There’s a Lot of Math in Running

Last night, my marathon Facebook group hung out in real life again at Hibernian Swift Lounge, where there’s lots of good beer on tap.

Um, and sausage? They gave us a random plate of sausage. Thanks?

Johnny, Sue, Margaret and me.

Not shockingly, we talked about running pretty much the whole time. Running and math. Running involves a lot of math–add, subtracting, dividing to figure out if goal paces and PRs are possible.

As someone who went into journalism to avoid math, I don’t know if I would have started running if I realized how much math I’d end up doing while running. (I kid–sort of.)

So, one thing we talked about for awhile was this: some of us have heard you’re supposed to do your long runs at about a minute slower than your goal race pace. Over the course of a marathon, that’s a 26-minute difference. I get that adrenaline gets you moving faster, but an entire minute? My long run pace has been about 9:54 this year–taking a minute off would mean a just under four-hour marathon, and I’m pretty sure there’s no way in hell that happens.

So what do you think? Do you train around your goal pace, a little slower, or just run how you’re feeling? (I usually just run how I’m feeling.)

15 comments on “There’s a Lot of Math in Running

  1. Carolyn

    Hey, I work at a running store. The most common training plans involve a long run that is slow. no other way to describe it. slow. It is about time on your legs. If you are running faster, doing that long run for an hour and a half instead of 2 hours isn’t the goal, it is the opposite of the goal. It is similar to training plans that have you cover more than the distance required, ex running a 28 mile run. The LSD puts into perspective that if you have run for four and a half hours at an easy effort, you should be able to run the same distance in four hours at a moderate – hard effort. The key is always remembering that every run has a purpose.
    – Carolyn

  2. Alice

    I actually do some of my long runs up to 2 mimnutes slower than marathon goal pace. My current marathon pr is 3:09 so for me it works. Sometimes I’ll add in a couple marathon paced miles into the middle or end of the long run for multiple reasons (muscle memory, confidence, train my body to go faster when tired, ect) The thing is I’m also doing track work once a week at faster than goal pace and I either do tempo miles during the long run or during a third run during the week. So the majority of my runs are easy pace, 2 per week are fast or have fast components. Those fast ones are what makes it so I can race during the marathon faster than most of my training runs. The slow ones give me the endurance so I can last the whole marathon. I hope that all makes a little bit of sense. They both have their place in my training.

  3. Katherine

    I used to run how I feel or try to push myself and go fast, but since my injury I’ve been consciously trying to go slower. I think it’s kind of a individual thing and do what feels best!

  4. Margaret @ Have a Good Run

    Ah yes, MATH. I still sometimes go to RunKeeper on my phone to figure out what mph I should run at for a certain pace on the treadmill, but I’ve gotten scarily good at knowing some of those paces offhand.

    P.S. Seriously loving the marathon Facebook group. More happy hours are a must pre- (and post-?) marathon!

  5. Anne G.

    As a commenter said above, each run has a purpose. Speed work improves speed, tempo improves your ability to maintain a faster pace and long runs improve your endurance. They allow your body to learn how to use energy efficiently and should be done at a pace that doesn’t put you out of breath (anaerobic). It’s to get your body used to running for a long time, while the tempo runs will teach your muscles to run faster.

    Have you read Born to Run? There’s a really good scientific explanation as to why long runs should be done at a really slow pace (1-2 minutes slower than goal pace). Much better than mine 🙂

  6. Lauren

    I usually run around goal pace for my long runs. I’ve read a ton about running slower than goal as well and usually when I go out to race I end up running a tad faster anyways. But honestly, I usually run how I feel since I’m not trying to win any races or qualify for Boston….YET!

  7. sarahsaysrun

    My goal for any long run is to finish with something still left in the tank. I save the pace worries for tempo and track workouts. There are so many elements that can really affect your pace on a long run, weather, what you ate the night before, how much you slept, how hard you ran that week, that I find it difficult to know exactly what is going to happen out there and how fast I’m going to be able to go in mile 14 of 18.

  8. Kimra

    Huh, that explanation about time on your feet is the first I’ve heard that actually makes the slow long run make sense to me. I usually just run how I’m feeling, but it was only recently that I learned to control my pace *at all*, so I’m still playing around with what works for me.


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