Marathon specific long run intensity

espenhbespenhb ✭✭✭
edited October 14 in Training
Weird year, huh? Yeah. Didn't get to do the planned marathon this year. Oh well. Got a 100 mile ultra coming up though. And I did do a trail half marathon here a little while back. Snuck in just below 90 minutes. But enough with the chitchat...

I'm again somewhat planning for next year and what will hopefully be my marathon debut. As part of that process I once again find myself devouring literature on the subject - both printed and online - and this morning I found myself reading in «Advanced Marathoning» by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas when I came to a sentence that made me stop dead in my tracks. 

«If you use a heart rate monitor, your long-run pace should be in the range of 75 to 84 percent of maximal heart rate...»

I had to read and re-read that one a few times before shaking my head and moving on.

As I've mentioned before I come from the world of road cycling, so I'm not a total novice at endurance sports, even though this is only my second year actually running consistently. I'm also somewhat of a geek - although not the full-blown kind - so I've always preferred to learn and coach myself instead of just doing as I'm told. And that is why I'm now asking for some input here.

1: In cycling the «rule» for intensity during long steady state rides was about 65 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate. That was the guideline both when building a base in the off season and when getting in shape as the races got closer. And that's also what I see when I'm reading about running. The tabloid title for a summery of almost all training articles on the long run seems to be «Run slower, fool!».

2: Both during my cycling days, and in a lot of what I've read the last couple of years, «the grey zone» gets talked about as something to avoid at all cost as the costs of keeping that intensity and the potential for overtraining and injury outweigh the benefits. The grey area is commonly referred to as between 75-80 percent of maximum heart rate, from what I've seen.

3: The one exception from point number one that I've implemented myself with great success is doing harder efforts during longer rides/runs. Progression runs, 1k on/off, negative splits or just throwing in a set of intervals at some point during the long run. But that has been more in the context of doing a workout inside a long run, with the workout having one set of pace/intensity-goals and the long run part of it having another.

4: 84 per cent of maximum heart rate is probably pretty darn close to what I would be able to hold for a marathon. But still the sample training plans in the book calls for both long runs and long runs with X miles at marathon pace. 

So I'm baffled. What is it that I can't quite wrap my head around? I can't remember seeing anyone else calling for straight long runs done at that intensity. Is it Pfitzinger and Douglas that is the anomaly? Or is it just my brain that has filtered out that part of marathon training from articles because it goes against what I've previously learned? And probably also because it sounds painful? And last but not least: Am I right if I sum all of this up as the following?

The long run should be at an intensity of about 65 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate except for the 12-18 week buildup for a marathon. During that period of time the long run should be done at a higher intensity to mimic the stress of a marathon, and the plan should also include some long runs with sustained efforts at marathon pace.

But that begs the question: If it's to be avoided at any cost for the rest of the year, why shouldn't one avoid «the grey zone» when trying to build fitness for the main goal of the season?

Yeah. That post turned out longer than I anticipated. Sorry about that.

But for those of you who actually read the whole thing: What am I missing here?

Edit: Got a few quid saying the answer to my questions might show up in a later chapter, but I'll get back that if it happens.


    Heart rate zones are different for running and cycling.   Running is weight bearing.   75-80 % MHR is OK for marathon training runs as there tends to be cardiac drift for the last few miles of a long run.    I don't use P & D so I would do my long runs at roughly 75% MHR.

    I'm assuming that is % of MHR not working heart rate which is calculated in a different way.

    Also unless you've been lab tested for your MHR then you should do a MHR test by running.
  • espenhbespenhb ✭✭✭
    Your assumption is correct.

    I've always found heart rate to be somewhat problematic for all other purposes than planning, cardiac drift being one reason and the heart rate lowering over time due to exhaustion being another. But I do have two follow-up questions:

    1) Would you also advise 75-80% when building a base, or is that intensity during long runs, as I presume, best suited for the build period leading up to a race?

    2) Would you mind going into a bit more detail regarding running being weight bearing? How much does it for instance affect heart rate at let's say lactate threshold? 
    For running I would suggest that 70-75% for building a base.   The 75-80% you mentioned is P & D which I've never used.

    I have roughly been using Hadd's method of HR training, if you want a long read

    Of course running is weight bearing, on our own two feet, whereas when cycling you're sitting on the bike.  I don't know anything about cycling but I know that this difference is why the HR zones are different for cycling.   Don't know about LT on a bike but here is a good method of assessing running LT. 27, 2016 Matt Fitzgerald. One of the,is working, two things are sure to happen.

    There is a P & D training thread on this forum, so if you have questions about that particular method of training the guys on there know their stuff. 
  • espenhbespenhb ✭✭✭
    Thanks for the reply! I'll dive into that pdf.
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