Pop Quiz! Help Me Decide on a Marathon Goal

The approach of season 3 marked the beginning ...
Choosing a marathon goal has me as indecisive as Kelly Taylor when it comes to Brandon and Dylan.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As my marathon gets closer (22 days left – not that I’m counting!), I’ve been spending some time revisiting my race goals. I have read so many different bits of advice that I need help choosing a goal – and that’s where you come in, Salty readers! I need some fresh eyes and brains to weigh in here.

I have read and re-read the post about Choosing a Marathon Goal, and I still feel stuck! I don’t think the simple approach would be very accurate in my case; the last half I ran was in May, and my training and fitness are very different these days.

My marathon PR is from 2010, a 4:09:XX at Columbus, which works out to 9:30 pace. I used the Marathon Time Converter on FindMyMarathon.com to compare my PR at Columbus to what I could potentially do in Indianapolis. This tool takes the course and weather into consideration, and says I could run about 6 minutes faster, a 4:03. However, much has changed between October 2010 and now.

My original goal was to break 4 hours. Then I used the McMillan Running Calculator to narrow that down a bit more. In July, I set a PR in the 10K for 50:XX, which the calculator says is equivalent to a 3:56 marathon.

However… that race was incredibly hot and humid, and the course was hilly. The Monumental course is relatively flat, and according to FindMyMarathon.com, the mean temperature on race day is 47 degrees. If I still have my 6 minutes, that would put me at a 3:52. This was, in fact, my revised goal that I shared after my last 20 miler.


Another factor at play is that I’d like to run with a pace group if possible, but those are only offered for 5 minute intervals. Should I pick a number that ends in a 5 or 0, or just stick with the pace group for a little while and plan to ditch them at some point? In this situation, would you start with a faster or slower pace group, and how long would you stay with them?

Also worth considering is that I have lost about 20 pounds in the past six months, something which I have seen reflected in my race times.  For some perspective, I ran a 53:XX at the same 10K a year ago. I haven’t run many races this summer, so I’m not sure how that will translate to other distances… but part of me says, dang! 3 minutes in a 10K is a lot. That’s another reason why I think maybe I’ve got a speedy race in me!

Metropolitan Museum Of Art - Second Visit 38
Should I don my shoes with wings and try to fly? (Photo credit: the justified sinner)

I feel like I’ve been running really strong, both in training runs and on my Bourbon Chase legs. In fact, my last leg was 8:15 pace, and it felt easy.  Well, easy-ish. (You can check out my weekly logs to get an idea of my training.) This cycle marks the highest mileage that I’ve done for any of my marathons. I’m not going to lie, Pepper’s post last week about running vs. racing marathons and putting it all out there struck a chord with me. Should I shoot for the moon and set my sights on something in the 3:40s? Do you think my training supports it?

Salty readers, I need some help narrowing down my goals. I’m torn between being conservative or going after something more aggressive. To make it easier for you, here are some goals I am considering and what they work out to as a pace per mile.

  • 3:52 – 8:51 pace
  • 3:50 – 8:47 pace
  • 3:45 – 8:35 pace

What do you think? What would you do in my shoes?

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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  1. Personally, I would go out at your conservative pace (or run just ahead of the four hour pace group). Put the first 10 miles in and assess how you feel. If you are feeling really great, pick it up a little bit. Then reassess at 20 and if you are still feeling great, take it up another notch and give it all you’ve got. This way you will hit your goal, but you won’t completely crash and burn. A negative split marathon is a beautiful (and very hard to achieve) thing and it will give you the confidence you need to really up the ante and go for 3:40 in the Spring.

  2. I say go out with the 3:55 crew. Test the waters the first few miles to see what kind of day your legs have in you. If you still feel perky at 10k start closing in on the 3:50 group and beyond throughout the race. I’d say go with a pace slightly faster than what your good long runs have been done at since you will inevitably get the race day boost in pace. But don’t forget there is a difference between racing smart on the line and getting crazy and blowing up 🙂 I tend to feel like around 16 miles is where I know whether or not it is going to be my day, get to 16 under control and see what you can do from there! Trust me go with the slower rather than the faster pace group as it is way more fun to pick people off at the end than to be picked off! I turn it into a game at the end. I call it “eating season”, and I attempt to catch and pass as many runners as I can.

  3. I agree with Mint. A negative split marathon is truly amazing. I had a similar scenario about 3 years ago. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a bit fitter than my goal pace. I started out the race at my goal pace 10 miles. As per usual in a marathon, I felt like I was holding back. But by 10 miles, I was in a groove. From 10-20, I didn’t worry about “holding back” but I didn’t try to pick it up either. When I got to mile 20 and felt good (what?!), I decided all bets were off and I was going to MOVE. My last 10k was my fastest and my total pace average ended up being about 5-10 seconds faster than my goal training pace. I think a solid race this fall will prime you for a gutsy race next spring:)

  4. I agree with everyone in going out easy. I also want to add that your running past indicates you have some natural speed that will likely come in handy during those final miles! I think you are going to crush it! In fact, it seems like many of us Salty bloggers are having PR crushing seasons….salty running = performance enhancer?

      1. Mace was just telling me she thinks she might be injured and I was just thinking there might be a salty running jinx! But we have plenty of bloggers disproving that theory too 🙂 Pepper, I think you, Cinnamon and I are just the unlucky ones right now (with regard to racing performances, the rest of our lives, save for weird house issues, seem to be going pretty well!) Cheers to 2013 comebacks!

  5. I agree. 3:55 sounds like an aggressive goal based on your past marathon PR, but more than doable based on the other factors you cited. Also, this gives you a 5 minute sub-4 cushion to work with. Sub-4 is a big mental hurdle. Get over that and go for the BQ next 🙂

  6. I’m in the same boat and deciding on a goal. I’m going for a ‘time range’. Meaning, I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed at the finish. That just sucks running a marathon and feeling failure. So, I’m shooting for a 3:29 and 3:45, with my level of ‘I kicked ass’ factor decreasing as my time slows. Also shooting for process goals such as: run an even pace, make sure to identify as many sites of New York as I run, talk to a person each mile, don’t let anybody pass me after mile 20 (well, at least pass more than I get passed) and to make sure I take water from the youngest volunteer at every aid station.

  7. Is this a new trend, crowdsourcing marathon goals? My two cents is that only you can decide what you feel capable of and confident in, and how you want to run your race. Get all the insights you’d like, and there are certainly some experienced runners providing good advice, but in the end, you need to step to the line knowing you ultimately made the decision and are comfortable with it.

    1. This is an excellent point, but I think many who are new (or newish) to the marathon have a lot of looming questions particularly when it comes to goals. It can be hard to wrap your head around a goal too since so many training programs lack marathon pace miles so it is a leap to think you can run 26.2 at that pace. Plus, if you don’t have solid tune-up races to work with, it s a bit of a shot in the dark. Truth be told, it is still hard for me to know if my goals align with reality. But yes, only Sassy will be able to tell on race day what she has in her. Hopefully it is a strong, awesome race! Go get ’em girl!

    2. Greg, I know it’s ultimately up to me, but I just needed feedback from some more experienced marathoners! This will be just my 4th 26.2 so it helps to pick the brains of those who have been to the line more times. My last real race was in July, as I opted to skip the tune-up half this time around.

        1. I’m kinda the opposite – I don’t like thoughts on what my marathon goal should be because if they are different than my own thoughts, it puts me into a world of doubt – either lack of confidence if other estimates are higher (slower) than my own, or temptation to push things too much if they are faster. That’s why I never put that question out there on dailymile or the blog.

          1. You strike me as pretty introverted and this backs up my belief 🙂 I think those of us who skew extroverted, I do just slightly, but I do, tend to value others opinions about this kind of thing more. When I first started I would look high and low for external validation of my goals, but now that I’m more seasoned and have a better understanding of running progress, etc. I don’t care so much what others think. So I think it also is more likely to appeal to newer runners than vets.

  8. I’d take it out with the 3:55 pacer and then, if you’re feeling good in the second half, make a move to get ahead of them. I think you have it in you–the trick will be starting conservative! Good luck!

  9. Thank you to everyone for weighing in! I feel like such a marathon newbie, so it’s great to hear everyone’s thoughts. Gotta love the running community and especially the SR community!

  10. I agree with Mint, especially if your training run times were based on a 4 hour goal. Consider hanging around the 4 hour pace group the first 6 miles or so to keep the early miles conservative. You’ll get a sense for how your body feels, how the course feels, and its still early enough to pick up the pace to a 3:55 or better. Hoping for an awesome negative split for you.