Training pace versus race pace

Sometimes, as one who took up running less than two years ago, I feel like detective Columbo in that famous TV series when he said, “Um, but there’s just one thing that’s bothering me. . . . . . .”

That one thing that is bothering me is the slow pace at which I am training and the somewhat fast pace I hope to run in my next half marathon.  I remember coach. Dean Hebert, an advocate of running significant mileage at race pace in training saying, “Nothing magical is going to happen on race day to make you faster.  If you train at a slow pace, you will race at a slow pace.”  (Or at least that’s how I remember him talking in those videos.)

Now, having tried coach Dean Hebert’s and coach Joe English’s advice on training at race pace, I understand the disadvantages of taking their advice.  You can end up running your best in training and not performing very well on race day.  Sure, you can try to prove to yourself that you can run, say, 9 minute miles for an entire half marathon by attempting this during a 13.1 mile training run.  But if you could do it, why not save that ability for race day, when it counts?

My problem is that I wonder how large the gap should be between my training pace and my goal race pace.  Hey, maybe my goal of running at an average pace of 8:40 minutes per mile in my next half marathon is too aggressive.  I did run a 9:22 average pace in the half marathon race I ran in April.  But I was slightly injured then and I had not developed my aerobic capacity to the degree that I have recently.

Some runners that I run with on weekends will say, you should train at about 90 seconds per minute mile slower than you plan to race.  Hal Higdon says that in his online advice and in his book, “Marathon.”  Well, that would mean I would either have to train much faster, or I would have to be content to run a much slower half marathon race.

So, what is the most common gap between training pace and race pace?  Or is there even a close correlation between the two?


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