Setting your Marathon Goals

What is your marathon goal and how do you work it out?

Now that your training for the Virgin Money London Marathon has started in earnest you’re probably getting frequently asked two things by friends, family, work colleagues, and anyone else who is vaguely interested (or not!), firstly, “how far is a marathon?’ To which you respond confidently and knowledgeably, “Oh, it’s 26.2 miles,” without even a whimper of worry in your voice as you think about the distance. Followed by the second question, “How long will it take you to run that far’? This one’s a bit trickier. After a pause to think about the ramifications of your potential to blurt out a meaningless guestimate of a time you settle for the low risk response, “Oh, I just want to get round in one piece and finish”.

Golden Goal – To Finish!

Of course, you’re right, crossing the Finish Line of the Virgin Money London Marathon in April is your golden goal. It’s your training priority over the next few months. Your pride, glory, medal and sponsorship money Is riding on it! Yet, at the same time, there are many different ways in which you can make the finish line. Marathon journeys vary incredibly. Some of them are significantly more painful, less enjoyable and definitely harder work than others! So, like it or not, as pro as it sounds (it really isn’t) setting some realistic goals for your marathon is important to help you stay motivated, on track, arrive at race day confident, ready, disciplined and with a target to aim at.

How fast for 26.2?

We’re all agreed that everyone’s target is to finish the marathon so how do you go about establishing how fast to try and run it? Firstly, think about your race day aspirations. Do you plan to run the entire way, do you plan to run sections and walk sections from a particular point (e.g., half way) or if do you plan to adopt a ‘run-walk’ strategy right from the start? There is no single right way to reach the finish line of a marathon and everyone will approach it differently.

There are however a few things that are the same for everyone:
  1. The race is 26.2 miles.
  2. Everyone runs the same route.
  3. The pace that feels easy, (so you’re bouncing along chatting and laughing) at the start for the opening few miles is certainly going to feel very different for the final few miles (less bounce more drag!).

Set a finish target for your marathon goal that is both;

  • Realistic for you. All sorts of things affect this, for example, your health and fitness background, your natural ability, and your time (family, work, social) constraints, and if you’re wearing a giant rhino costume.
  • Ambitious and challenging enough to keep you motivated. This definitely doesn’t mean biting off more than you can chew. Rather it means setting a target that is on the edge of comfort, achievable but only just, a little unknown and unsettling (as 26.2miles is!). For some of you this will be breaking a marathon personal best, for others it’ll be achieving your marathon first time finish, running all the way without stopping, bagging your marathon debut in under 5 hours or beating the time your father did back in the 1980’s!

It’s important when setting a marathon goal to understand the hardest thing about a marathon finish is the distance. You have to respect this. 26.2 miles is a very long way.

Your ability to finish the last few miles is directly influenced by the effort you put in for the first few miles.

Go blasting off at a super charged pace and you’ll certainly feel the burn in the second half, probably hit “the wall”, and could even jeopardise your ability to finish.

With this in mind, working out a target time for race day that matches your personal aspirations and motivation really helps you have a much better race day experience.

It’s important to acknowledge that at this particular point in your training some of you may have absolutely no idea what time you’d like to do, or what time you’re capable of. That’s totally fine. Starting to develop an understanding of your pace at this early stage will help you as training progresses and the weeks and months tick by.

Start by establishing a target finish time you’d be happy with (for example 4hrs 30minutes) then work out what pace (or ‘mile split’) you need to run at to hit that time (a 4hrs 30minutes marathon is 10minutes 18seconds per mile). The best marathons are run at an ‘even pace’ that is, starting off controlled and feeling good and trying to hold roughly the same mile split for each of the 26.2 miles.

  • 6:00hr marathon finish = 13 minutes 44 seconds pace per mile
  • 5:30hr marathon finish = 12:35 per mile
  • 5:00hr marathon finish = 11:27 per mile
  • 4:30hr marathon finish = 10:18 per mile (this is about the average for Virgin Money London Marathon finishers)
  • 4:00hr marathon finish = 9:09 per mile
  • 3:30hr marathon finish = 8:00 per mile
  • 3:00hr marathon finish = 6:52 per mile (this is for the speed snakes at the front of the field!)
  • 2:04hr marathon finish = 4:43 per mile (this is pace the winner is likely to do! Leave this well alone!)

Go and run at this pace, sometimes slower, and sometimes faster.

To really understand what it feels like to run at your target marathon pace you need to

practice this in your training. Remember, marathon pace should feel easy and conversational. It’s the distance rather than the intensity that will get you! The longer you run, the harder it becomes to maintain this pace. That’s the point of your training over the next few months, to make the it easier to maintain so you can metronomically tick off the miles in London in April.

What now? My dream goal.

Accepting where you are right now, and that it’s very early days in your training on your marathon journey, start to get your head around three potential marathon target time finishes.

  1. A dream goal. This would be if everything went super well for the next 4 months and on the day of the London Marathon.
  2. A happy goal. This is something you’ll be really happy that you achieved. You’d probably dance on some tables for a while after the race. But your legs won’t let you!
  3. A satisfied goal. So, a few things don’t go quite to plan, but you’re still super satisfied with your achievement and won’t take your finishers medal off for weeks.

5 tips for great marathon target setting.

  1. Be realistic. Understand yourself and what you’d like to achieve within the constraints in which you work.
  2. Be flexible. Targets can change. Roll with the ups and downs and be prepared to adjust your goals. As you go through the next few months you may find you respond really well and get fitter and faster than you thought you would. Conversely, injury or illness can hold you back so be prepared to change your targets.
  3. It’s all about you. Targets are personal and individual. Take ownership of your own goals and don’t be influenced by others.
  4. Be specific. Make your marathon goal something tangible that you can relate to in training and planning. For example, a target finish time (e.g., under 5hours).
  5. Be patient. Take time to work things out as you progress and your running improves.