How do you KNOW if you can run your marathon goal? I’ll reveal seven signs that can give you the confidence to crush it!
If you are training for a marathon, now is the time that you are really starting to feel it. The miles have been piling up, the long runs are getting longer, and race day is getting closer and closer.
You’ve been keeping your head down and getting the work done and trying not to worry too much about the 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers that you will be racing soon.
But no matter how confident you are in yourself and in your training, there’s a little voice inside your head that is always asking, am I ready? Have I done enough? Can I reach my marathon goal?
Okay, for some of us, that voice isn’t so little! So how can you tell if you’re ready for the marathon in a few weeks? And how do you know if the finishing goal that you’ve been dreaming about is realistic or not?
I mean, we all dream of running faster or farther than we ever have before. But we can’t truly know that we’re capable until we do it. Or can we?
I’m going to reveal the seven signs that say you’re finally ready to crush your marathon goal. This is exactly what you’ll need to know if you are a first-time marathoner, or if you’re running your hundredth. But, I’m also talking to those of you out there who keep trying and trying and just missing that elusive dream goal time. Have you finally done enough this time?
Finish or Finish Faster
Most first-time marathoners are just happy to be able to finish a marathon, but once you have that first one behind you, almost everyone wants to know if it can be done faster.
The quick answer to the question is no one knows! You can be the most highly trained elite marathoner in the world and if you get a terrible day, you might not make it to the finish line. That’s just the harsh reality and sometimes heartbreak of the marathon. You train for months on end and it ends up being a crap shoot on just one single day.
But let’s assume that weather is not a major factor (and that’s a BIG IF). How do you know that you’ve done enough to prepare yourself for what you think you can accomplish to reach your marathon goal?
For anything but your very first marathon where you are simply trying to finish, marathon goal pace should feel a step harder than easy. The more experienced you are at the marathon, the more you can push the effort level. If you’ve had a good build-up, the goal pace should be something that felt pretty hard the first few weeks, more manageable in the middle, and good (but still a little scary) toward the end of your cycle.
But there’s more to it than that.
There are actually seven major signs that you are ready to race and reach your marathon goal.
Consistency Matters More Than Perfection
The first thing to do is look back at your training log. How consistent were you with your mileage and fitting in your runs? Consistency is hands down, without a question, the single most important aspect of good training. Running stable mileage without big gaps in training or big swings in mileage is key to being well prepared. Your runs don’t all have to be Instagram-worthy, but just showing up day after day is what matters most.
If you were grading your runs like you were in school, I’d like to see the vast majority of them in the B range. If you are always turning in A+ performances, your training is either far too easy for your fitness, or–and this one happens far more often–you are working way too hard and are risking injury or leaving your best work in training.
When training for a marathon goal, good enough really is good enough.
Solid Long Runs
The second thing I look at as a coach is your long runs. Did you get all or most of them in? Did the majority of them go well or were you strapped to the struggle bus the whole time?
Simply running long at a slow pace does tremendous things for your aerobic system, but adding the extra challenge of some speed to a long run can really test your legs for the big day. Fast finish long runs are great at signaling how you might hold up at your marathon goal pace, especially if you paired the run with a moderately paced steady run the day before and still survived. Teaching yourself to keep running hard when tired is exactly the skill you will need on race day so if you have a time goal in mind, you definitely should have been practicing this.
If you’ve had a few terrible long runs, guess what? So have most of us. One or two bad runs are a small part of the bigger picture, so they are unlikely to change your fitness. And the best thing about a bad run is that it’s still a run and it’s still making you a better runner.
The next thing I want to know is how well you are recovering from those hard days and those long, hard runs. Are you able to run easy the next day with minimal to no soreness in the last few weeks before the race? Or do you have to take extra recovery time to get to feeling yourself again?
At the beginning of your training cycle, it’s very normal to have leg soreness after hard workouts, but the goal is to build strong legs that can handle what the marathon has to throw at you. A well-designed training plan will build tough, durable legs that can go the distance without being completely trashed the next day.
That’s because soreness is not always a good indicator of a good workout. Soreness happens when you go beyond what you are used to, but lack of soreness doesn’t mean that you are not building and growing. Often, lack of soreness shows healthy adaptation, which means you are absorbing the training well.
If you’ve been consistent, gotten most of your long runs done well, and have made sure that you are recovering right, you are almost halfway there to nailing that marathon goal time. There are four more ways to tell if you are ready.
Goal Pace Starts to Feel Pretty Good
Number four might be a little obvious, and it’s how does goal pace feel? At the beginning of the cycle, a few miles at marathon goal pace typically feels on the harder side, but as you get closer to the race, goal pace should start feeling pretty good. It’s certainly still significantly harder than easy pace, but it should not be a struggle to maintain it for several miles. After all, you are going to be running at your marathon goal pace for hours! If you are sucking wind after 30 minutes and it’s three weeks before your race, it’s highly likely your goal is far too aggressive.
Now there is one caveat to this. If you are training in harder conditions than you predict your race to be, race pace is going to feel much harder at home. For example, I’m coaching an athlete named Katy who lives and trains in hot, sweaty Florida. But her race is in cool and dry North Dakota. So when she is running marathon goal pace, her effort level is much higher than we hope it will be on race day. Well, at least at the beginning.
That also means that the opposite is true. If you are cruising along down your cool and perfect home roads and your marathon is predicted to be any of the 4Hs (hot, hilly, humid, or at a higher elevation_, what is easy for you at home is not going to feel easy on race day, so adjust your expectations and your marathon goal accordingly.
Fueling and Hydration
The next factor in the equation is fueling and hydration. Have you found what works for you and practiced it until it’s second nature? Nearly all of your long runs and many of your later-stage fast workouts should be done fully fueled, practicing your race day nutrition, including what you will eat the night before the race.
Nutrition is what makes marathons more than twice as hard as halves. If you skimp on this section and don’t have a well-practiced plan for the race, you could be in big trouble.
Healthy at the Starting Line
As a coach, I also want to determine how healthy you are. Are there any lingering injuries that you’ve been pushing through that haven’t properly healed? Have you been truly honest with me and with yourself about how severe an injury is? Athletes are strong, stubborn people and we don’t want anything, especially a little injury, to get in the way of running. But if you neglected to take care of a tweak, a niggle, or an ouch with proper recovery, then pushing harder than you’ve ever gone before on race day is a huge risk that might not be worth the potential reward.
I know that you’ve been working so hard and for so long for this one day to arrive. But if you are injured before you start, you are risking couching your running for a very long time.
The last factor is arguably the most important of all. How well have you trained your brain?
If you want to reach your marathon goal, or really do at anything hard, you’ve got to dig down into a part of yourself that is a little dark and a little uncomfortable. Running hard for hours on end is hard. And if you don’t want it bad enough, all the safety features that your brain has at its disposal to keep you from dying will come out in full force.
This is why you run hard in workouts. It’s not only to build your physical strength, but also to see if you’ve got what it takes to push past the point where reasonable people slow down or stop.
Now to do that on race day takes discipline that is 100% mental and which can be trained.. Your brain has to override the feelings of excitement and adrenaline at the beginning of the race to keep your pace under control. You can learn to stay calm when you see a split that you don’t like on your watch and remember that the first 20 miles is just a warm up for the real 10K race.
Let go of fears of failure and follow your plan. You’ve got to prepare yourself ahead of time that the last 5-10k of the race will be very, very, very hard if you are doing it right.
But you will keep running anyway.
So if all seven signs are resonating with you, then congratulations, you probably have a realistic goal in mind and are ready to race.
If none or only a few of the points I’ve mentioned are true, then it’s time to take a step back and rethink your goals. After all, would you rather cross the finish line with a smile on your face knowing you ran the best race you could or skeleton walk the last 10 miles in pure agony because you overshot your goal?
Making a realistic plan for your race is essential to finishing the marathon with a performance you can be proud of.
Of course, even if you are perfectly prepared, in the best shape of your life, anything can happen on race day that will be completely out of your control. You will have to roll with the unexpected with a calm mind and adjust as you go.
And remember, there’s really no such thing as a good race or a bad race because they both make you a better racer. Most people actually say they learn more from a bad race, but of course no one wants them to happen!
But if you’ve been consistent, with solid long runs, good recovery, goal pace feels good, fueling and hydration is dialed, you’re healthy and mentally strong, you are as prepared as you can be.
Now as long as you don’t overdo during your taper, there’s nothing that can stop you from running your best race.
I’ll go over that next week!
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