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Building a Marathon Race Strategy

Building a Marathon Race Strategy

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Published by Greg Strosaker

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Published by: Greg Strosaker on Nov 17, 2011
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Building a Marathon Race Strategy
Photo cr edit:
 Wiesbadenmilitary community runners joinin city-wide 25-hour charity run – FMWRC – US Army –100916by Flickr user familymwr (US Army), usedunder a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0license.You haveset andcommunicated your goals,planned and executed your training, and aremanagingyour taper – but there is stillone marathon preparation step in which you should invest – actually planning your race strategy. I don’tmean the pre-race or post-race elements like parking, where you will meet friends or family, or what you willenjoy a post-race indulgence (all important considerations). I mean the actual running of the race itself.How will you pace yourself, what are the biggest risks to your strategy, and how will you identify and makeadjustments as needed? Assuming you have set and trained towards a stretch goal, every second may matter on race day. Gettingcaught up in a crowd, misjudging the effort needed to complete a hill, or going out slightly too fast may causeyou to fall short of your goal and, while hopefully not ruining the race experience completely, this may leaveyou a bit disappointed after investing months of effort in training. With that in mind, here are some tips for developing a good race strategy.
– has your training indicated that your goal is still achievable? Were your long runs manageable (meaning you were able to finish them strong), yet within 30 seconds or so of your race goal? Were you able to deliver a few marathon-paced medium runs (or marathon-pacedsegments of your longer runs)? Were your expectations for speed work met (amount and pace)? Iyou ran any races, were the results inline with what you are working towards at the marathon? Whilethey are often a littleoversimplified, you can use tools such as theMcMillan Running Calculator to translate race resultsto different distances and double-check the paces you should have achieved invarious workouts. If necessary, adjust your expectations for the race based on recent performancerealities.
Determine your target pace
– again, there are plenty of calculators available to do this. You mayalready know this number by heart if your goal is the same as that with which you started your training,but it’s always safe to double-check.
Set your overall approach
– will you go for positive splits (go out fast and hope to hold on), evensplits, or negative splits (try to finishstrong)? I would shy away from the first appr oach – it usuallyyields sub-optimal results as you will fade far more quickly than you realize. Even splits are usually thesafest approach, though some runners prefer to attempt negative splits and feel strong towards thefinish. Note that if you don’t have a Garmin or other device that allows you to watch your splits duringthe race, you canget a tattoo (from Pacetat) so that you can keep track of your split goals on your arm. Don’t trust yourself to do the math during the race – you have more important things toconcentrate on.
Study your course
I find it important to know the course navigation to be mentally prepared for long stretches of straight running. It can be a real hurdle to expect a milestone like a specific streetand find that it is taking a long time to get there. Know a few key mile markers especially around suchlong straight sections. If possible, you may want to go out and run portions of the course. If that’s notpossible, then you can search for race reports on running blogs (just search “race report <name of race>” and you’ll often find at least a few to choose from).
Know the hills –
This is where you will need to make some adjustments to your pace approach.Onesourcesuggests that you lose ~20-30 seconds / mile on a 100 foot / mile climb (and 40-70 seconds /mile on a 200 foot / mile climb). You gain 15 – 20 seconds / mile on a 100 foot / mile drop and 20 – 40seconds / mile on a 200 foot / mile drop. With all this information, you can see how specific splits maybe impacted in the race – and make adjustments accordingly. Once you balance out all the plusesand minuses (only focusing on significant hills), adjust the pace for the rest of your miles accordingly.
Summarize your strategy –
I usually find it helpful to write things out as a way of imprinting them inmy memory – that’s largely why I blog. If you can’t simply explain your race strategy, then you reallycan’t count on remembering and executing it on race day. This forces you to keep it simple. As an example, let me take this approach in preparing my Akron Marathon race strategy. First, I hadoriginally set a goal of around 3:04 – roughly halfway from my PR of 3:08:48 to my goal of 3:00 for Boston inthe spring. However, as Ireevaluated my training shortly after the mid-point of the cycle, it seemed prettyclear that a 3:00 time should be within reach at Akron, so I am adjusting my goal accordingly (my trainingworkout paces have been largely inline with a 3:00 goal, and in particular I have put in some half-marathonsat that pace without much effort). Checking the McMillan calculator, this gives splits of 6:53 / mile. Myintention is to do even splits. I know that I have a tendency to go out too fast so forcing myself into a negativesplits approach is difficult; even splits is at least “conceivable.”Fortunately, since Akron is only 45 minutes away (and I had some spare time on my hands the first week of the taper), I did have the opportunity to try out the course. I had also chatted with others who had run therace previously and the common thread was to be careful about the hills on miles 15 – 19. I could tell fromthe hill profile that miles 19-24 were no picnic either, and since mile 24 is actually pretty close to mile 11 onthe route, I was able to do a loop of just over a half-marathon (just a bit longer than the 12 miles my plan hadcalled for), specifically testing out the most challenging hills. This was a big help in building a strategy, as Idiscovered that I was ableto maintain a sub-6:50 pace on the hills without too much effort. I also discoveredthat miles 19.5 to 22 will be a major mental challenge, as it’s largely straight, slightly uphill, and seemed to goon longer than expected.Studying the elevation charts, I cansee that the first 11 miles areroughly flat (give or take a bitaround mile 8). I’m not going toworry too much about adjusting mypace there. Mile 12 involves a200’ drop – I should gain maybe 30seconds on that split. Miles 18 and19 make up for that drop with anequivalent climb – I should counton losing maybe 40 secondsspread over those two splits (I’ve done a lot of hill work so will keep my estimate on the low end). I’ll loseanother 20 seconds on the 100 foot climb at the beginning of mile 23, and make up that amount in mile 25.Thus, my plan is to go out at a 6:50 pace for the first 11 miles (and not get concerned if mile 8 is a bit slow,or mile 9 a bit fast). Mile 12 should come in around 6:30, and then level out again around 6:50 through mile17. Miles 18 and 19 can be around 7:10 each, and I’ll push to get back to 6:50 for miles 20-22. Mile 23 mayslip to 7:10, mile 24 at 6:50, and mile 25 at 6:30 (should start “emptying the tank” here). If I assume a 6:50on the last mile, this puts my overall time at around 2:59:20, giving me just a little time to spare on the backend or the more challenging hills. I think this is achievable and easy to remember, with just a little study.Does anyone have any good race strategy advice to add, or suggestions on my own approach?
 You may also find these interesting:
Relaxing to the Win – 2011 Towpath Marathon Race Report Akron Marathon Post-Mortem and Lessons Learned Aching in Akron – Marathon Race ReportRace Report – Going by Feel at the River Run Half MarathonPosted inRaces Training Posted by Greg

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