LA Marathon goals: Blind ambition reconsidered

In normal procrastinator fashion, I didn’t have a race strategy until a few days before the race. I’ve been thinking about and mulling over two questions:

  1. Should I be gutsy and go for a sub-4?
  2. Should I be prudent and shoot for something around 4:06?

After a lot of over thinking (see below), I have a some goals and a plan. Skip to the end if you don’t care to read how I got overly confident and then got realistic.


I haven’t mentioned the possibility of a sub-4 on my blog, but it’s been in the back of my mind since December when I PR’ed at the Holiday Half. As soon as I got home, I did what most runners do and plugged my new PR in to the McMillan calculator. The results:

I didn’t think too much of that predicted marathon time as I wasn’t even sure I’d run LA. I’m also well aware that while it’s a great training tool and was only 3 minutes off for my first marathon, McMillan is an imperfect predictor. Lots of things can happen in training and on race day.

A few weeks later, I decided to run the marathon and told my coach, Marc, that I wanted to run <4:09. I picked that time based on the McMillan predicted finish using my Pasadena half result (1:58:32). I definitely wanted to PR and shave several minutes off my time, but I also wanted to get to the starting line healthy.

I’ve had a great, albeit short, training cycle. I’m happy with my recent race performances, hit the prescribed times in my speed work, got in most of my runs, added in strength training and some cross training. I ran hills and did some good — and really crappy — long runs. The only thing I hadn’t done was set a marathon goal pace and get used to it. Whoops.

Responsible Me wants to go with a more conservative time between 4:06-4:10. Gutsy Me wants to shoot for the sub-4 McMillan and other calculators predict. Marc thinks I should go for a 4:06/9:24 pace which he got by doubling my half PR and adding 20 minutes to account for the hills.

Smart, but the sub-4 was still in the back of my mind. I checked out Greg Maclin’s course specific pace bands recommended by my friend Scott. Dude is speedy. The stadium to the sea course is net downhill but has some formidable hills, especially on tired legs at miles 17-18.

I downloaded Maclin’s trial version and entered a 3:58 goal for a 9:04 overall pace. The individual mile paces are all over the place. On downhill portions it’s ~8:45, flatter ~9, on the hills it’s about ~9:35. Maclin’s paces made a sub-4 goal look less intimidating. Maybe even doable? You know, discounting the fact that speedier runners with half marathon times in the 1:40s have struggled to attain a 3:5X finish.

I was tempted to change my non-plan for Sunday and shoot for the sub-4. After all, I’m not planning to run another marathon this year. Next year might be out of the question too.

Then logic set in. I didn’t train for a sub-4. Trying to do that on Sunday could blow up in my face and leave me feeling miserable on San Vicente in the final five. I really don’t want to relive my Long Beach experience where I had a great first half, slowed down but was still okay until mile 18, and went off the rails after that. Of course, I can run conservatively and still have a bad race.

When I originally talked to Marc about going for a sub-4, I told him I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t make that goal and blame him. But I will be upset with myself if I go out too fast, can’t hold it and am way off a B or C goal.

After over thinking it — I had a lot of downtime at work this week — I finally had my strategy down.

The race plan: run the first half conservatively (~9:24 pace for a <4:06 finish) and then step it up a notch in the second half if I’m feeling good.

A goal: <4:06
B goal: <4:09
C goal: <4:23, PR

If you want to track my progress on Sunday morning you can follow on twitter (@cindylu) where my 10K, 20K, 30K, 40K splits and finish time will be posted. You can also sign up to track runners (I’ll post the links in the comments since editing in WP is weird). My bib number is 10676.