your race-pace workouts are curated to prepare your body physically and mentally for 42.2 kilometres. Marathon pace runs are also important to practice your race-day fueling strategies, wear your race shoes and determine whether your marathon goal is realistic.

Boston Marathon Start courtesy of Boston Athletic Association

But if you are not training for marathons and focusing on shorter distances, most runners will drop marathon pace runs out of their training plans. How useful is training at marathon pace?

Physically, there is no benefit to training at this pace besides improving your aerobic endurance. This could also be done with a slower-paced training run. Two or three workouts a week at MP is not beneficial unless you are doing a high volume of reps (30x400m at goal marathon pace with less than one-minute rest). When training speedwork, the goal is to operate outside of your comfort zone to make slower paces easier to hold for longer distances.

The Halifax Road Hammers race at the Valley Harvest Marathon in Nova Scotia. Photo: Instagram/hfxroadhammers

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Are there psychological benefits to training at marathon pace? Yes – if you can run 25-30 km at your goal marathon pace during a long run, four to five weeks from your race, it is a confidence booster in your training. To finish a marathon, you have to be mentally tough, and be able to endure a long period of time using your legs. The best way to train your mental muscle is by simulating a race environment in your training. To get to this stage in your training you have to implement MP in your long runs or as a workout each week, as mileage can be taxing without the proper training.