FAQ: What’s your target time for the London Marathon?

Well now, there’s a question. There’s the question – the one I’ve been asked more than any other as the London Marathon approaches. And it’s the question I still don’t really have an answer for.

It goes like this: I’ve never run a marathon before. I’ve never run a marathon distance before. At this point, I can’t actually be 100 per cent certain that I can. So how on earth do I set about working out a target time?

There are some tools available, using my past form as a guide. There are a whole bunch of online running pace calculators (such as this one). These are quite clever: you plug in a time and distance for a run you’ve done, and they factor in fatigue and distance to produce theoretical times for other distances.

They seem to work, too: if I plug in my best half-marathon time, my predicted pace for a 10k is remarkably close to my actual best 10k time.

Easy then: I can use the suggested marathon time as my target – because that’s what it predicts I can do it in. Except, well, my predicted marathon target time is a bit… quick. That’s not a bad thing, but the last thing I want to do is set out chasing an ambitious time calculated by a website, and then end up struggling badly because I’ve pushed it too hard. This is the first marathon I’ve ever run – there’s no shame in being a bit conservative, surely? So let’s pick a slow time I pretty much know I can achieve.

But hold on a minute. Part of what motivates me when I’m running is the ambition to do as well as I possibly can. I’d feel pretty gutted to work out a totally ‘safe’ pace, and then finish the event knowing I could have gone quicker. So where does that leave me?

It leaves me like a lot of marathon entrants, I’d imagine: trying to pick a target time that straddles the thin margin between ambition and safety. And that’s a pretty difficult thing to do – and that’s before I start thinking of the other factors I need to consider.

For example, the London Marathon will be by far the largest race I’ve ever entered. I might not be able to pick my pace due to the crowds at the start. This is Britain in April, so the weather could do pretty much anything. And so on.

In other words, I’ve printed out marathon pace charts, and stared at the mile per minute pace and the finish times. I’ve thought about it for hours – weeks, months, even – and made notes, and done sums. And I still don’t really know what my target time for the marathon is. With the marathon five days away, I’d better decide soon.

That said, I will share something I’ve learnt: even once I set my target, that probably won’t be the time I’ll tell people I’m aiming for. Why? Because I go into most runs setting myself two target times: the one I’d like to achieve, and a slightly slower one that I’d be happy to achieve. There’s a difference.

Of course, there’s another target I need to bear in mind: the finish. This is a marathon. Simply finishing a marathon is a huge achievement – and whatever finish time I decide to aim for, I need to remember that.

Now, back to those pace charts…

I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. Any sponsorship received will go to a great cause. Click the ‘Just Giving’ button below for details on how to donate. Thanks!
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