Marathon strategy

"Right lads, let's hang in with numbers 2 and 85 - they look like they know what they're doing!" (Photo: Anna & Michal via photopin cc)

“Right lads, let’s follow numbers 2 and 85 – they look like they know what they’re doing!” (Photo: Anna & Michal via photopin cc)

In this pre-marathon week, my runs are light and easy. This gives me a good opportunity to think about the big day and in particular my marathon strategy – splits, finishing time and the like.

“Ha!” says you. “I don’t need your plans and strategies! I’ll just trot around the course and finish the race.” Well, unless you fancy having the worst running experience of your life, I’d advise you to have a more concrete plan than that.

The one time I didn’t have a proper objective, the 2010 Paris Marathon, soon became a mentally torrid affair that degenerated into a real sufferfest. A marathon is no place to be half-arsed or vague about what you’re doing.

Using your times from shorter races and an online tool like the McMillan Running Calculator will give you a realistic target finishing time. Then I use this handy pace calculator to break down my finishing time into pace per mile or kilometre. (You should have done these calculations long before pre-race week, you know.)

And all of this helps you to pick the correct place to stand in the marathon start area – which is critical, because a 3:45 runner lining up with the 3-hour pace group will either get shoved and jostled by others passing or get sucked into following a foolishly fast pace. (Since you asked, a 3-hour runner lining up with the 4-hour group would be weaving and dodging so much as to ruin any chance of enjoyment or a clear run.)

I’ve printed out the Dublin Marathon course map and annotated it with my target finishing time and pace per mile. On my runs this week I repeat to myself my splits for every 3 miles, halfway and at key locations along the route. Fortunately, my target pace gives me 3-mile splits that are round numbers and easy to remember.

Of course, splits and target pace times are only meant as a guideline, not a strict prescription. I shouldn’t get frustrated if I’m slightly up or down on a planned split. Depending on things like climbs, descents, winds, corners and straights, I’ll cover some sections at a different speed to others.

And for the very first mile I’ll be taking things handy, noting which runners go tearing off so that I recognise them when I pass them in their quivering, snivelling heaps at mile 22. Don’t go trying to “bank time in the first miles” either. As if the Dublin Marathon organisers were trying to counteract such eejitry, the new opening miles through the Liberties have some tight corners that will slow down the field.

Remember too that nobody cares about your finishing time. Your loved ones just want you to finish in one piece and have a good day; your friends and workmates will be impressed that you simply finished the marathon.

I’ve also been visualising the course and noting locations that I know – that’s the advantage of living in Dublin and having run this marathon four times before. As well as using splits by mile I’ll break up the race by geography: from the start to the Phoenix Park and Chapelizod, then on to Dolphin’s Barn and the halfway point at Crumlin, then past Bushy Park and near where I live – a tremendous boost and a marker which signals for me the marathon’s turn for home.

And once I’m over the series of small climbs from Milltown to Roebuck, I’ll be on the run-in to the finish on Merrion Square.

That finishing line is something I’ve been visualising. After all, on any journey it’s useful to know where you’re going. Not only do I visualise the new Dublin Marathon finishing straight down Mount Street, but I also see myself collecting my medal and gear, meeting my people afterwards, and heading off somewhere to eat and celebrate another great marathon experience.

And believe me, the better my planning, the better my marathon experience.

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7 Responses to Marathon strategy

  1. Ray says:

    I would recommend printing a pace band too
    or picking one up from the pacers’ stand at the expo (if your target is in one of the 10 minute increments they are pacing)
    A pace band gives you your target splits at every mile. If your target is 3.30, for example, it will say Mile 1- 8.00, Mile 2-16.00, Mile 3-24.00 and so on. When you pass the mile marker, you check your time against your paceband and you can see if you are up or down. You are going to run more than 26.2 miles in the marathon, so keeping the pace on your Garmin to 8 minute miles is not accurate enough

    • Run and Jump says:

      Pace bands are a good idea, although when I took them to previous races I ended up not looking at them and just working off my watch and the markers. I found them fiddly and too difficult to read accurately while running.

      For the reason you mention and several others besides, I never use a Garmin or GPS watch in a race. A simple digital watch does me fine.

  2. sjpc14 says:

    I’m pace band man myself as well. Although i agree that they are a bit fiddly.

    Sounds like your very much prepared for the big day. It is a good marathon run, i hope you get good weather for it.

    Oh and thanks for the mcmillan pace thingy, not seen that one before


  3. mia79gbr says:

    Great post. Yes I use the pace calculators too – very useful tools! I always have my target paces worked out weeks before and then on the MORNING of the marathon, the little devil on my shoulder says “Why not try this instead …” Every time. I’ve had to learn to ignore it.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Oh yes, I also get that voice in my head saying “I could go a little faster than my target time…” and rounding down my splits. Funny how at mile 20 you never hear a peep out of it.

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