How to Choose a Goal Based on a Past Race
How do you decide what your goal race pace should be? Do you:
- run a little faster than your last race?
- shoot for the moon and hope for the best?
- ask a friend?
Picking the right race goal establishes the foundation of your training. Too aggressive, and you could get injured. Too easy and you may get bored. You want something realistically attainable, yet sufficiently challenging. I’m all for picking race goals that are audacious, but in the past, this may have been my downfall.
During my most recent marathon training cycle, I was shooting to run a sub 3 hour race. This meant running 10 minutes faster than my previous PR. All of my training runs were set to this new time, but I don’t think my body was quite ready to make such a big jump. I may have been a little too ambitious in selecting that goal.
So, how do you know the best way to select an appropriate goal based on past races? Here are 3 suggestions:
1. Start with a Previous Race Time
This may be easier said than done, and can get tricky if:
- You haven’t run a race before (or in awhile)
- You haven’t run a specific goal race distance
If you’ve never run a race before, (or it’s been several years), just go out and run your race! Run comfortably hard and set a time goal for your next race based on the first one.
If you are attempting a new race distance, you can still take another race time, and plug it into this great VDOT calculator for guidance. This will “quickly calculate the appropriate training paces for various workouts necessary to help you reach your goals. The calculator also provides equivalent race performances.”
If it’s been awhile since you’ve raced (six months or more), go run a 5k time trial, and use that time. Signup for an inexpensive 5k in your area (at least a few months away), or find a relatively flat stretch of road and run your own 3.1 mile race. Run hard, but not so hard you feel like you’re going to puke.
It’s been two months since I ran Grandma’s Marathon. The race didn’t go quite as planned, but I felt fit. I recently ran a 5k, and finished with a decent time of 19:47. When I plug that time into the VDOT calculator, it indicates the equivalent time for my marathon as 3:14. A modified version of that time (more below) is what I’ll use as the basis for planning my next marathon training cycle.
2. Previous Training
After you’ve plugged in past race times and gotten a good baseline, look at your previous training for those races. Did you do much specific speed work? How many weekly miles were you running? Did those races feel “good”?
I ran the above 5k on a bit of a whim. When I begin my next cycle, I’ll use my VDOT time as a basis, but also keep in mind that the 5k race was run on very little training. I will likely do another time trial of some kind before then to get a more accurate sense of where I am fitness-wise. Running too fast, too soon is the quickest way to get injured.
If your previous training didn’t include any speed work or you ran less than 40 miles a week for a marathon (or 25 for a half), you can almost certainly take some time off the VDOT time, assuming you will be ramping up your training.
Jeff Gaudette says that, you can expect to improve anywhere from 2 – 8 percent over the course of your training (depending on experience). This is a helpful reminder because it means that if I’m shooting for another sub 3 hour marathon, I don’t need to start from day one running those paces.
3. How Bad Do You Want It?
Finally, when you are trying to determine how to pick your goal race pace, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself how hard you want to work.
Someone who wants to break 4 hours in the marathon, probably won’t succeed by running three days per week. And 5k glory isn’t going to come without some significant speed work; This is true of someone trying to break 35 minutes, or 15.
If you’re not willing (or able) to put in the hard work to get to your goal, then you’ll need to pick another one (and that’s ok!).
I’ve asked myself this question a lot over the past two months in my pursuit of a sub 3 hour marathon. Do I really want it? Knowing what it takes (hours and hours of running, super healthy diet, more strength training, lots and lots of sleep and foregoing other life luxuries), has me in a funky place of trying to weigh desire, against other important things in life. Deciding how you’re willing to devote your precious time is probably the most important question you should be asking yourself.
I’ll let you know when I’ve come to a conclusion, but I’ve decided there’s no right or wrong answer to this question.
Can I Help?
I’m not a coach, but I’d love to help. If you’d like a second opinion about the “realistic-ness” of your next goal, shoot me an email and I’ll offer some ideas. Include your previous PR’s, current training, and a brief running history. I’ll try to have something back to you within a week.
Happy running and don’t be afraid of those audacious goals!