3 Awesome Marathon Pace-Check Workouts

3 Awesome Marathon Pace-Check Workouts

3 workouts to help you nail the pace in your next marathon

Pacing is one of the hardest parts of running a marathon — and it starts long before race day with choosing the right goal. You can pick your goal pace based on a shorter race or previous marathon experiences, but once your training is underway, how do you know if your fitness is on track to hit your pace on race day?

In this article, we’ll look at three workouts that can help you gauge where you are in terms of your marathon pace goal. Even if your race pace is aggressive or sounds intimidating, if you can nail these workouts, you’ll be able to cross the starting line with confidence.

Note that it’s not simply enough to “finish” these workouts — you should pay close attention to how you feel, and none of them should be a race effort. After all, these workouts are all shorter than an actual race, so if you need to run at race effort to complete them, you won’t be able to complete the marathon at the same pace. But, if you can finish these workouts feeling strong — congrats, you’re on the right track for your goal!

Disclaimer: I am not a running coach, I’m just a guy who has run a bunch of marathons (some good ones, some bad ones) and has learned over time what works for me. Running is highly individual and you may end up finding a different workout is a better race predictor for you — but these workouts are a great place to start.

The Classic: Yasso 800s

This is a classic workout designed by Running World magazine’s Bart Yasso as a marathon predictor. The workout is as follows:

10x800m @ marathon goal time (hours and minutes) translated to minutes and seconds, with equal rest time between repeats.

In other words, if your marathon goal time is 3:00, you would want to run your repeats in 3 minutes each, or 6:00 minute/mile pace. The idea is that if you can hit this pace over all 10 repeats, you should be in good shape to run that pace for the marathon.

I’ll be honest: I don’t love this workout, at least not for me. The workout is relatively short and it places an emphasis on hitting a pace much faster than actual goal pace. This can be misleading for a couple of reasons.

For fast runners (those with track backgrounds especially), this can overestimate marathon ability: there are lots of track runners who can hit these paces in fast workouts but aren’t aerobically prepared for the marathon. For me, a runner in his 40s who does lots of mileage, but who doesn’t have any particular raw speed talent, this workout tends to underestimate performance.

While there is of course a relationship between how fast runners can run short distances and how fast they can run long distances, it’s highly individual, based on genetics, training, and other factors. As a result, it makes it difficult to extrapolate from short fast repeats to the marathon.

All that said, I include it here because some runners will find it useful. Especially if you’re well-trained for both short and long distances, it can be a good gauge of marathon performance.

Fast Finish 20-miler: 13+6@MP+1

Fast-finish long runs are a staple of my personal marathon training. This workout builds on the fast-finish idea with a bit more structure: six miles at marathon pace towards the end of a 20-miler.

13 miles @ long run pace, 6 miles at marathon race pace, 1-mile cooldown

This workout tests the ability of your body to run fast — at marathon pace — when you’re already tired. This can make it a tough workout, both physically and mentally.

I personally do this workout pretty much every time I do a 20-miler, usually two or three per marathon training cycle. Being able to repurpose any 20-miler makes it easy to fit into pretty much any marathon training schedule.

While this is a great workout and gets you used to running at marathon pace, it’s not the strongest marathon predictor. Even if you’re able to complete this workout without much trouble, you still have a lot to do to prove you can hit the pace for the entire marathon. On the other hand, if you can’t complete this workout, it’s definitely a warning sign that you may struggle during the race.

The Tough One: 2+12@MP+2

This workout is my absolute favorite — and it’s a tough one. It involves 12 miles at marathon race pace:

2 miles warmup, 12 miles at aggressive marathon pace, 2 miles cooldown

I only do this workout one time per training cycle, usually about 4 weeks out from the race, often at the end of a high mileage week on tired legs & body. This is the longest distance I’ll go at race pace during a training cycle, so it’s really the best test of how it feels to run at race pace!

Like the other workouts, it’s not just about completing the workout, it’s about how you feel during the workout. Personally, I keep a very close eye on my heart rate during this workout, making sure it’s not too high early on in the run. I want to simulate the early miles of the actual marathon, and if the heart rate gets too high in the early miles, I know I won’t be able to hold the pace for the whole race.

Even though this workout is definitely not to be run at a race effort, it can still be very tough. Run right in the midst of high mileage training without the benefit of a taper or race day adrenaline, it can require a great deal of effort and concentration. But this workout is the best predictor, in my experience. If you can finish this one feeling strong and you’ve put in the rest of the training, you’re on the right track to hitting your marathon goal.

Three Different Ways to Gauge Your Marathon Fitness

Running and racing the marathon is hard, and if you don’t have a realistic pace goal, it’s can be a recipe for disaster. These three workouts can help you determine if you’re progressing towards the right goal pace, or if maybe you need to reconsider.

Have any other workouts you like for marathon race predictors? Reach out and share them!