Pacing a Marathon Training Plan

By | March 22, 2017

Pacing a Marathon Plan

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about developing and planning my next marathon training plan.  After some considerable deliberation, I threw away the plan that I had drafted and reviewed what I had done previously in 2015 when I trained for my most successful marathon in Chicago.  I realized that my preparation for that race was coincidentally similar in principle to the Hansons Marathon Method.  As most of my regular visitors know by now I settled on the Hanson plan that I hope will result in a new PR in 2017.

The book goes into great detail in describing the theory and methods behind the training.  The plan prescribes 6 runs per week with 3 of them designated as SOS (something of substance).  These runs are basically 2 types of speed workouts progressing from 400 meter repeats to 3 mile intervals (or strength runs).  A tempo run paced at goal race pace and the weekly long run complete the weekly SOS trifecta.  Recovery runs at easy pace comprise the remainder of the training week.

I like the variety of the plan and, despite missing my first real week due to the cold plague, I am well over half-way through and have not missed any subsequent workouts.  When I finish, it will represent the most mileage I have ever attempted but the program is progressive in that one week lays the foundation for the following week.  The longest “long run” never exceeds 16 miles although I may extend one run to 18.


But, what about pace?  6 runs per week with a different speed workout each week – at least for the first several weeks.  What about long run pace, tempo, and what is easy?  Fortunately, the book provides a great reference table that provides a scale based upon target, or anticipated, marathon time.  But, how do you know what your anticipated marathon time is when you are at week 0?

There are a couple methods that come to mind that can help.  The books suggests a 1.5 mile Vo2 Max type test and repeating this periodically to gauge increase in fitness.  There are also other sites and programs that can calculate training paces based from recent race performances at shorter distances (5K, 10K, HM) – I believe McMillan uses this technique.  Galloway uses his “Magic Mile” test.


But, still where to begin?!!  I have completed a few marathon training cycles that have targeted different objectives so I have some experience to tap.  If I am able to complete the program and stay injury free, I want to target a marathon time of 3:50.  This is pretty aggressive for me with my current PR being 3:59, but hey, aim high and all that 🙂  A 3:50 marathon equates to 8:46 pace.  For 2017, this will be my marathon “moonshot.”



“Moon-what?!” I heard that term on a Runners World podcast led by RW editor David Willey a few weeks back as he discussed the Nike “Breaking2” project.  Breaking2 is an ambitious goal to break the 2 hour mark for the marathon in 2017.  Nike are partnering with 3 of the elite marathon runners in the world to achieve what appears borderline impossible…a 1:59:59 marathon!  It requires a 2.4% improvement on the current world record which is already a mind-blowing 2:02:57 held by Dennis Kimetto.  You can read about the project at the Nike Breaking2 site and follow the progress on the Runners World podcast and website.


Moonshot kinda resonated, so I’m borrowing it for a little while for my attempt at 3:50’ish!

Whether I can achieve that goal at my next marathon however is questionable.  I examined the course for Reno a couple of weeks ago and came across this that I somehow missed during registration:

This is a 26.21 mi Run in Reno, NV, United States. The Run has a total ascent of 1126.81 ft and has a maximum elevation of 4,917.52 ft.


1100 ft of ascent at an altitude of just under a mile high and I train mostly on flat trails at sea level.  Thinking I probably should have examined the fine print before signing up.  But, it will be a challenge and I’m looking forward to getting through the training and enjoying the event.  Bringing us back to the point of the post though, I’m realistic enough to acknowledge that I will likely need to seek a flatter, more PR friendly race later in the year.  Guarantee Nike are not sending Desisa, Kipchoge, and Tadese to Reno next month to take a crack at 2 hours 🙂

Training Paces

I have been running my training paces aligning to a 3:50 goal race.  In the Hanson’s book, the pace charts provide the following guidelines for me for my various workouts:

  • Speed (intervals ranging from 400 to 1200 repeats):  7:45
  • Strength (longer intervals ranging from 1.5 to 3 miles):  8:36
  • Tempo (goal pace):  8:46
  • Long Run:  9:29
  • Easy:  9:50-10:20
  • Recovery:  11:19

With 5 weeks remaining I am pretty much hitting these pace targets but it is taking all I can muster to make it through a week.  However, I am reasonably certain both my physical and mental strength is improving.


These are my targets for as long as I’m chasing that 3:50, at least in 2017.  After about 3 weeks of using the program, I started to adapt.   The speed/strength repeats on Tuesday are borderline torture with the mid-week tempo run 2 days later.  To be fair, the book does not sugarcoat this training and it is very clear on what to expect.  As a side-note, should I ever wish to attempt to qualify for Boston I would need to subtract at least 1 minute from all of the paces listed above.  Not saying never but hmmmm, that might be beyond the moon for me.  But, in 2018…who knows .

Interestingly enough, David Willey is also part of the Nike Breaking2 project.  His moonshot is to finally qualify for Boston.  He is in a similar age-group to me so his progress is something that resonates.  Maybe if David can make it then I’ll be inspired to attempt it myself one day.  I’m certainly rooting for him to succeed after so many years of trying.

I could probably take a more scientific approach and adjust workout/target pace as I adapt.  Arguably, that would be the preferred technique.  I could run a baseline test and repeat every 2-3 weeks – if nothing else, it would be interesting to see the progression.  But, at least for now, I am comfortable using my previous experience as my baseline.  Maybe, that will change, time…and Reno and beyond will tell 🙂

  • How do you pace your workouts?  Do you run a baseline test or go with a target goal?  Do you have a coach to guide you through pace runs?
  • What’s your Moonshot?
  • Have you heard of Breaking2, what are you thoughts?

‘Till next time,

Run safe, run strong, run happy!


19 thoughts on “Pacing a Marathon Training Plan


    I’m doing my own version of this at the moment! I’ve been enjoying the more spread out mileage as I’ve been beginning to dread the long runs/deathmarches. My marathon’s on April 9th so we’ll see how that goes – I’m aiming for a PB (sub 4:12). If it works, I’ll get the book and do it for Chicago. Thanks for the post!

    1. James Post author

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment…glad you enjoyed the post. Overall, I am really liking the plan. It is tough but I feel I am gaining strength in my pace and mentally. Though, tonight’s tempo run was a total fail!! But, that was my first real fail in over 2 months so I have no problem accepting that sometimes you have to cut a run short to come back stronger on the next one. Best of luck on your marathon – which one is it? Chicago is awesome…I ran my one and only sub-4 hour marathon in Chicago in 2015 and it is an incredible experience. Best of luck!!

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Hi Jamesie. Nice post, which I’ll read again later, more slowly, to take in some of the details. On the face of it, I could probably do those Speed and Strength times – IF I did more runs per week. Though as I only go out the once (possibly twice) each week, I’ll stick to my long run at Tempo pace. It’s probably all wrong, but it suits my body/legs and lifestyle. 🙂
    As for choosing the ‘wrong’ race – be positive… The profile looks to be going slightly uphill then down, so if you reach half way anywhere near the 2 hours, it’s all downhill (in altitude terms) from there and with all that training under your belt, you should cruise home! 🙂

    1. James Post author

      Hey Mikey…thanks mate! Yeah, without a doubt this is probably the most detailed plan I’ve ever followed and I’m sort of looking forward to being done and just going out a couple times a week based on what feels about right. But, overall I’m happy with my progress though tonight was a total fail on my tempo run. My legs were fried and I had to give up and jog in 4 easy miles after which I’m opened a can to sooth the mostly mental pain! Agreed on the course…I’m starting to think about it and come up with a strategy. If I can maintain a roughly 9:00’ish pace for the first half and run a 1:58-1:59 first split, I’m hoping I can take advantage on the return and finish strong. I’ll get back to you on email this weekend too…Cheers!!

  3. Runningonfullblog

    Great post James! My current marathon schedule is light on details – LSR distance and overall distance, not much on pacing. My aim this time is really to get round at a relatively even pace throughout. After that, I’ll look at building a little more speed. I hope you’re training goes brilliantly!

    1. James Post author

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! Yes, it really is hard to nail down a given pace and this is, by far, one of the most detailed plans I’ve ever followed. I won’t deny that when this is over I’m really looking forward to running 2 or 3 times a week at a pace that whatever feels about right 🙂 Hope you’re training goes great too and look forward to following along…what is your next marathon?

      1. Runningonfullblog

        Cheers James. Next marathon is London on 23 April (my 2nd), 50k in July and making up the rest as I go along! While I’ve been running for a few years now, this year I want to start seeing what I’m really capable of. London will be slow – the main thing I want is to enjoy it!

        1. James Post author

          London would be awesome, best of luck!! Being raised in England and worked in London, I would love to run it one day. But, now as an oversees entrant odds are very slim if getting a bib. We’ll probably keep trying!! 50k is on my list, but not sure I’ll get to it this year! Cheers!!

  4. runningtotravel

    I wonder if you could mix in some hill work in place of some of your tempo runs? If it’s hard to find hilly routes, you could always try running up bridges or parking garages. Not ideal, but I’ve heard people who live in pancake flat areas doing that to prepare for hilly races.

    1. James Post author

      Yes, I can mix in some hill work and I really should…in the Seattle area and where we live we have no shortage of hills…a lot of my running in this plan has been based on speed workouts and pacing which I hope will improve my overall pace. I will get back to some rolling routes for sure though.

    1. James Post author

      We’ll just call those little hills “opportunities” and not roadblocks 🙂

  5. wanderwolf

    Nice job outlining the plan and your plan.
    My over-the-moon-shot is about 3 hours, but right now reaching the moon would be about 3:20. As you know, I’m not pursuing anything actively right this second, but I’m living vicariously through you.
    Something I’ve been thinking about that would maybe help you is some hill work. Go out and do some hills! The best way to prepare for elevation is elevation. 🙂 Even some inclines on the treadmill are a good idea. If anything, a few (8-10) sprints up a hill with recovery to walk down them will help you feel confident.

    1. James Post author

      Thank you Dorothea!! I wasn’t sure how well this post would go as there’s a fine line between providing an easy enough to read overview and going into way too much detail, so glad it made sense! You will definitely get close to that 3:20 and then ultimately 3:00 and you have plenty of time to get there. You made the right decision on the races this year and will come back and ready to crush a training cycle and race. I really need to get done hills done and I’ll look to add some as I head into the month of the plan. Thanks for the great feedback and have a super weekend!!

  6. nathasha

    Great post, James! Enjoyed reading about your training progress so far with this method.Sounds like it’s going well! I’ve never heard of the term “moonshot.” While some are aiming to run a sub 2-hr marathon, my moonshot is to run a sub 2-hr HALF marathon. 🙂 Good luck with the rest of training for Reno — you got this!

    1. James Post author

      Thanks Nathasha…and great hearing from you! Yes, the moonshot term was new to me too but I’m borrowing it for the rest of the year! Of course, as you know now, plans have changed a bit for Reno so the focus will on North Olympic with Reno as prep…but the same principles still apply. And, I have no doubt you will hit your half-marathon moonshot too 🙂 Best of luck with your current training, travelling, and racing too!


Leave a Reply