Sunday, October 25, 2009

My goals for the NYC Marathon

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.


Anonymous said...

Based on what you have written about your training and the races you have done, a 3:45 is a realistic and doable goal. Glad you are flexible enough to be prepared for less in case of bad weather. I have run NYC several times, and the cest advice I got, was to start on the top and not the lower lever of the Verazanno Narrows Bridge. People waiting on the upper lever have to releave themselves one last time before the race and guess where the "yellow Rain" goes? Through the grates and onto the people below! Runners have no shame.Also carry an extra blanket or trash bag or plastic tarp so you wan't be sitting on wet grass before you get called to the start.

Allison said...

i previously trained for an ran a marathon with 8 minute miles in many of my training miles. i had 3:30 as a goal (knowing that this would be a sheer miracle to hit all 26 miles in 8 min. miles back to back to back but thought, why not). i had faster than 8 min miles on some training runs. anyway, i ran a 3:40. i had a watch and consistently ran 8 min miles for 18, then the rest of the race was what it was. i was definitely pleased with it. you can do it too! good luck in NYC!

Matt W said...

Nice thought process. I've been going through the same thoughts as I think about my first - Thunder Road in December. I too train at just under 8 min miles. I recently did two 13 mile runs at about 7:30 avg. I'm in the same age group as you, but a BQ seems too ambitious as I've not really done much speed work and am just trying to build up my distance (did 17 yesterday at 8:30 pace). I've been thinking 3:30 would be awesome and may just start with that pace group and hold on as long as possible.

Good luck this weekend. I'll be looking forward to your report.

smilinggreenmom said...

Best of luck! My advice is to get some Topricin pain cream for your sore muscles. Works great.

chupacabra said...

you don't have to tell everything you know

It's ok to have 3 different goals:

1 - public goal - finish in one piece

2. - private goal - "I'll be happy if I can finish in ____"

3. private goal - "I'm going to be crazy full of ME ME ME MEEEE if I finish in _____"

good luck in any case, we're pulling for you

beariebird said...

Just found your blog after googling "nyc marathon training blog". NYC is also my first marathon, and our PRs for shorter races are pretty comparable! I'm aiming for running an 8:45 pace (equates to about 3:50), which gives me 10 minutes leeway for my REAL goal of sub-4. Good luck on Sunday!

spinelabel said...

Yes, good luck!

This blog has informed, entertained and encouraged me this year. Thanks!