When you decide to run a marathon, you likely have certain goals in mind. For some, just getting across the finish line is enough, no matter how fast or slow the pace. But many marathoners prefer to set more specific goals than that. Some runners strive to finish a race in 5 hours. Others want to complete the race in 4 or 3 hours, or want to simply finish faster than they did last time.
If you’re looking to complete a race within a specific time frame, you’ll need to come up with a strategy to meet your goal. You can’t simply say “Hey, today I’m going to finish this race in 3 ½ hours” and then go do it. Rather, you’ll need to plan for how you can accomplish this goal and then take steps to prepare for success.
Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind when preparing your marathon race strategy:
Determine your average race pace
If you have a time goal in mind, you’ll need to know what your average pace per mile should be. This doesn’t mean you’ll run every mile at this pace, but it will give you an idea of how fast on average you need to run. Here are average running paces to complete a marathon with various finish times:
- 2 ½ hours – 5:44 minutes/mile
- 3 hours – 6:52 minutes/mile
- 3 ½ hours – 8:01 minutes/mile
- 4 hours – 9:10 minutes/mile
- 4 ½ hours – 10:18 minutes/mile
- 5 hours – 11:27 minutes/mile
- 5 ½ hours – 12:36 minutes/mile
- 6 hours – 13:44 minutes/mile
Be realistic when setting goals
It’s one thing to want to achieve a specific goal and another to actually get it done in a way that is safe, enjoyable and satisfying. If you set a time goal that’s faster than your fitness level can handle, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Practice doing two runs of about 12-15 miles each at your marathon race pace to see how your body handles your planned pace. Adjust accordingly.
Adapt and relax
While you’ll want to pay attention to pacing if you’re trying to finish in a specific time, don’t stress over it. Try to meet your planned splits but don’t worry about how you’re running each individual mile.
Pacing numbers are just guidelines and there are many factors during a race that may impact your ideal pacing schedule, including weather, how you feel, course conditions and the pacing of other runners.
Start out slow
The ideal strategy for finishing a marathon in a specific time is to run a bit slower during the first half of the marathon than you will during the second half. It seems like the opposite should be true, but if you start out slower than goal pace during the first half of the race, you’ll conserve energy that you’ll need later on. You’ll also have a chance to take in more fuel while your body can properly digest it. We’re not talking super slow here – just plan on running the first half a few minutes slower than the second half.
Focus during the second half of the race
Once you pass the half-marathon distance, things start to get a little tougher. You’ll need to increase your effort as you go through the miles to run at the same pace or faster. Running with a group that’s maintaining the same pace as you can help keep you focused through this difficult stretch of the race.
Stay strong through the end
Let’s face it. As you get close to the finish line, it gets harder to keep going. This part of the race requires mental fortitude in addition to physical endurance. Remind yourself how strong you are. Break the distance into small manageable segments. Envision what it will be like to cross the finish line. If you have prepared well, fueled your body adequately and started out slow, you should have what you need in the tank to cross that finish line.