My primary goal for the Big Sur Marathon is to run it in 3:30:00 or better. That's an 8-minute pace, which is fairly ambitious for a first marathon, especially since my half-marathon PR pace is only 7:51 (yes, I'm almost certainly faster than that now, but you never know until you actually run the race).
What's the best way to run your target time in a marathon? There's a bit of debate about this, but most research points to an even pace. Just run a consistent pace throughout, with some adjustments for terrain, and you've got the best chance of success. I've read a few articles suggesting that it might be slightly more efficient to run the first half a little faster, but not much -- perhaps only 5 to 10 seconds per mile faster than the second half. For me that would be a 7:55 pace for the first half and an 8:05 pace for the second half. That's really not much different than running a consistent pace throughout. What's more, Big Sur's first half is tougher than the second half this year, so running a consistent pace would effectively mean you're running harder at the start.
That said, I'm not sure how easy it is going to be to run a consistent pace on such a hilly course. How slow do you go on the uphills? How fast on the downhills? My experiences with hill training suggest that I slow down by 15-30 seconds per mile on uphills, and I speed up about the same amount on the downhills. I think I'm going to have to do this primarily by feel, and by consistently monitoring my progress. With the exception of the short Point Lobos loop, the hills are pretty consistent throughout the course. So I should be able to monitor my average pace throughout the race and get a very good sense of how I'm doing.
But what if I'm feeling good, say, around the halfway point? Should I go faster? At this point in my running career, I don't think I have enough experience to make that call. I've never run a marathon, so I don't know what "feeling good" feels like. On long runs, I've noticed that the first 10+ miles are always quite easy unless I've gone out exceptionally hard. I'm certainly not going to do that at Big Sur, so chances are I'll be feeling pretty good at the halfway point. What's unknown is what's beyond that. If I bump up the pace to 7:30 starting at Mile 13, I might have to slow down to a 9-minute pace at Mile 20; that's not a good trade-off! I think it's better just to try to maintain as close to an 8-minute pace as possible this time around. Maybe I could speed things up incrementally if I'm still feeling good at Mile 20, but at that point I won't be able to make up a whole lot of time. Big Sur is not the place to try to run a 3:25:00!
Fortunately, this race does have a 3:30:00 pace team, so the simplest strategy is just to run with the group. Running with a group has the added bonus of motivating you to do better. If I can stay with the team for 26.2 miles, I will have qualified for Boston on an exceptionally difficult marathon course. If I fall off the pace, I'll do what I can to keep a 9:00 pace. I've run better than a 9:00 pace in 22-mile training runs, so hopefully finishing in 3:56:00 or better should not be a problem. Supposing I just slow down to that pace for the second half, I'd still be better than a 3:45:00, which isn't bad for a first marathon.
Details of today's training run are below:
After yesterday's hard tempo run, I just needed a 5-mile recovery run. Mark is recovering from a hamstring injury, so was happy to run relatively slowly with me. We did 5.6 miles at an 8:50 pace -- actually a little faster than I wanted. But fortunately, my IT bands weren't giving me any trouble at all. I'm feeling good for tomorrow's 12- to 13-miler, which is my last "long" run before the race.