by Mat Nark
Choosing the correct marathon to match your goals is a top priority. Setting the correct expectation is essential to the process of enjoying and excelling at the distance. It can be tricky and takes some consideration of a handful of variables. In running these days, more athletes are aspiring to run marathons, chase their Boston Qualifiers, and even attempt to knock off an Olympic Trials marathon standard. So, let’s decide on whether you’re running for fun, a personal best, (PB or PR) or both. One of the biggest obstacles that I see lies within the athlete’s selection process and choosing the optimal marathon to meet their goal. A lot can go wrong or right over the course of 26.2 miles for an athlete on race day. A much more enjoyable experience can be achieved by considering these factors before deciding on which event that you want to run.
1. YOUR MARATHON GOAL
What is your goal in the upcoming marathon season and event? Is your goal to run fast, compete, or to just have fun and take it easy? Although we don’t train athletes for a “completion goal” I know that they exist and are used by some potential marathoners. This type of goal makes the planning much simpler and can relieve a lot of stress in the planning process. With a more general “fun run” goal you will be able to choose almost any marathon of your choice. Big Sur, Red Rock Canyon, and Miami Marathon are all courses that you won’t run personal best times on but could be a lot of fun in nice parts of the country. If you’re looking to compete and achieve at a higher level, then more consideration will be needed in selecting the correct event. If you want to run fast you go to Chicago, CIM, or Berlin Marathons to name a few. There are obviously many other options out there, but these are some of our favorites for producing fast times with a great experience. So, as you can see it’s critical in deciding whether you are going shoot for an ambitious goal or just take it in stride.
2. TIME COMMITMENT
There are many factors associated with succeeding at the marathon but do you have the time? Do you have the flexibility in your schedule to give you a realistic shot at accomplishing your goal? It’s a long grind and the season requires many sacrifices in your personal, professional, and family lives. Early morning runs may be something to be considered and 2 - 4 hour blocks of training reserved for each weekend. Regular training volume for your past five and 10k’s will have to be increased and that extra rest day of the week may be missing at times. Compromises with friends and family will have to be considered to accommodate your new training challenges. One problem that we regularly encounter with inexperienced marathoners is that they are not efficient in the development of their program and have less than optimal training runs scheduled.. This wastes valuable personal and family time while being inefficient to the training process. Successful marathoners optimize their personal time while maximizing their training hours.
Do your marathon goals meet your personal or family budget? There will be essential travel needed for tune up races and the marathon itself. These expenses can add up during the training block and surrounding your peak event. Some work may be missed, equipment needed, and trips to the massage therapist can be a necessity to support your season. Once you’ve considered all of these variables, you’re ready to select the location of your peak race.
This one here is one of the most important variables to consider when selecting a marathon with a targeted time or new personal best attempt. It’s imperative that you select the appropriate climate in which to run your peak marathons. So many athletes make the mistake by choosing to run a marathon in a warmer weather location. There are a number of environmental variables that will directly affect your marathon time on race day. Temperature, humidity, dew point, wind, and precipitation are all factors to be considered on race day and need to be examined ahead of time. Your body will function more optimally and closer to your true capacity in certain conditions. Temperatures ranging from roughly forty degrees to the mid to high fifties, with lower humidity, and little wind will help to produce the best results. When the temperature is higher with increased humidity levels we tend to overheat and performance directly suffers. The longer the event and exposure to the elements the greater time that will be lost and suffering that will be experienced. It’s a fact that we have no control over the weather and on any given day surprises can happen. That being said, if you select an event in a city or environment that has a history of ideal weather conditions at that time you’re setting yourself up for success on race day.
5. HISTORY OF EVENT
Does the event of your choice have a proven history of results, a certified distance, and a reputable timing company (like ARE) running it? It’s essential that the course has been certified and has a proven record of acceptable results that meet your racing needs. Let’s keep in mind that you will be training for roughly four months and scheduling a marathon at a first year event could be a bit of a gamble. You want a tried and tested race where years of experience have been put to the test. I personally have made the mistake of signing up for a newer event and been less than pleased with the outcome on race day. After all of the time, training, and investment I can tell you that you don’t want to make this mistake. Do your research and select an event that meets the requirements listed above and succeed on race day.
When it comes to running fast or a new personal best time this is one of the most important factors in which to consider. To run fast times it’s essential that the course is favorable for this goal. Flat courses with limited amounts of turns will almost always produce more optimal results. Sure, we can run less than our best on any course on any given day. We don’t want to plan for failure but instead put ourselves in the best possible position for success on our big day. If you spend some time checking out the course map and elevation profile you will be able to get a solid grasp on the dynamics that the course has to offer. From a terrain perspective some great 2020 winter/spring full options that meet the fast terrain criteria are Chevron Houston, Shamrock, Queens, Coastal Delaware, Boston, New Jersey, Eugene, Ottawa, and Grandma’s marathon to name a few. All of these courses have limited elevation increases, flat, or substantial net down hills. These courses and others alike will put you in the best position for a fast time on race day and optimal marathon performance.
Hopefully after considering all of these variables you’re in a better position to make the correct marathon selection that meets your goals. This can really be one of the biggest decisions that you will make regarding the success of your first or next marathon journey. Make it as enjoyable and memorable as possible while you crush your marathon goals in 2020!
McMillan Certified Run Coach, Kettlebell Expert, and Strength Coach with Over 20,000 hours. of experience and results. At Nark Running and Strength you can expect nothing but the best! Get the RUNNING and STRENGTH RESULTS that you’ve always been looking for but haven’t achieved. Our proven formula for success has produced results for athletes in search of a wide range of goals. Get your OTQ, Boston Qualifier, Half PR, or conquer the four-hour marathon with us. Make 2020 the best running year of your life!
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