How to Choose Your Marathon Goal

Go big or go home? Greetings from Taperville!  I can't tell you how excited I am to have made it thus far without (knock on wood again) major incident.  Now that the bulk of the hard work is done, I thought I'd take today to talk about what's been on my mind for the past week or so:  how to chose my marathon goal.

For those of you who are running their very first marathon, your first goal should be just to finish!!  It's an amazing accomplishment to train and run 26.2 and when you do it for the first time, that's enough of a goal in itself.  It's an automatic PR!   No need to worry about time goals just yet.

But for those of us who've run one or two (or eight) of these things before, how do you go about choosing a time goal for your race?   When I'm making up my race day plan, I like to choose three goals:

An "A" Goal - This is your big (but still achievable) goal - it's the time you shoot for if the stars align and you wake up to great race day weather and a body that feels ready to roll and get the job done.

A "B" Goal -  This is a goal you'd still be happy with even if you deal with crummy weather or other adverse race conditions.  Perhaps it's to snag a PR, or just run the race at a solid effort - but it's a goal that should feel achievable in most scenarios.

A "C" Goal - A goal that you feel you can reach almost no matter what.  This might be just to finish the race. Or to continue pushing hard in those last 6 miles.   This a great goal to have in mind if you find yourself in a race day scenario where things are going from bad to worse quickly.  (i.e. it's terrible weather, you drop all of your race nutrition on the ground (yes it's happened to me), you have to make pit stops during the race, etc.)

So now that you know about these three types of goals, how do you set them?  I've honestly struggled with setting mine for weeks now.  I've settled on two of them:

My "C" goal was the easiest - finish the race and don't give up.

And my "B" goal will be to PR - to run under a 3:09.  

But my "A" goal....that's tougher.   I went into this season just coming off a significant injury (my stress fracture) and honestly I wasn't sure I'd even make it to the taper in one piece.  Thankfully this season has gone better than expected and I'm here.   Normally I'd have gone into my 12-week training block with an end goal in mind for the full marathon - a time that I'd use to help me decide which paces to run over the course of the season so that I could prepare.  In some ways, I sort of did that.   When I started the training, I thought about how cool it would be to run under 3 hours.  But....that's over 9 minutes faster than my current PR (3:09 set at Shamrock last year).  So I can't say I expected to really go for that goal in the actual marathon, but I decided to try and run my pace miles at or around the pace I'd need for a sub-3 time.  (6:52/mile)  And for the most part, I managed it.  I did three runs that included marathon-paced miles as part of my long run, with those marathon-paced miles totaling 8 miles at pace for the first run, 9.4 for the second (the Frostbite 15K race), and 12 miles for the last run.   I averaged 6:48 for the pace miles.   Okay so far, right?   BUT.  Those pace miles felt very challenging.  I managed it, but it wasn't comfortable at all.  And on my tempo runs and speed work I found that I wasn't able to hit the corresponding paces that McMillan's calculator suggested I should be hitting if I was hoping to run sub-3.   Yikes.  On the positive side, this season I've upped my mileage and was thrilled that it has seemed to help my recovery time tremendously.  I've also added in BodyPump this season (both teaching and taking the class) and that has also added to the total stress on my legs. I am.  I've got a season where I've hit the pace mile runs, but not quite the tempo/speedwork runs.  And I've upped my mileage and added strength training with success.  Where does that leave me?  Go for sub-3 or not?

Ultimately, for anyone out there reading, I suggest that to set your "A" goal, you take a look at your training over the season and see what it tells you.   Look at your pace miles (if you did them) or your splits for your long runs to get an idea of what you might be capable of on race day.  Keep in mind your body's current state (healthy?  No lingering injuries?) and the amount of training you may have missed along the way.  Once you look over your key workouts and season as a whole, then decide on what you think you can run on race day.

That being said, my "A" goal probably should be somewhere around sub 3:05.   It's a challenging time to hit and while my season suggests I'm capable of that, it won't be easy to get there.  But there's one more piece of this puzzle:  heart.    I look back on the training I've done this season and at times I simply can't believe that I've made it through unscathed. (Of course, now that I've put this out there I'm sure I've thoroughly jinxed myself)  I only run two marathons a year - if I'm lucky. I feel like in many ways I've been given a gift this season - a rare opportunity to try and do something big.  To try for that sub-3.  It's a gamble for sure.  I may get to mile 13, realize that the pace is WAY too fast and crash and burn to struggle home for a 3:20 finish.  Or I could have the race of my life and nab the time.   But at this point I feel can I not TRY?  Just try.  It may go horribly, I know.  But you won't know until you give it a chance.  And while I would be very bummed if I blew up and struggled in, I think I might be more disappointed to not even attempt it.  So that's what I'm going to do.

My "A" goal is to run a 2:59 marathon.

From now until the race I'm going to be putting my energy into convincing myself that I can do it.  That it's possible, that I'm ready and that all of the work I've done over the last few months will carry me to the finish.  I may never get a season like this again, so I'm going to make the most of it.

I'm hoping I fly

Any words of wisdom for me?  Good thoughts and prayers are also greatly appreciated. :)