What time should I aim for in the half-marathon and marathon?

ASK THE COACH Tim Crosbie  is an accredited Distance and Recreational Running Coach. He has helped develop and deliver the Recreational Running Coaching framework in Australia and is a full time employee at Athletics Victoria. He is the founder of the Crosbie Crew. Follow the crew on Twitter or Facebook.


Q I have been running regularly (up to 80km per week, although I am currently running 50km per week). I plan to do my first half-marathon, followed by my first marathon two to three months after that. Needless to say, I will build up my mileage. I would prefer to run five times a week, with the occasional six days when I feel it is appropriate. I have planned my training with long runs, speed sessions, interval sessions, and so on.

I am confused about what pace I should do my different runs and what time I should aim for in the half-marathon and marathon. Some people say that since it’s my first marathon, my only aim should be to finish it. I consider myself a good runner (I’ve clocked 44:46 at a 10K; however, I didn’t have much left in the tank after this, so I am a bit hesitant to use this time as a marathon time prediction). Also, how do I choose a pace for my different training sessions?

A Before we go too far down the path of setting strict guidelines around training paces, let’s take a step back and ensure all the necessary training elements are being ticked off. Get this right, and later on in the process you will be able to use ‘training indicators’ as a fairly accurate guide to race day pacing.

Given that you aim to run five to six sessions per week, a normal week would look like this:

  • 1 x long run
  • 1 x quality session
  • 1 x tempo session
  • 1 x midweek long (marathon phase)
  • 2 x absorption runs

Quite obviously speed is speed, so at any given quality session the expectation would be that you are running faster than goal race pace for distances 2km or under. Tempo sessions should be aimed at slightly quicker than race pace, but over shorter distances (i.e. 4-10km for the half-marathon or 8-18km for the marathon).

The long and midweek long run are all about ‘time on feet’, so the pace should be around one minute per kilometre slower than your normal 10km race pace. You can, however, throw some variations into the long run such as a mid-run pick-up that gets close to race pace, or a 20- to 30-minute pick-up to finish off. On most occasions, however, the long runs should be LSRs – that is, Long Slow Runs.

As for the absorption runs, run these at an extremely comfortable pace so that the body can absorb the training load and be prepared for the next hard session (which is never too far away!).

Closer to race day, your tempo runs can be a great indicator of predicted pace. If, for instance, you can manage five-minute kilometres for your half-marathon or marathon tempos, then 1:45 and 3:30 respectively are perfectly realistic goal times. Remember, in order to race at a certain pace you must also train at that pace. Good luck! – TIM CROSBIE

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