Taper Thoughts: Marathon Pacing Resources

With ten days remaining until my third marathon, and my last hard training run officially completed, I’m now starting to feel the taper crazies set in. The hard work is done, just a few easy runs here and there before race day, so now all of my running energy has to be focused, well, somewhere. And that is why I am sharing my taper thoughts with you now, and in the remaining days leading to the marathon. Getting all of these crazies out of my head, and into yours, I guess?

Today I want to share some of the websites I use the most in planning the logistics of my marathon racing strategy. I am a huge running nerd (as if you already didn’t know), and I plan out everything. Because it is really important to me to have my marathon go well (I didn’t train all these weeks for nothing, you know), I want to be sure that (a) I’m not running too fast on race day so that I don’t blow up at mile 16, and (b) that I’m running fast enough to run it to the best of my current ability. It’s a fine line. But how do I determine exactly where that line is, and what I should do to stay just under it?

The first tool that I use is a race time calculator app or website. My preferred app is Runner’s Ally Running Pace Calculator, available on both iOS and Android. You just enter your most recent race time and distance, and it will give equivalent times for other race distances. Another great race time predictor is the Jack Daniels VDOT Running Calculator from the Run Smart Project. One thing to keep in mind is that different calculators can give different results. Based on the half marathon race I ran on Sunday, my predicted marathon time from the Runner’s Ally app is 4:36:49, while the VDOT calculator predicts a marathon of 4:32:55, a difference of about 10 seconds per mile. I prefer to go by the more conservative estimate.

The second resource that I use in determining my marathon racing strategy is FindMyMarathon.com’s Pace Band Creator. A pace band can be worn around your wrist during the race and has specific paces to run each mile to hit your desired time goal. There are several websites out there that offer pace bands, and some that allow you to create your own, but the cool thing about FindMyMarathon’s service is that it can give you varying splits for each mile based on the specific course that you’ll be running. When I put in Baystate Marathon as my marathon course, and 4:36:49 as my goal time, it spits out a band with the splits I should run each mile in to hit that time. You can also select whether you want to aim for negative splits (starting slow and finishing faster), positive splits (starting faster and finishing slower), or even pacing/effort, and it will adjust the paces for each mile based on your preferences. There are also options to choose size and color of the pace band. You can purchase a physical band that they will mail to you, or you can just print the band on paper and tape it around your wrist. Warning: I have done a paper band in the past and I sweat so much on race day that I smudged the ink on the band and it was pretty much useless. So it might be better to spend a few bucks on something that won’t smudge!

As if having exact splits for every mile of the marathon predetermined wasn’t enough information for me, I also use the handy dandy Official Runner’s Cumulative Time and Pace Calculator. “But, Sue,” you’re probably thinking, “Why do you need another pace calculator? You already have two, plus a pace band! Don’t you think you’re overthinking this a bit?” Well, yeah, probably. But all data is helpful! And here’s what I do with the Cumulative Pace Calculator — the key word here is cumulative. If I input all of those predetermined splits that I got from FindMyMarathon.com, this calculator will give me my cumulative times and paces throughout the race. So after the first four miles of my race, if I hit those splits, I know will average a 10:50 pace, though the splits are all different. After 10 miles, my average pace will be 10:42, and by the end of the race I will average 10:35, my target pace for the marathon. This is incredibly helpful information because in the highly likely chance that I don’t hit my splits as planned, I still know the average I need to hit to stay on track.

“But, Sue,” you’re probably thinking, “Aren’t you overly focused on time? Don’t you want to have fun during your marathon?” Good question! Yes, probably, and yes. I have run two marathons, and the lesson I learned from both of them is don’t start too fast! You see, I thought I learned this after the first. I had fun, but I ran too fast, and was hurting from mile 16 on. In my second, I was determined to do better. And I did. I cut 40 minutes off my first race, and still had a good time during the race. But I still started too fast, and that last 10K was one of the most miserable 10K of my life. So, my theory is that if I plan better, and execute exactly as planned with a conservative start and better pacing, then that last 10K won’t be so miserable this time. Maybe I’ll have fun from start to finish this time!

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