Some of my fastest and most favorite races are those I’ve started with no expectations, those with a time goal of “let’s just see
how I feel.
Problem is, that kind of thinking doesn’t really fly when it comes to the marathon. When the first half of the race is a half-marathon that’s supposed to feel easy, a failure to set a realistic time goal is a recipe for disaster.
There are lots of ways to try and predict your marathon finish time, from pace calculators (I like the McMillan Running race time calculator) to Yasso 800s, which have ended up representing the bulk of my speedwork this training session. The idea: You run 800s in the same minutes:seconds as your goal marathon time in hours:minutes. Since I’m looking to run somewhere around a four-hour marathon, that meant I’d have to run somewhere around 4 minutes for the 800s.
I topped out at eight reps a couple weeks ago, and did five today, since I’m tapering. All five were between 3:42 and 3:48, and I warmed up and cooled down with 2.5-mile jogs to and from the track at roughly 8:50-minute-mile pace. That’s been the case every time I’ve done 800s this training cycle.
While the 800s weren’t at a conversational pace or anything, they also felt totally manageable, which makes me wonder: Are Yasso 800s too good to be true? Can these possibly be an accurate predictor of the marathon time you’re capable of? Has anyone tried these during marathon training and found that to be the case on race day? I’d really like to think that my ability to nail the 800s at that pace means my goal marathon time of somewhere around four hours is reasonable and realistic, but don’t want to get my ego all puffed up for no reason.
That said, I am going to set my official marathon goals here. My most recent half-marathon time of 1:49 predicts a 3:50 marathon time using the McMillan Running race time calculator. Since I started training a bit late thanks to a flareup of an old hip injury, and have been training extremely conservatively since then, I feel like my most realistic goal time should be around four hours.
My “A” goal — i.e., my “the stars are aligned, the weather is good, my stomach is calm and the running gods are smiling” goal: Under four hours, or faster than 9-minute-mile pace. Let’s go with the pace calculator’s prediction of 3:50, which means 8:48-minute-mile pace.
My “B” goal — my realistic, what I really hope to do goal: Somewhere right around four hours, or right around 9-minute-mile pace. I’m going to start the race at this pace. If I feel the need to pick things up, I can do so in the second half (ha!).
My “C” goal — 4:20, or 10-minute-mile pace. And if all else fails: Simply cross the finish line. This accounts for all the things that could go wrong over the course of 26.2 miles, and is a sign of the respect I have for the distance. I feel fairly certain I’ll be able to hold 9-minute-mile pace for most of the race. But if I have to limp through the last 10K, well, that’s just hard-core in a different way, isn’t it? One of my favorite race T-shirts is from the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2007, when I which I ran in the pouring rain and sticky Florida heat, vomiting from what may have been a slight OD on Advil and limping from a sore hip, finishing in 2:24 — far slower than each half of the full marathon I’d run, and half an hour slower than my previous half. Others may see this as a massive failure. But knowing that I can cover 13.1 miles even with bad weather, stomach troubles and a messed-up hip labrum and flexor is almost as awesome as knowing I can run 13.1 miles quickly.
There you have it. Any advice about using Yasso 800s as a time predictor would be greatly appreciated!