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Set a target time and pick your pace

As this blog is not aimed at elite runners we are not considering those aiming to go under 3.30 hours however for all runners entering the marathon I believe having a target time is very important and one of the first things you should decide on as all training will be based around this. Many people will say their goal is simply to finish others will have a clear time they want to achieve – for me and many its going under 4 hours. Either way establishing your target time is critical – why is it so important?

As you go through the training process you will mainly do relatively short runs i.e. 10k with 1 or 2 ‘long runs’ (more on that in the next feature) per week. Obviously on a short run you can maintain a faster pace for the duration of the run however for the marathon which is just over 4 times your 10k race you will not be able to run at your 10k race pace for the 42 odd kms. This may seem very obvious and simple but in the 2 half marathons and one full marathon I have done while I have achieved my target times and a little better I have not got my pacing correct. In all three races I have gone off too fast and run out of steam in the latter part of the race, in particular in the marathon in the first half I was flying and really enjoying it thinking I might actually get around in 3.30. However while I didn’t hit the so called ‘wall’ the last 10k was painful and I lost around 10 minutes in the last stretch and swore when I crossed the finish line that was me and marathons finished.

Back to the pace and why its so important in the first 25kms I was averaging under 5minutes per km which would have seen me getting around in under 3.30 hours which was way below my goal and realistically was not possible. I believe if I had picked my pace better and struck to it the last part of the race would not have been so painful and I would have actually got around quicker. Thus even if your goal is simply to finish you need to decide what pace you are going to run at otherwise you will run out with your ‘short run’ speed at the start of the race and then collapse in the back half. This incorrect pacing is magnified by the added adrenaline, tapering (which creates freshness) and crowds which naturally speed you up on race day.

Now the slight counter argument to this is the mental side of running right on the pace of your target time and this was and is my concern. Throughout the race you will have those times when you question everything and why you actually entered the race. The whole way around it kept me going mentally knowing that I was ahead of schedule and my target time. If I was behind target I feel psychologically it would have been very challenging to keep going knowing that you have to speed up to achieve your goal – knowing I had ‘time in the bag’ was a real comfort. By the way almost everything I have read says you should run the first half slower than the second half….

My thought process for my next marathon is to run at a pace that is a little faster than my goal, the plan is that I can keep a little time ‘in the bag’ to give me that mental boost on the way around however hopefully ensure I don’t burn out by going too fast in the early stages. My real hope is that in that last 10k I will actually be feeling good and can push it on a little more knowing I don’t have far to go. I believe the most challenging part will be having the discipline to run a bit slower at the start when I feel good enough to run faster.

It worth checking out an online pace calculator such as http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/4/4_1/96.shtml simply enter your target time and distance and it will tell you what speed you need to run at, if you follow my proposed strategy deduct 5 secs or so from your pace per km.

I believe setting this pace and target time at the start of your training is vitally important as the whole way through this process you get used to running at different paces and can feel within a few seconds what pace you are running at so when it comes to race day you know what speed you are running at. My Garmin watch has got a pace alert buzzer so when you go too slow or too fast it buzz’s – I liked the idea of this when I bought the watch but in the end found it too irritating so running on feel and with a pace update every kilometre works better for me but this only comes with practise.

Pace chart and overall time:

Mins per km Overall Time
4.58 3.29
5.15 3.41
5.41 3.59
6.00 4.13
6.23 4.29
7.00 4.55


Ed note:

For those of you who have not read the blog before this is a beginners guide by a beginner, just to clarify my running pedigree’ I am 46 years of age and like so many stopped active sport when I left school….25 years later (aged 43) and at 17.5 stone I realised I needed to do something and started running. Initially I couldn’t run longer than 5 minutes without stopping but 18 months later I ran my first half marathon and just over 2 years after lacing up my trainers I completed my first marathon. I said at the start of my marathon training that this would be a one time thing so I wanted to get around in a time that I felt was achievable and I would personally be pleased with. For me and many its breaking 4 hours, I managed to get around a bit under that at 3.46 – so as I say if you an elite athlete this feature is not for you however if you want to live the journey with ‘Jo everyday runner’ then tune in for what I hope you find will be an engaging blog feature. All advice is purely based on my experiences, talking with regular runners and what I have read – so it comes with a huge health warning! I found too much stuff on line was written by elite runners, was far to structured and was not relevant to my level.