How To Run Your Best Marathon

After all the training, marathon day is finally here! You look out the window to see what the weather looks like, and check the local temperature. Will you meet your marathon goal? Or will you be struggling into the finish…?

A well thought-out race strategy will help you run the best marathon you can. There are many things that can affect you during this long event. If you have thought about them previously then you will be make the right adjustments during the run and complete a successful marathon.

The main factors that will affect your performance during the race are:

* Your marathon goal
* Your pacing
* Your conditioning and fitness level
* The weather
* The marathon course

Your marathon goal
An over-optimistic target time and race pace is the primary cause of marathoners running into problems such as leg cramps, hitting the wall and running out of energy well before the end of the race.

One of the most important things you can do at the start of the race is take into account the main factors that can affect your performance and modify your target time if necessary. For example if the weather is extreme, especially too hot, you would do well to add 10 – 15 minutes to your goal. I usually add 30 seconds to my pace, which equates to 13 minutes extra.

This is a hard choice to make after all your training, but it’s better to be realistic up front than to ‘crash’ at the 18 mile mark and limp into the finish line.

Your Pacing
It’s usually better to start out at a slower pace than your intended race pace. Don’t expect to run the complete race at exactly the same pace – it just doesn’t happen that way.
“But if I go slower at the beginning” you say, “I’ll never meet my goal”. Wrong! The common belief that you will slow down in the second half is only true because you went out too fast in the first half!

So, if it’s a warm day, or a challenging course, take those first few miles easy (30 seconds to one minute slower than your “intended” pace), and see how things work out.
If the weather is hot, you definitely need to go slower for the first few miles. Your body will adjust to the conditions, and you will be able to gradually pick up the pace.

Your conditioning and fitness level
If you haven’t done enough training then you are probably going to have a tough time, unless you take it really easy. On the other hand if you have done too much hard training you could also get tired long before mile 26. This is difficult to judge at the start of a race, but you should look back over your training anyway. Did you run a 20 miler less than three weeks prior to the marathon for example?

Have you caught a cold recently? I normally monitor my pulse rate on a regular basis during training. If this is elevated on race day, it’s a sign that your body might be fighting an infection. Remember if you are not feeling 100% fit, you should modify your target finish time.

The weather
The weather can have a huge impact on your race. It is most important that you start out slower to compensate for adverse weather until you are used to the conditions. Then you can gradually pick up the pace. If you are running into a headwind, you will be using more energy than normal, and will tire too soon if you keep pushing the pace early on.

The Marathon Course
It helps a lot if you are familiar with the marathon course, either because you have run it before or you have driven it. Many marathons boast of a ‘flat’ course but when you’re at mile 18 even a slight incline can feel like a mountain if you are struggling. If the course is known for having some challenging spots like Heartbreak Hill at Boston, my advice is to ease up before you get there so you have some energy in reserve.

There is a lot more to running the marathon than just completing the 26 miles. This is a long endurance event that can wear down even the best-trained athletes. If you follow the pointers above, you’ll increase your chances of finishing the race without too much difficulty.

Mike Stapenhurst, 2007
Download a Free copy of Mike’s marathon report ‘Marathon Strategies’ Mike is the co-developer of personalized training log books for athletes. You can get a customized running log at Mike’s website Personal Running Logs He publishes a website on marathon training at The Marathon Website.