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Marathon Goal Setting

by Meghann on November 10, 2011

Soup! Come and get your soup!


Leftover soup rocks. Easy to reheat, easy to eat, and it still tastes as good as day one.


I added some chickpeas to my leftover Butternut Squash Soup for a dash of protein and toasted some Pumpkin Beer Bread on the side.


Soup is served. ๐Ÿ™‚


Marathon Goal Setting

(aka the part of the post where I start to ramble about races and paces)ย ย 

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about my new goal of breaking my current marathon PR. Krissie had left a comment in the post requesting more information about calculating marathon goals for marathon first timers, then quickly followed up with an email on an article she had found on with the information she needed.

The article ( 11 Major Marathon Mistakes) is a great read if you’re interested. Apparently one major mistake of any many marathoner is setting unrealistic goal times. The article gives a quick formula to help runners determine what they should be realistically be aiming for when training for 26.2:

1. Most marathoners don’t have the right time goal. In August of last year, I was chatting with a very likable fellow who was training for the Chicago Marathon. When I asked about his goal time, he smiled confidently and said, “I’m shooting for seven minutes per mile.” However, further discussion revealed that his current 5-K time was 24:48!

With just six weeks left before Chicago, it was very doubtful that he would be able to run a full marathon at a tempo one minute per mile faster than his best, current 5K!

While this example may seem slightly ridiculous, it’s simply the outer edge of a very common phenomenon. Marathon entrants need to realize that if they train correctly their marathon pace will be about 48 seconds per mile slower than current 5-K capability, 32 seconds slower than 10-K pacing, and 16 seconds more lethargic per mile than half-marathon clocking. These shorter races can all be used to set a proper, realistic marathon goal speed.

I found all the information fascinating and decided to do some calculating of my own (like Krissie had).

Of course, reading this really makes me want to go ‘balls to the wall’ on my next 5k. The last time I took a 5k even remotely seriously was last November when I ran the Saturn 5k in 23:39. That was about a month before I took my year long hiatus from speed training and still 20 seconds slower than my 5k PR that was set in 2009.


BUT, if we were to use that 5k time as my basis for the marathon goal setting formula above then the 23:39 breaks down to a 7:36 min/mi. If we add :48 to 7:36 we get an average goal pace of 8:24min/mi or a ‘realistic’ marathon goal of 3:40:04. Yikes. That’s fast.

This is suppose to spit out what I’m realistically capable of training for, not what I could bust out tomorrow if I wanted to. I would say a 3:40 marathon is definitely a ‘someday goal’ but not today. ๐Ÿ™‚

The funny part is, when I ran that 5k above I was in the middle of training for Palm Beach and pushed myself hard to achieve a 3:59 marathon. Of course, I was training for a 3:59 marathon at the time and did all my speed training accordingly. I hit my goal because that’s what I was specifically pushing myself for, nothing more and nothing less. hmm….

Does this mean I could have changed my training around to have realistically hit a 3:40? Maybe, but probably not. I think the 5k average is still a little too far fetched.

If we try the 10k model (again, I have zero recent racing times to go off of here) let’s go off of my Bad to the Bone 10k time of 50:58 from last October (not my PR). This was in the same time frame as the 5k above, so it’s a good comparative reference.


The 50:58 10k breaks down to an 8:13 min/mi. Now let’s add :32 to the 8:13 and we end up with an average of 8:45 min/mi for a 3:49:15 ‘realistic marathon.’

Hmm… interesting. Still faster than the time I ended up with, but slower than the 5k prediction.

Let’s try the half marathon. Since I didn’t run a half marathon during the fall 2010 racing season, let’s play with my half marathon time from the year before. That was the Space Coast Half Marathon with a 1:52:51 (one of my new goals is to beat that time. I know I have it in me to do better).


Let’s see, a 1:52:51half marathon breaks down to 8:36 min/mi. Add :16 to that and we end up with 8:52 min/mi or a realistic marathon goal of 3:52:18.

hmmm….. interesting.

Well, now this has me thinking. If the author of the article was concerned about people setting goals that were too fast, then what about the ones with goals that were too slow? What if I have been selling myself short on the goals I’ve set out for myself?

Maybe I am capable of faster. Maybe that 3:55 marathon isn’t such a pipe dream after all. Hell, I can get a 3:50 marathon. Pshh I WILL get a 3:50 marathon. (as soon as I get back in speed shape – who knows how long that will take)

I think this is a lesson we could all learn. Let’s not sell ourselves short and start to aim big come race day. We’re so afraid of not making our goals, that we’re aiming too low. What if we chose to aim high?

Maybe not 7:00 min/miles high, but high for what we can ‘realistically’ achieve. Think about it.

1 Krissy @ Shiawase Life November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Great post, Meghann. I am looking at my goal evaluations and will be curious how they play out this weekend. =)
Krissy @ Shiawase Life recently posted..Thankful Thursday

2 Mary @ food and fun on the run November 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Super interesting way to think about it. Based on the 5k time, I should be able to run a 7:30ish mile for a marathon. Im not so sure about that one. And the half marathon time, closer to an 8 minute mile. This I actually think is doable. I t makes me really think about what I should be reaching for regarding pace for my spring marathon…. glad u posted this one!!! Very thought provoking!!
Mary @ food and fun on the run recently posted..Plain and Simple

3 Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn November 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Ahhhh girl you look so happy!!!! I love the joy that comes with a good race. Seriously kickass. Goals are so important and yours is ambitious for me but you can do it!
Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn recently posted..Quality Time.

4 Gavi @ Gavi Gets Going! November 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I appreciate this post and enjoy goal-setting for my own running races. I do want to mention one thing, though, that you don’t discuss in response to time and goals–overall well-being. I was well-trained and well-prepared for my first half marathon, and I set a goal for myself of finishing in under 1:55. I ran my butt off, finished it in 1:52…and then was so sick from dehydration that it took me days to recover. I didn’t want to take the time to eat or drink on the course because I was so concerned about time. I was equally well-prepared for my second half marathon, and I also took time to learn how to eat and drink properly for that distance. As a result, I finished in 1:51 feeling hydrated and comfortable. You mentioned multiple times that you collapsed at the end of Palm Beach and needed medical attention, and you also posted a video of your finish. Yes, you achieved your goal of finishing in under four hours, but you also needed medical attention at the end of the race. I understand “going all out” during a race, but I would never, ever want to feel as sick as I did at the end of my first half marathon, and I would hope that you would want to finish your races feeling GOOD…not dehydrated, depleted, and in need of an IV. When goal-setting, I think it is critical to take into account your overall well-being during the run–not just beating your goal time.
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5 Meghann November 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I completely agree, which is why I didn’t jump right back into marathon training after Palm Beach. I needed a break to collect my thoughts and just run. But I also believe we can learn from our mistakes (like you did) and succeed in ways we didn’t think possible. I think that’s what I realized this past weekend, that I’m ready to start training for this new challenge and ready to fix what went wrong in Pam Beach.

6 Katie @ Peace Love and Oats November 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I definitely like where you’re going with this. Haha although right now I should not be reading this post. I have a race Saturday (10 miler) but I’ve been pushing my speedwork so hard that I’ve injured myself and am worried I might not even complete the race (well, I’d walk the rest… but not the same).
Katie @ Peace Love and Oats recently posted..Thankful Thursday

7 Ashley @ This Is The Place November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Definitely possible that you can run a 3:50, even a 3:40. What so many people fail to take into account is those race projectors assume, not equivalent times, but equivalent training. Yes, if you run 20mi/week and run lots of short speed work, you could have a ROCKING 5k time. But unless you put in the same amount of effort x 23 more miles, you won’t have the equivalent performance. And that’s how people end up messing up their time goals. And people just like to say they’re faster than they really are. It’s human nature ๐Ÿ˜‰ We want to be cool.

I think you definitely can go sub-3:50. Just remember that speed work is a process and it’s a slow process. You may have to chase that goal for a couple of years, but you can do it! Or at least I hope so b/c I’ve been chasing my goal for over 2 years now…I’m hoping all this training pays off!!
Ashley @ This Is The Place recently posted..Training Recap: 10/31-11/6

8 Jen November 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm

So is it safe to say that you aren’t trying to cut down on carbs and incorporate more protein like the nutritionist suggested?

Your breakfast was carb loaded as usual. You add chickpeas to your lunch for protein even though others have pointed out that they are pretty high in carbs and there are much better sources of lean protein.

It’s frustrating to see bloggers who have a following of people who undoubtedly look up to them and aim to emulate them set such a poor example. In your case the disappointment is both in your eating habits and how undertrained you were for your marathon.

I doubt you’ll publish this but I hope you at least read what I’m saying and don’t brush it off. Take some time to consider it when you go on your 100th vacation this year.

9 Meghann November 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Hi Jen!

Yes, chickpeas are a carb, but they are a source of protein too. When I met with the RD she took into consideration that I eat a high vegetarian diet. She suggested 1 cup of beans as a semi-equivalent vegetable source to 1 serving of animal protein. I’m not trying to eliminate carbs from my diet, I’m just trying to balance them out with protein. I have an active lifestyle and still need the carbs for energy. Yes, this morning’s breakfast was carb heavy, but hot multigrain cereal does have some protein to it and and I used whole milk to make it and added peanut butter. I’m not completely revamping my diet, just tweaking it here and there.

10 Debbie~ November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Just my 2 cents but I don’t think you should have to justify what you ate for breakfast or give a reason as to why you added chickpeas to your soup. You clearly aim for balance and healthiness in your diet.

11 Monica C. November 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm


You are very gracious to give “Jen” such a considerate and thorough answer.

Jen, I would suggest that if you are so “frustrated” with Meghann’s blog that you merely stop reading. That will also help with your vacation envy!

12 Jen November 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I brought up legitimate points and I appreciate the way that Meghann responded.

Monica, your white-knighting accomplishes nothing and I suggest you take your own advice and not read my comments if you don’t like them.

No one forces Meghann to publish her posts, or share her meals with the world. But she does, and I’m sure she understands that criticism comes with that.

13 Gia @ rungiarun November 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I love this post. I have been thinking along the same lines. I just had a PR in the NYCM 2011 that was 2 mins faster than my ideal PR time. I held myself back for portions of the race for fear that I was running too fast. Perhaps I had set my times too conservatively.
Gia @ rungiarun recently posted..Thankful Thursday – Hot Hot Nani

14 Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun November 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I think those things can be pretty accurate, but it probably takes a lot of work to make it actually happen. Actually, come to think of it, a time predictor I did for the half clocked me at 1:50 which was right where I finished. I laughed when I saw it. I’m still sort of in disbelief. I had forgotten about that! I could see you pulling a marathon in the 3:40 pace one day for sure!
Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun recently posted..The โ€œMe Timeโ€ Debate

15 Lara November 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Meghann, I still think those numbers are a little optimistic. The best predictor of a full marathon time is a half marathon, but the “marathon time predictor” calculators out there are all way too fast for most people. It usually requires running >70 miles/week to obtain the predicted marathon finish time. Only adding 16 seconds to a half marathon pace is really not enough, most people are closer to a minute/mile slower. Plus, if your half marathon pace is a 7:00 min mile, adding 16 seconds to that is a whole lot different than if your pace is a 10:00 min mile. As a general rule of thumb, double your half time and add 20 minutes. For you, that comes out to right about a 4:00 marathon ๐Ÿ™‚

16 janene November 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm

LOVE this!!! I recently took 21 minutes off my half marathon PR – in races that were only 3 weeks apart, and with relative ease. What this tells me is that I have been SORELY underestimating myself. I plan to fix that in 2012. I’d much rather aim high and “fail” than never push myself to new heights.
janene recently posted..Race Recap: Wellness in the Woods 10k!

17 Krissy November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Thanks for writing! I thought it was an interesting article and at least gives a starting off point for which direction I take my training in. It is exciting to think of the possibility if you train correctly. I know it may take several marathons and several years to get there….but it lays out some goals. You definitly have a 3:40 in you one day! Aim high ๐Ÿ™‚
Krissy recently posted..Very early goal setting

18 Jennifer November 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

In my opinion a lot of bloggers aim REALLY low with their running goals. I enjoy reading your blog because you are a decent runner and you are actually willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to improve. I also like to set ambitious goals so am going for a sub 4 finish at my first marathon next weekend (really excited!). If you’ve got a few months to train for your next one I don’t see why you couldn’t go for a big PR- something like 3hr45? Go for it!

PS Maddie is the cutest Jack Russell I’ve ever seen :).

19 Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife November 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I think you can do ANYthing you set your mind to. I really do. And I am a living example of that! I bet you could do a 3:40 marathon. I know I could…..if I did the training for it!

I ran a marathon in under 4 hours because I told myself I could do it–told myself that I WILL do it. Same with a half marathon–I ran it under 1:50.

It is truly a MIND game. Same with weight lifting!
Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife recently posted..Inside An Anorexicโ€™s Mind

20 Katie @ Healthy Heddleston November 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Just wanted to say that you look so cute and happy in that last photo ๐Ÿ™‚

21 Meg November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

I absolutely loved this post b/c I love the mental aspect of racing and more specifically, marathoning. I’m like you, I tend to sell myself short & set my goals too low, so I’m doing the same thing you are, working to step it up & *really* see what I can do! I bet we’ll surprise ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚
Meg recently posted..There is no finish line

22 Michelle @ Crazy*Running*Legs November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I can buy into this – especially with running being such a mental sport. I think I aimed low for my first marathon. I trained at a much more conservative speed than my half marathon speed. I’m kinda excited now that marathon training is over to focus on SPEED again! Or to at least run some 9 minute miles.

I definitely think you have it in you. You just have to redefine your comfort level!
Michelle @ Crazy*Running*Legs recently posted..Confession Wednesday: Marathon Edition

23 Cait's Plate November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm

That pumpkin beer bread looks INCREDIBLE!
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24 Ida November 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Such varying opinions in these comments! I think only you can truly know what a realistic goal marathon time is for you. I say aim high, train hard, do some shorter races along the way and come race day you’ll know what your body is capable of.

25 Shannon @ Mon Amour November 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I think it is much more realistic to base your marathon time off of your half marathon time. The 5K is just too short. I try to look at each distance as completely unrelated races so I don’t get caught up in what I should be able to do
Shannon @ Mon Amour recently posted..I Love the Smell of Chlorine

26 Jason November 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I’m in the same boat having much faster times in the 5k, 10k, and Half versus my marathon.
5k – 18:27 – Marathon Equiv – 2:59
10k – 38:43 – Marathon Equiv – 3:01
10m – 1:05:36 – Marathon Equiv – 3:03
13.1 – 1:27:19 – Marathon Equiv – 3:04

Ran a 3:14 Marathon – First one, but honestly never hit the wall so it was speed more than an endurance for sure. Want to run a sub-3:10, to BQ.

I know personally, I slowed down my training and went straight endurance versus worrying about speed.

Personally, I think if you can find the right mix of speed & endurance 3:40 is doable for you, but it requires just the right training. As the distance increases, the room for error goes down proportionally.

Of course, I forgot to mention that I suffered an achilles tear in between those times and the marathon so who knows.

27 Dori November 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I remember how fast your first marathon was off the bat. I absolutely think you can achieve your marathon goals, you’re a naturally strong runner. Now train hard!
Dori recently posted..Running, But Not Finishing, The ING NYC Marathon

28 bobbi November 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I think we need to do a marathon together in 2012 and bust your PR in the pants! I ll be your pacer ๐Ÿ™‚
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29 Alexa @ Simple Eats November 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm

This is such a great post! I’m nowhere near running a marathon, but I think it’s great in general to learn how to pace yourself and beat a goal you have in mind!
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30 Katie @ Livehalffull November 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I’ve been thinking the same thing! I ran a 5K this past weekend and pushed myself hard-which makes me reconsider my marathon goals. Simply put, I need to start pushing myself!

31 Tami November 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Yikes, some of the comments….

I am running a half marathon on Sunday (I think it’s my 13 half!!!) anyway my running friend called me to chat about the race and she told me she doesn’t think I push myself enough in a race, she thinks I am capable of running faster…so, I am going all out on Sunday and we’ll see where that brings me

32 Army Amy* November 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm

It’s cool that you ran the numbers! Now I want to try this with my own 5k, 10k, and half times.*
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33 Val November 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I a ran a 3:56 marathon last fall after training to run a sub-4 as well. Your post reminded me how good it feels to make and break goals and has inspired me to set the bar higher along with you for a marathon next spring. Thanks for the motivation! ๐Ÿ™‚

34 Ash Bear November 10, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I love this post. It’s inspirational, helpful, and makes me consider my next goal. ๐Ÿ™‚
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35 Lauren November 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm

oooh this is great post! I say you train for a 3:45 ish marathon and go for it! According to all of the calculations I would be able to run a 3:52…hmmm.

*cough* Colorado Marathon *cough* no peer pressure or anything ๐Ÿ˜‰
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36 Michelle November 10, 2011 at 10:31 pm

For some reason I thought you were training to BQ last year and then switched your goal to a sub 4 after you started training. My half times tell me I’m capable of 3:50-4:00 yet my pr is 4:24. Maybe I should actually follow a training plan instead of winging marathons
Michelle recently posted..Next Up? A Marathon Training Plan

37 Meghann November 11, 2011 at 11:50 am

I was! I thought I had wrote a line about attempting a high goal in the past and failing, but I must have cut it. Looking back my heart wasn’t in the training for a BQ. It was after I ran Chicago that I rededicated myself and put my heart into training for Palm Beach. It was then that I gave up and thought a 4:00 marathon was all I had in me. Now I’m thinking I still have more to give.

38 Courtney @ The Petite AthlEAT November 10, 2011 at 11:24 pm

I am SO in love with this article and this blog post. I am saving it to reference later – thank you! I recently ran a 1:48 half. It was hard a hell though. I have somewhere in a 23 minute fastest 5k time, and a 48 minute 10k. I have always been too scared to run a marathon, for fear that I won’t be able to do it in a decent time … But, I could, per this article, also break the 4 hour marker or do even better?! Well, I think it’s time for me to put my big girl panties on and find a marathon to train for!
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39 Meghann November 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

If you ran a 1:48 half, then I totally believe that you could break the 4 hour marker. It’s all about training, dedication, and believing you can do it. ๐Ÿ™‚

40 Alaina November 10, 2011 at 11:26 pm

What a great post! I’ve been thinking about signing up for another marathon because I know I have it in me to do better than 5:27…a LOT better. I’d love to see what my capabilities are!
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41 Kristen @ The Concrete Runner November 11, 2011 at 4:38 am

That’s interesting. My 5K PR is 19:58 but my marathon PR is nowhere close to that pace at 3:51. But I’m also built for a 5K or 10K, not a marathon. (guaranteed, my goal marathon time was 3:30 and I had a really rough race that day.)

I think you definitely have a 3:50 in you!
Kristen @ The Concrete Runner recently posted..wiaw + mackenna: 3 weeks

42 Lynda@ Hit The Road Jane November 11, 2011 at 10:13 am

Great post, I definitely think you should aim bigger. Our bodies are capable of amazing things and the only way to find out is to try. It’s like that saying “Aim for the heavens because if you fail you’ll still land among the stars.” I think you could hit 3:30 Meghann!
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43 Harry @ GoalsOnTrack November 11, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Great post. Like your method of breaking down into per mi calculations.
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44 Alyssa November 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Very interesting conversion formula! I am completely guilty of selling myself short. I recently wanted to start with the 4:15 pace group for the Baltimore Marathon (my PR was 4:17) – my friend laughed at me, and we both ended up running the race in 3:54! It was also hilly as hell, and I hadn’t tapered for it at all. I am hugely guilty of selling myself short. It’s hard to face that you can do much better than that “comfortable” pace, at least for me! You’ve had some strong race times, I think you can train for the 3:40!
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