People keep asking me what my goal is for the ING New York City Marathon, which I'll run exactly one week from now.
"What are you shooting for?" "What's your goal pace?" "You thinking about Boston at all?"
In a few cases, I suspect other runners are sizing me up, trying to determine roughly how fast I am (if they don't already know), or attempting to figure out roughly how inflated my sense of self is. Most of the time, though, it's a perfectly innocent question -- a conversation starter, just something to talk about on a run or while hanging out, as casual as asking about the Panthers.
Up to this point, I've been waffling on the answer ... for a few reasons. First of all, there's a little bit of a fear of commitment; if I say something, it's "out there," and then I feel like there'll be unnecessary pressure to perform. I'm also concerned about the weather, how I'm feeling that particular morning, and about the sheer size of the crowds in NY.
And then there's the fact that this is my first marathon. I know in training what kind of paces I can put up. I know what I can do in shorter races, in 5Ks, in a 10K, in a 15K. But while I've done long runs of 20 miles (give or take one or two) four times, I've never gone 26.2 -- and I've heard it said that the race doesn't really begin till Mile 20. In other words, maybe I'll fly through the first 20, then smash into the wall at 23 and limp through the last three doing 12-minute miles.
Still ... I'm naturally competitive. I use a Garmin, I keep logs of my training, I crunch numbers, I make forecasts, and I know what my pace needs to be next Sunday to hit 4 hours, to hit 3:50, 3:40, 3:30, 3:20, to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
So I certainly have been kicking around possible goals since the day I signed up last spring.
Let me tell you what my goal isn't: I'm not qualifying for Boston. I'm 36 years old, and I would need to ride a bike for the last 6.2 miles to come in at 3:15:59 or faster.
Beyond that? Well, I've been telling people lately that my goal is to finish with a smile on my face. (Though to be honest, in thinking about it right now, I wonder if that's a realistic goal given how exhausted -- and how in need of a triple cheeseburger -- I'll be at that point.)
I've also told plenty of people that I want to accomplish three key things: 1) get to the starting line healthy and injury-free, 2) get to the finish line, and 3) finish in less than four hours. (I co-opted these from a running buddy, Chris, who sadly wound up hurting himself and had to miss today's Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.) These are practical, attainable, and respectable goals, especially for a first marathon.
But as race day has gotten nearer, I've had to do some more thinking about my plan of attack. I want to wear my Garmin, and I want to be able to hold back early on, going out slow and warming up into my race pace. Of course, this means it would be helpful to come up with a pace to start at, and a pace to work up to ... which means I need to nail down some idea of a goal pace ... which would give me some sense of an expected finish time.
My thought process is pretty simple: I feel like 4 hours is a great marathon time, but it just doesn't challenge me enough; 9:09 miles are way slower than I've been training. 3:30, on the other hand, represents a pace I routinely hit in longer runs -- 8-minute miles -- but still seems too ambitious since I have no marathon experience; it feels like I'd be setting myself up for disappointment (or a big crash in the final miles).
Which leads me to a pretty obvious conclusion: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
So there you have it -- my first public admission of a specific time goal for NYC. I honestly don't know whether I feel better or worse having finally gotten something official off my chest. Ask me again in about a week.