Marathon Race Strategy

26.2As I write this, it is about 15 days until the third annual Run For Life Marathon. I have been training for this race, my first marathon, for the past 6 months. I only have a few more good runs left in the next few days before tapering off and nervously resting my shin splints. This late in the game, there’s no point continuing to train hard since any performance gain wouldn’t be realized until after the race. So, now, it’s time to focus on nailing down a race strategy. Specifically, I want to set a few overall goals, finalize a fueling plan, and really think hard about pacing.

Putting Marathon Pace Calculators to the Test

How can I set a realistic goal without prior marathon experience to base it off of? I know how long it takes me to casually run 16 – 20 miles in mid-summer Mississippi heat but does that translate to a marathon race in October? Luckily, people smarter than me have figured out how to predict marathon race time based on previous times from shorter races. A Google search for “running pace predictor” and a previous half marathon time (or two) are all that’s needed to get started.

For this experiment, I’ll use my most recent half marathon times. These races were run two weeks apart in April and in very different conditions. The Pensacola Beach Half Marathon was flat but hot and very humid… 2:06:16 9:33/mi. The Renaissance Half Marathon was hilly but the weather was great. I also had the benefit of running the last 7 miles with a faster friend pacing me… 1:54:33 8:45/mi.

Plugging in my times, I get:  

Half Marathon time 1:54:33 8:45/mi. 2:06:16 9:33/mi.
McMillan Running 4:01:35 9:14/mi 4:26:18 10:10/mi.
Running Times 4:03:26 9:17/mi 4:28:20 10:14/mi.
Runner’s World 3:58:50 9:07/mi 4:23:15 10:03/mi.
Running for Fitness 3:59:12 9:07/mi 4:23:26 10:03/mi.

The results are kind of surprising. Even the most conservative prediction has me finishing in under 4.5 hours. I’d be thrilled with that! Before I ran the numbers, I was thinking 4.5 – 5 hours should be my target. Now I’m thinking I should push the pace just a little and shoot to break 4.5. As much as I’d love to be in the sub-4 hour category, I just don’t think it’s realistic…this time. I expect to be running around a 9:00 – 9:30 pace with occasional walk breaks to average 10:00.

Planning a Fueling Strategy to Avoid the Walls

I’ve practiced my fueling strategy throughout months of long runs and, for the most part, I know what works for my body. I learned the hard way what doesn’t work well. Gatorade and Gu become sickeningly sweet on long runs to the point that my body rejects either. That’s not good when you’re counting on it to keep yourself fueled. I like plain water for hydration and Vanilla PowerGel for carbs/electrolytes. To me, the taste of Vanilla PowerGel is kind of neutral…not great, but definitely not offensive. It also has more sodium and Potassium than other gels which is another good thing since I’m doing without a sports drink.

I usually take a gel every four miles and drink 16 oz of water every five or six (depending on the heat). My plan is to carry a water bottle and refill with plain water at the water stops. I mentioned last month that a weakness in this strategy is the need for supplemental electrolytes on hot days. (see I Found My Walls) I’m hoping the weather will be cool enough that this won’t be a problem but just in case, I’ll be packing some Endurolyte capsules.

A total of 6 gels should get me to the finish. I hate the taste, but half of the gels will be Strawberry-Banana because they are caffeinated and the Vanilla gels are not. Alternating between the two should keep me alert and moving without creating stomach problems.

Goals, Goals, Goals

This is my first marathon, barely more than one year from my first painful (and painfully slow) attempt at running more than a few feet. I’ve already accomplished more than I could have imagined a year ago, but I’m not done. I’ve trained hard and I know I’m ready, but I’ve still got to DO IT. That’s my primary goal. Run, walk or crawl 26.2 miles before the race director closes the course.

My goals, in order of importance and likelihood of success are:

1. Finish
2. Finish < 5 hours
3. Finish < 4.5 hours (this will be my target pace)
4. Finish marathon plus an extra 5 miles to complete my journey from couch to 50K. (Maybe one day…)

3 thoughts on “Marathon Race Strategy

  1. I think your pacing strategy is great, and wish you the very best of luck on the 15th. I used the same fueling and hydration strategy on my most recent long run (13.6 miles) that you intend to use (or nearly so), and it really worked well for me. I personally waited till mile 11 to take an electrolyte supplement, and should have done that probably around the 7 to 8 mile mark instead (some very near calf cramps at the very end).

    Once again, best of luck, and be sure to post your time and experience once complete.. !!!!

  2. I saw on Runkeeper that you had completed a half marathon distance Saturday. Was this the race that you have been training for? Looks like it was a great run.

    • No, that was just a long run in preparation for the race on the 22nd of October, but the run did go very well (much better than I expected). I’m hopeful that the race in three weeks will go equally as well, but we’ll see….every course and day brings its own challenges. 🙂

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