Marathon Project 2:34 – thoughts on “Target Pace” and “Comparable Performance Pace”

When I decided that I wanted to debut over the marathon distance I was keen to set myself a challenging target.

There is no doubt that 2:34 is a very challenging target for me but I do not believe it is necessarily “away with the fairies”.

Once the target is set it would be very easy to get obsessed with target race pace. To achieve a 2:34 marathon (for arguments sake 2hr 34m 29s) I would need to run each kilometre at 3:39 pace. I like to use the online tool “Jack Daniels VDOT Calculator” for these types of calculations.

But just as important as target race pace is “comparable performance pace” in my opinion. Again, the VDOT Calculator tool is very useful for this as it gives “equivalent” race times.

To give some examples, below are some comparable performances to a 2:34 marathon over popular distances –

– 1 mile: 4:41 (2:54/km) {PB: 4:49}

– 5km: 16:05 (3:13/km) {PB: 16:44}

– 10km: 33:24 (3:20/km) {PB: 34:49}

– Half Marathon: 1hr 13m 45s (3:30/km) {PB: 1hr 16m 32s}

First and foremost, it is obviously clear that I haven’t achieved any of these performances yet based on official PBs given above. But it’s worth noting that I have ran faster than my official PBs over 5km and 10km in longer races, albeit on fast openings of courses. For example I ran approx 16:30 to go through 5km at the Blaydon race some years ago and 34 low through 10km at the Brampton to Carlisle 10 miler.

The closest performance according to the calculator I have is that 10 miler covered in 55:37 in November 2019.

I can compare the 10 mile in 55:37 closely to the 2:34 marathon by looking at the calculated VDOT ratings (read VO2 max ratings). The 10 mile is rated at 63.6 and the marathon at 64.1.

Crucially I think I am capable of the mile time (I’ve ran a 2:42 1km in February 2019, rated 66.5) and I don’t think I necessarily need to go out and do it as such. However, some speed work at 1 mile pace would be beneficial in my opinion. The ability to run fast is inherent in all human beings to some extent but it is also a skill that needs to be nourished.

I ran a 4:49 mile (rated 61.9) on the road in late 2018. To take 8s off to achieve 4:41 would increase the VDOT rating to 64 and equivalent to the 2:34 marathon.

That said, the 5km, 10km and Half Marathon performances are extremely important if I am to have real confidence in achieving my marathon goal.

Not only do I feel that I need to get comfortable running these paces, I also feel I need to prove myself in racing as well.

Obviously the longer the race distance the better in proving my chances over the marathon and so the half marathon will be key.

In the meantime I will be looking to practice race pace as follows –

– 5k pace: for example 2km @ 3:13/km

– 10k pace: for example 3km @ 3:20/km

– HM pace: for example 4.5 miles @ 3:30/km

In terms of practicing marathon pace itself, I feel the best way is to build progressively. Yesterday I completed 3x 1k at 3:39/km with walking rest allowing HR to settle to 120bpm. My HR topped out at 176bpm on the 2nd rep and recoveries were taking in excess of 2 minutes. I would like to see improvement in both aspects. Although I am still not 100% sure on exactly what my optimum marathon HR is, I am considering ~165bpm (note: I held approx. avg. 179bpm for 10 miles and 174-5bpm for Half Marathon for my PB performances and my Lactate Threshold was last measured at 175bpm) as an average or a range of say 160-170bpm.

As and when I see things improving (e.g. HR maxing out <170bpm and recoveries coming in <2 mins) I will start adding reps aiming for maybe as many as 10-12 1km reps. In addition I will consider continuous runs at target marathon pace starting at say 5 miles and building to 9 or 10. This could be a faster paced segment within a long run. I expect I need to build a regular long run in the range 15 to 20 miles. As racing resumes I could also consider low key half marathons up to 20 milers to practice target marathon race pace to see how the body copes.

This brings me on to 2 key gaps in my historical training…

Both my average total weekly mileage and longest run are nowhere near where they need to be to achieve a good result in the marathon. I believe I need to safely increase my weekly mileage to 60-70 per week. This would allow a long run of 15-17.5 miles based on a rule of 25% of total weekly mileage (a rule I try to follow and believe in). For context, leading up to the 10 miler in November 2019 I was probably averaging 50 miles per week. One slight anomaly was that I ran my longest and fastest ever long run in late October 2019, averaging around 6:30/mile pace for 18 miles feeling good.

In addition to building a real aerobic base, I am a big believer in the idea that “speed can kill”. As I approach 40 years old I am all too familiar with the risk (and indeed increasing risk) of injury.

I belive that access to speed work must be earned. I will define speed work as race pace and faster. So for me, I will say anything faster than 3:50 per km is speed work. That must be earned and earned through easy aerobic running.

Access to speedwork can be earned on a ratio of 1 in 20. So for every 20km of aerobic running 1km of speedwork can be performed. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out a large base of aerobic running will be needed to access a decent proportion of speedwork. For example, a weekly total of 100km (approx 62 miles) will only “release” 5km of speedwork. That would be enough to practice some race pace reps (say 5x 1k) but it wouldn’t be enough to access the aforementioned 4.5 miles at HM pace or 9 miles continuous at MP.

I acknowledge that this is a conservative approach. I should also add this philosophy comes from Ernst Van Aaken if you wish to learn more. However, I believe in undertraining being better than overtraining especially if the latter means being sidelined with injury and/or illness. It may be possible to increase the ratio to 1 in 10 if things are going well. But this leads me on to the final point I want to make…

The fact of the matter is, a marathon of 2:34 is a big challenge for me. But it is one that excites me. I do not expect to enter a marathon (whenever they become available again) and run 2:34 first time of asking. My aim is to run 3 or 4 marathons in the next few years (as a 40-45 year old). For example, target a sub-3hr marathon in my debut, get a feel for the distance and go from there.

Wish me luck!

I hope this blog has been interesting and would welcome any comments.

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Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Marathon Project 2:34 – thoughts on “Target Pace” and “Comparable Performance Pace”

  1. Hey Kev, I bloody love your thorough approach and also your thinking ‘out loud’- it shows your determination on achieving your goal- which I’m sure you will give a good nudge on the day 💪🏼

    This article is an interesting topic. I feel it is important to consider pace, especially in longer events. Obviously those who can comfortably crack those ‘race times’ prior to beginning a marathon plan have stronger shot. There have been exceptions to this rule with our very own Cees who was just as methodical as yourself with his approach and was a platform for him kicking on with some impressive results/performances.

    My two cents to add to the mix: It’s fab your approaching this using a periodisation model of base work then layering speed work “once earned” 👌🏼 This is, rightly, important as you can now break up your training into blocks and mentally (even emotionally) focus your efforts in chunks. This helps with adapting your training load and intensity, and subsequently reducing risk (higher with geriatrics!) of overtraining/injury. It is also important to be fluid between blocks and not make big changes with volume/intensity.

    I would suggest that this bigger block of (pre-season) base training be built up with very little race specific speed involved. Instead incorporate a bit of ‘tempo’ instead of speed. If desperate to have Mara pace to give confidence. You could always do 1-2 minutes really disciplined in the middle/end of a medium length run. This will build your ‘running economy’ and transition you nicely into a more specific phase of base (depending on time to goal race/block).

    Basically, what I’m saying/agreeing with you on is any race specific speed this early in a vase block is very risky. It can be tempting but will only result in heartache later down the line- injuries will normally come to light weeks down the line..

    In an ideal world (without Covid!) you would have cracked those race times/paces in your racing block prior to a good rest and then your new training block. I feel by bringing down expectations/pressure of initially smashing 2:34, maybe go for a slightly more conservative 2:39 (even lower in first base block) .then if things are going to plan you can always layer your tempo/speed at faster pace approaching the race itself. The key is ensuring these coming months of base is ticked off week by week, month by month. As you say, then deserve the right for the fun stuff of race specific pace work. I would totally leave hitting those projected mile pace to well done the line. That can be a goal/confidence builder and rep work approaching the race block itself. Remember you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket with just the Mara as target. Wanna make the most of this fitness you would’ve worked so bloody hard for. I’m sure you would’ve already planned some prior ‘practice races’ then PB’s over shorter distances (after Mara recovery) which should hold for a further 4 weeks of volume is kept low and intensity high. Of course this awesome fun stuff is for down the line, but can be motivation when on those long runs! First is to focus on this base block, with very little training under 6 min pace initially.

    I’ve waffled in enough!

    Good luck with your base and look forward to following your progress


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