Posts Tagged ‘Marathon Pacing’

Race Pace and Nutrition are the two variables that like in most marathons are going to essentially write our own personal history when it is time to analyze our performance at Big Cottonwood on September 14th in Utah.  Assuming that we maintain our health, avoid nagging injuries and we continue to progress through our training cycle as we have to this point – there should be no doubt that we are in “3-hour shape” when we get off the plane in Salt Lake City.

I know what 3-hour shape feels like.  I know how easily I am able to shift through the gears from easy pace to moderate pace to Marathon Goal Pace to Half-Marathon Pace, 10K Pace and what it feels like to push down around 5:45-5:55 or 5K pace in the summer.

Wednesday’s workout with the training group where after a 3.5 mile warm-up we ran 4X 1-Mile repeats starting with a mile of :30 seconds “on”, followed by :30 seconds “off”.  Mile 2 was :60 second on, followed by :30 seconds off.  Mile 3 was :90 seconds on, followed by :30 seconds off and then finally the last mile back at :30 seconds on, :30 seconds off.

All four miles came in between 6:04 and 6:08.

We’re dangerously close to 3-hour shape right now, and with another 2 months to go, I have no doubt we will be there on race day.  Hopefully and then some.

At that point it comes down to your plan for pacing and nutrition and executing those two plans.  What you are going to drink, when and how much.  What you are going to eat, when and how much and perhaps equally important – how you are going to spend your energy on the course.

In a pancake flat marathon like Chicago or even Houston – even pacing is the most efficient way to run 26.2 miles.  You do not have any hills to deal with, so simply running just a hair under your Marathon Goal Pace (MGP) and keeping the needle right there until the final 10 kilometers is the way to go.

In the case of a 3-hour marathon which requires 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace – you lock in at 6:50 and count them off.  By mile 26 if you are on pace you should have a little under a minute to play with.  If you throw in a few 6:55’s or even a rare 7:00 flat, you are still right on track.

But for most marathon courses that have hills to climb and descend, it is all about running “even effort” and letting the uphill and downhill sections add or subtract time from your pace accordingly.  It can make for a stressful experience wondering if you are going too fast, too slow, losing too much time to the hills and whether or not you will be able to make it back up.

Enter Taz Running.

Mile Splits

Mile Splits

They look at the topography of every certified marathon course, plot pace strategy based on the elevation of each individual mile and then provide you with a pacing guide for every one of them.  This way you know that during that screaming downhill section on your course you should be running 6:36 instead of 6:50 and likewise at the end of the race when you tackle that final ascent, you only need to keep the watch at 7:17 pace – and everything will come out in the wash.

For a race like Big Cottonwood that features a ton of downhill running early in the race, and a gradual descent at the end of the race – running an even second half of the race or “negative splitting” the course is not very realistic.  Nor is it the best approach to conquer Cottonwood.  The first half of the race being much “easier” than the second half – if there is anything “easy” about a marathon.  This is the primary reason I’ve decided on a 1-mile at a time approach to this race – treating every individual mile on it’s own merit.

Not comparing it to the mile before, the mile after or the miles remaining and fixating on running 6:50’s.  Instead I will glance down at the pace-tattoo I have ordered from Taz Running which will be affixed to my forearm that morning, and only think about executing that specific mile, then going on to the next one.

I know that I won’t run them all perfectly, in fact, I may only nail a handful of them spot on, but having a guide that I can check in 5-mile intervals to know if I am slightly ahead or slightly behind the cumulative pace target at that point will help keep me honest and calm.

At the end of 5 miles I should be at:  33:05

At the end of 10 miles:  1:07:20

At the end of 15 miles – 1:40:34

Mile 20 – 2:14:59

If we reach the mile 20 mark right at 2:15:00 all that remains are 6 miles in:  7:07, 7:03, 7:05, 7:13, 7:09, 7:05.

If we are still under 2:58 with 385 yards to go it is in the bag.

Instead of thinking about not running slower than those paces above, I have changed my mindset to run no faster.

There are a lot of people out there who think that a 46-year old runner can’t break 3 hours in the marathon for the first time.  That by that age, you have either done it before or you are never going to do it.

I will just have to respectfully disagree.  Words like those describe just about every great success story ever written.

In a little more than 10 weeks, I’m going to write my own.

Bring it on.

Tuesday morning brought my first run of the week – just a quick 3 miler that I decided to run as I hope to run the opening 3 miles of the race on Sunday.

At this point in the training cycle all the “training” is complete.   Now it is just a matter of keeping the engine idling all week long, running a few miles here and there to stay loose, and then let the body fully recover in time for the race of our life on Sunday.  Knowing that I would be running a relaxed pace 4 miles tomorrow morning, something :30-:45 seconds slower than marathon race pace, I wanted one last morning to really “practice” my pace and get it committed to memory.

I left the driveway uphill climbing about 50 feet over the first mile, then back down to the house at mile 2 and another slight uphill climb for half a mile before turning around and wrapping things up in 21:12.

7:15, 6:59, 6:58.

Without looking at my watch a single time I was able to pretty much nail my goal for each mile spot on.

It still amazes me that after all of the various training runs and workouts at different distances and paces that when you are ready to really concentrate and lock in at your goal pace it seems almost automatic.  This is critical for me as the first 5 miles or so are going to tell the story on Sunday.  If we can navigate the early crowd, the long climb up to the top of the Verrazzano bridge and the rushing bodies coming back down the other side still on pace without using too much energy – good things will lie ahead in Brooklyn.

After the bridge things get nice and flat with a long straight away covering the streets of Brooklyn.  We should be able to find our rhythm at this point, find a group of runners that are running a similar pace and even do a little drafting if the winds are out of the North or Northwest as some forecasts are predicting.

The temperature at the start of the race should be somewhere around 47 or 48 degrees.  By noon the forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid 50’s.  I would prefer things to be about 5 degrees cooler, starting at 42 and heading up to 50 by the end of the race – but when it comes to marathon weather, the forecast is a pretty darn good one – perhaps the best we’ve ever experienced on race day.

When you start a training cycle 18 or 20 weeks before a race all you can really hope for is to exit the cycle healthy and for the race day Gods to smile down upon you and reward you with weather that will be neutral.  It is greedy to ask for a tailwind or an overcast sky and 40 degrees.  All you want is weather that will not hurt you on race day.  That your training and preparation is what will make the difference on the finish line clock – not something from the outside that you can’t control.

I’ve got that much on Sunday.  I consider myself blessed.

Now it is just a matter of running my race on Sunday and not getting distracted from the plan we’ve spent 20 weeks and close to 1,000 miles perfecting.

That’s the word I guess I’ve been searching for.  Perfect.

I know that I am far from perfect.  I make my share of mistakes and then some every single day.  We learn from them, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again.  That’s what life is all about.  That is how we improve as a person, a Dad, a Husband, Brother, Son, Friend or Boss.

But the question on Sunday is not whether or not I am perfect, but can I be perfect for roughly three hours?

That’s the race I plan on running on Sunday.  Perfect.



If I can make it there ….

With the New York City Marathon now front and center I have started to set aside all of the other running, racing and training “distractions” and begun to really focus on the race on November 6th.  No more tune-up races, no more changes in the training schedule to accommodate them.  No more treacherous tempo workouts or other opportunities to get injured.

Just Thursday’s final hill-repeat session and our last long run of about 20 miles on Sunday.  We might cut that one a little short, we might not, it just depends on how we feel and what we think we need at that point.  Already with four 20+ mile long runs, including two 22 milers, our distance work has been done.  It’s now just a matter of keeping the sword sharp for November 6th and not peaking too early.

So now it is time to focus more on the mental side of things rather than the physical.  That starts with committing the course to memory and looking at the elevation profile to determine which parts of the course tilt in the favor of the runners, which parts in favor of Lady Marathon.

Miles 1-5

Mental preparation to me means fully committing to my race plan – 6:45-6:50 pace over the first half of the race.  Locking in to goal pace (6:52) and keeping the needle right there until we cross the Queensboro Bridge and make the turn onto 1stAvenue at mile 16.

Miles 6-10

I’ve heard that there is NOTHING like the sound of the roaring crowd at the turn off of the bridge.  That comparing it even to the scream tunnel at Wellesley College along the Boston Marathon course cannot do it justice.

Miles 11-15

I’ll need to then settle back down after the adrenaline rush and make a methodical climb up First Ave. from E. 59th street to the Willis Avenue Bridge at 127thstreet.  This part of the course is relatively flat, so it should be an area where I can lock in and stay right on pace – but there are some rolling hills to deal with according to NYC Marathon finishers I have spoken to.  I will run this part of the course when I arrive in NYC a few days before the race to download the mental images that I will encounter from miles 16-19.

Miles 16-20

After crossing into the Bronx we will arrive at mile 20.  There will be just 6.2 left to go and if we are still on pace for a sub 3:00 hour marathon at this point, we are going to have to strap ourselves in for the toughest 10 Kilometers of our life.

The Madison Avenue Bridge will be the final river crossing, heading back into Manhattan at mile 21.

Then it is a straight shot down Fifth Ave. around Marcus Garvey Memorial Park at mile 22 and on to Central Park.

Final 10 Kilometers

At East 86th street runners will enter the park off of Fifth Ave and take on the final two miles of rolling hills to the finish.

Fifth Ave., Central Park South, Columbus Circle and finally the last 400 Meter sprint to the finish at Tavern on the Green.

I have run close to 100 miles in Central Park over the past 5 or 6 years on trips to New York.  I have always gotten a big surge of adrenaline cutting into the park off of the city streets and been taken back by the beautiful rolling hills and trees that are tucked deep in the middle of Gotham.

In a little less than three weeks the streets in Central Park will be barricaded off with thousands of spectators lining the railings shouting encouragement to the runners as they try to hang on for just another couple of miles.

Normally I try to tune all of that out and just focus on what I need to do to keep putting one foot in front of the other and make it to the finish line.  This year in New York I am going to try to take it all in.  Let the crowds fuel me on and let me continue to hold pace as my legs start to feel like tree trunks, my shoes like they are filled with concrete.

None of this is supposed to be easy – and certainly the final stretch of miles will prove to be some of the most difficult I have ever run in my life.  But every stride will be one step closer to the tape – with a little bit of luck and good weather it may just all come together for us in New York.

If I can make it there …

Sometimes the best questions I get about running and racing come from people who neither run nor race.  They simply have a healthy intellectual curiosity about training and road racing, and ask questions that are completely devoid of any “runner misconceptions”.  In the past week as the New York City Marathon has inched closer and closer, now just 6 1/2 weeks away and the number of training miles I have been piling up grows higher and higher, I have been asked – “What kind of time are you shooting for in New York?”

It is a great question, and seemingly one that you would think you could automatically answer if you were a runner like me who times and measures every single one of the now more than 1,989.83 miles that I have run over the last 365 days.

I know that my average run or race is 8.19 miles.

I have climbed 55,200 feet of hills.

I have averaged 8.1 mph for those 1,989.83 miles.

Running for a total of 244 hours, 49 minutes and 48 seconds.

That’s about 10 1/2 days of doing nothing but running.

So how fast are you going to run that 26.2 miles Joe?

Honestly – I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.

Qualifying for Boston in May of 2009

The marathon is truly a different animal when it comes to achieving a time goal.  For races such as the 5K up through the half-marathon, if you have been training and are “in race shape” – you can run very close to your potential on just about any given race day as long as you are not injured, not sick and do not have extreme heat, wind or humidity to deal with.

The races are short enough that you can “tough it out” or “dig deep” late in a race and hang in there until the end.

Sure you may run a 5K :15 seconds slower one day vs. another or perhaps miss your goal in a 10K by :30 seconds.  Even in the half-marathon out in Denver in 2 1/2 weeks I can predict with great accuracy the kind of race I am going to run that day.  That is a 13.1 mile race on a course I have never seen before, at an elevation of 5,300 feet above sea level, which I am not accustomed to.

Dollars to doughnuts I will run within :30-:45 seconds +/- of 1:25:45.

But the marathon takes you places that are tough to predict.  It becomes a race as much about nutrition, hydration and mental toughness as it does about fitness and running ability.

Unlike the shorter races, where we will have covered that many miles and much, much more usually in countless training runs, for example you need to turn back the calendar all the way to April 17th to find the last week where my Sunday long run was not at least 12 miles.

It was 10.

In 14 of the last 16 weeks, my Sunday run was at least 14 miles.  Longer than a half-marathon.

So when it comes to the half-marathon or 13.1 mile race – I’ve been there.  I know what it feels like.  I know how much energy I have in the tank over the opening mile and how to dole it out evenly and consistently before I empty the tank sprinting the final 400 Meters to the finish line.

The marathon is all about patience and being able to hold back your legs to stay on your target pace early in the race when running :05 or :10 faster per mile FEELS exactly the same as your target pace.

That is the trick in the marathon.  Because you taper your workload and training down the final 2-3 weeks before race day, your legs feel fresher than they have felt in MONTHS!  If you have decided to go for a 3:10:00 time in the marathon which is 7:15 min./mile pace – to the marathoner that morning, running at 7:05 pace truly feels like 7:15 did during training.

But if you are not trained to run at that 7:05 pace, and are not capable of sustaining it, those :10 per mile on the first half of the course will easily cost you :30-:45 seconds per mile if not more on the back half of the course.

You gained 130 seconds during the first half of the race, but lost 390-585 seconds on the second half.  Those 585 seconds equate to 9 minutes, 45 seconds.  When you remove the two minutes and 10 seconds that you were “fast” on the front half, your net time is now 7 minutes and 35 seconds slow.

Your target time of 3 hours and 10 minutes just became a finish time of 3:17:35.

That is how much a slight miscalculation early in the race will mean over the course of the marathon.  Just :10/mile too fast costs you dearly.

So how do you arrive at a proper and attainable race goal?  By proper, I mean a goal that is appropriate for your level of fitness and talents as a runner.  One that is not a lay up by any means as if achieving a time goal in the marathon is the driving force behind your race, you want to pick a challenging goal and chase it down.

That is the point in it for a lot of runners.

If it is your first marathon, or even your second where perhaps your first race did not go as smoothly as you might have liked, setting a goal such as:


Not walking.

Enjoying the experience.

Finishing with a smile.

Those are all GREAT goals for the marathon.

But if you are going to try to challenge yourself by setting a time goal, you want to pick one that is “proper”.

Secondly, you want to choose a time goal that is “attainable”.

There are a lot of marathon “calculators” out there that will tell you what your capabilities are in the marathon based on a time that you ran at a shorter distance race.

The McMillian Running Calculator found HERE is the one that I rely on the most.

The premise is that you enter in a recent race time for the 5K, 10K, half marathon, 10-miler – virtually any traditional race distance – and the calculator will show you what you are capable of in the marathon.

For example, my recent 10K time running the in the triathlon relay of 38:50 when entered into the McMillian Pace Calculator shows that I am capable of running a 3:02:15 marathon, based on my 10K performance.

If I enter in my 10K time from last October’s IBM Uptown Classic of 38:06, the McMillian Running Calculator shows that I am capable of running a 2:58:48 marathon, based on my 10K performance.

So which one is it?

Well, there are quite a few things to consider.

1.  Which time is the most recent?  Putting in a PR that is close to a year old is probably not going to be as accurate a predictor than a race just a few weeks ago.

2.  Race conditions?  What was the situation surrounding the event?  At IBM I had a proper taper period, I warmed up as I normally would for a road race and ran in 60 degree temperatures.  At the Triathlon relay I did not taper, I sat around for 3 hours waiting to run.  I did not have a proper warm-up as I did not know when Ed would return from the bike leg and the temperature was over 90 degrees.  I also had a 400 Meter sprint out of the transition area before I hit the timing mat to start the clock.

Neither race then is really very helpful.  But picking a midpoint between the two races might be a much better idea.

If I record a 10K time of say 38:30 the McMillian Running Calculator predicts a finish time of 3:00:41

3.  The longer the race distance used, the more accurate the calculator will be.  Point being that putting in a time that you ran in a mile race will need to be extrapolated much further out to 26.2 miles than say a half-marathon time.  The best scenario would be to run a half-marathon, close to the target marathon, in similar or slightly more difficult conditions.

Whatever that half-marathon time is, input it into the McMillian Running Calculator and WALA – you have a pretty accurate gauge for your marathon capabilities on race day.

If you are catching on, that is exactly why I will be toeing the line 4 Sundays before New York City at the Denver Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.

It will provide me with a great litmus test as to where my marathon training is just a month before race day.  The race temperature(s) should be very similar in Denver in October at 7:15 a.m. MST vs. New York City in November at 9:40 a.m. EST.

New York may be a bit more hilly, but not by much according to the elevation charts of the two courses.  Certainly not as hilly as the routes I run here training in Austin.  There could be more wind in New York, but the altitude difference in Denver will of course add a degree of difficulty that New York City cannot match.

There are a lot of easier formulas out there, such as the old – “double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes.”  or Hal Higdon’s “multiply your 10K time by 5”.  These are all generally accepted, solid estimates for your marathon capabilities on race day.

The key points from my perspective are that you must have a “litmus test race time” that is only 4-8 weeks “old” if you want an accurate gauge as to where you really are.  And secondly, you of course have to be preparing for the marathon in a serious, organized way.

Just because you can run a 38:30 10K does not mean you can run a 3 hour marathon.  You have to train to run a marathon, including all of the long runs, tempo work, hill work etc. to be ready.  Without that preparation you will fade and fade badly over the last 6-8 miles of the marathon.

The tune-up half marathon has become a key part of my marathon training 4 weeks prior to race day.  Just today, looking ahead to the Boston Marathon in April 2012 I registered for the Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach on March 18th.  It will give me a great peak behind the curtain a month before race day in Hopkinton, MA to let me know exactly what kind of race I am capable of at Boston.

As for New York.  I have a number in the back of my mind that I know I need to hit in Denver to make a run at 3:00 hours at New York.

Whatever the finish line says in Denver on October 9th is what it says.  I have the digits memorized and before I slow to a walk after crossing the finish line I will know if we are ready to chase 2:59:59 four weeks later.

There is a print that hangs in our office here in Austin that reads – Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.


Of course there is another one that hangs just three feet to the left of it that reads – 61.5% of all statistics are meaningless.

So there’s that.