Marathon Pace Calculators

What method will you use to predict your marathon time this fall?  Most runners have heard of the Yasso 800's workout.  Other runners use pace calculators that can be found online and these allow you to plug in a recent result of any race distance and get a correlated time for all other race distances.  Other runners (and I would argue most runners) just go out and run each week and use the pace of  their most recent weekend long runs as the benchmark for how they predict they'll do on the day of the big event.  Each have their merits, but I wanted to focus specifically on the pace calculators (charts).

When it comes to giving my athletes predicted- or goal-times for any given race, there are a myriad of factors to consider.  Above all, I use the detailed chart found in the book Daniel's Running Formula and it remains the foundation of how I give predicted times, paired with a dash of the art of coaching.  The Daniel's Formula is perhaps the most trusted source, so why try to reinvent the wheel?  The man certainly did more than his share of homework in putting it all together for the rest of the running world.  However, the art of coaching that I sometimes (not always) insert is based on other factors the chart does not consider, most importantly the specificity of the training.  This principle leads to the marathon distance.  With any other race distance, we can usually assume the chart to be accurate because the general distance of your training runs will bring you to the start line in good shape from 5k through half marathon.  However, because marathons require the greatest specificity of training (along with racing 1-mile or shorter), they usually have the greatest fluctuation in predicted times (as you might predict).

There are many more variables to consider at the marathon distance that don't show up on the radar at shorter distances, such as a breakdown in running form, whether it be a shorter stride and/or poor posture at the end of the race.  When considering muscular endurance, how much strength training have you done?  Fueling and/or stomach distress also become variables at the marathon distance and not at the shorter distances.  Additionally, weather becomes more of a factor as distance increases.  In sum, be careful when extrapolating data from short-distance races into the marathon.  Even a Half-Marathon can mislead a runner.  For instance, if you ran 1:40:00 in a half marathon, then your predicted marathon time would be ~3:28:00; however, this assumes you are marathon-ready.  If your longest training run has only been 10 miles and you don't do any strength training for your glutes, hips, and hamstrings, then I wouldn't predict you to finish near 3:28:00 at your upcoming marathon, regardless of your recent half marathon performance.

There are several factors I consider in giving any goal time, which are often intangible factors, including the personality of the runner.  In any case, pace calculators can be slippery.  As mentioned above, consider the weather.  It is difficult for the experienced/ advanced runners to hit a PR in the summer months due to the adverse effects of heat and the window for improvement being relatively small for these runners.  Most world records (or even local course records) are typically set in conditions of overcast, no wind, and mid-50's/ low 60's temperatures.  This is the weather most conducive to limiting sweat, yet not so cold that it restricts blood flow to the muscles.  So, if you have been racing and training consistently for almost 10 years, I would expect your PRs to occur in the spring or fall (fall is known as "running season" for this reason).  On the other hand, the average runner, by definition, has limited race experience, has not tapped his/her full potential, and is still learning the tricks of the trade.  So yes, I could expect some runners to set a PR in non-ideal race conditions. 

Having the correct goal laid out in front of you is all part of our positive mental approach to running in which we need to recognize what is challenging, yet realistic.  We become mature and wise athletes in knowing how to account for variables such as course terrain, weather, fueling, and running form (and many more).  To overlook these variables in calculating your predicted marathon time would cause a coach to pull you back onto the learning curve.  Make sure you don't get caught up thinking every race should be a PR, or that you should be getting faster and faster every week, it's not always possible given conditions that are outside of your control.  If the conditions are under your control then do everything you can to maximize that potential! 

Each of the methods mentioned in the first paragraph has its merits when attempting to predict a marathon finish time, but they also have their limitations.  Specificity of training must be very high for these predictions to actually work, which means doing long runs at the goal pace and high volume training at specific points in the year.  Lo and behold, the beauty of having a coach to help guide you in these directions.  

Good luck at your next race, whatever the distance may be.

Train hard!


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