Many regular club runners approach me wanting to improve their times over longer distances like the half marathon and marathon. The common approach is a hit and miss approach which involves hammering away at the goal distance weekend after weekend, hoping that one day times will improve. There will possibly be some improvement, purely because the runner is running more and getting fitter. However, a more strategic approach is required to see real and quicker results with few missed attempts.

In helping the runner plan their training smartly, one of the first questions I ask is, “what are your times over the shorter distances?”. The answer to this question provides many clues as to where the shortcomings are and what to focus the training on. There are normally two scenarios.

Scenario One: The goal pace for the longer distance is faster than what the runner is able to run over less than that distance. For example, someone would want to run a sub 4 hour marathon, yet they struggle to run 2 hours for a half marathon. In this situation, the smart approach would be to first spend time improving times over 5 kilometers, 10 kilometers and then the half marathon. Marathon goal pace should feel comfortable over these shorter distances. From this point the runner can then focus on marathon specific training with the confidence that they are able to run the required pace. At least to halfway! Now just to sustain it!

Scenario Two: The runner can run a very fast 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer, maybe even a fast half marathon, but is really struggling with the marathon. In this case the shortcoming is often not doing enough long runs, or not long enough long runs. Also not doing any longer training runs at marathon goal pace. Other factors to consider would be inadequate race nutrition or whether the runner is doing too much and going into the race overtrained.

The above example was for a marathon runner, but the principles remain the same for someone wanting to improve over shorter distances.

A simple formula to predict your potential times over different over and under distances is Frank Horwills formula which is simply to: add 10 seconds per kilometer (12 seconds for women) to your pace as you go up in standard distances and minus 10 seconds (12 for women) as you go down.

For example: A male who is able to run 20:00 (4 min/km) for 5 km has the potential to run the following times over longer and shorter distances:

DistancePotential Pace /kmPotential Time
3km4:00 – 10 sec = 3:5011:30
10km4:00 + 10 sec = 4:1040:40
21.1km4:10 + 10 sec = 4:201:31:26
42.2km4:20 + 10 sec = 4:303:09:54

So using the example above, if you are wanting to run under 3 hours 10 min for the marathon, you want to work towards being able to run about 1 hour 31 minutes for the half marathon.

In summary, when planning for a specific goal, it is important to compare your current ability over shorter and longer distances to see where your shortcomings are. It is also important to have a coach look at your training history to see why the shortcomings are there. And finally, approaching your goal with a smart strategy will increase your chances of success!


Coach Kathleen