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How to set a marathon goal time

How to set your goal marathon paceIf you’re like me, you have a goal finish time in mind well before you start marathon training. This isn’t always the best approach, though.

A lot can happen over the course of a 16-week marathon training plan. Injuries, illness, burnout, and other curveballs life throws at you can hinder your training, and that time goal you set months ago may no longer be attainable. Or, on a more positive note, training could go much better than expected and your original goal time may be too conservative.

It’s a better idea to set a goal finish time closer to race day – once you have the bulk of training under your belt. There are several calculators, equations, and workouts that can help you predict what your goal marathon pace and finish time should be.

Of course, there’s no way to pinpoint exactly how fast you’ll run on race day. There are too many variables – such as the weather and how you’ll feel. But play around with the following predictors to get a good idea of where your goal should fall:

  • Race pace calculators. There are several finish time prediction calculators out there developed by coaches and running experts. For these calculators, you plug in a recent race time and it estimates what you can run another race distance in based off that time. Use as recent of a race time as possible, preferably one that you ran during marathon training, for the most accurate results. Check out these calculators:
  • The half marathon formula. A marathon is twice the distance of a half marathon, but unfortunately, you can’t just double your half marathon time to predict your marathon finish time. A marathon is much longer so your pace would undoubtedly be slower. For experienced marathoners, the general consensus from the pros is to double your half marathon time and add 5 to 10 minutes. However, for novice marathoners, the formula isn’t as accurate. Your marathon finish time may be twice your half marathon time plus 20 minutes or more.
  • Yasso 800s.  Yasso 800s are a specific speed workout that was created by Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World. Yasso 800s are 800m (1/2 mile) repeats. For the workout, you run 10x 800m at a speedy pace. The average amount of time is takes to run each repeat is “equal” to your goal marathon finish time. If you want to run a 4:10 marathon, each Yasso 800 would take you 4 minutes and 10 seconds to complete (which equals an 8:20 minute/mile pace). In between each Yasso 800, recover by jogging for the same amount of time each repeat takes – in this example that would be 4 minutes and 10 seconds. More conservative estimates say a better marathon goal time is closer to Yasso 800 time plus 5 minutes. In our example, that would be a 4:15 marathon.

Keep in mind that all of these predictors assume you’ve followed a sound marathon training program and have completed all of your long runs.

Written by Jen Matz.

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