Last week was an easy-ish week of training for me. Easy because my Sunday long run was only two hours and split over two sessions: an hour on the Squamish trails in the morning and another one in the afternoon. And I say -ish because my week did include an all-out 5km time trial on Tuesday with the Squamish Titans.
In preparing for this marathon, my key weekly speed session has been the Tuesday Run with the Squamish Titans, and in many weeks it's been my only one.
With five weeks to go until race day on May 1, my mind has been turning toward setting a race pace goal: it's crucial to pick the right pace. You certainly don't want to start a marathon too fast, but you don't want to underestimate the shape you're in either.
(The fewer marathons you've done, the more you should err on the side of caution. You'll reach the finish line sooner if your marathon starting pace is too easy, than if you begin too fast and hit the wall before you even get to 30km. Walking the remainder costs a lot of time, I can tell you from experience.)
In deciding on race pace, I take into account both facts and dreams. Facts include recent timed efforts such as the time-trials and races in the past few months.
Last week's 5km time-trial was my third this year and my times have been consistent (19:34, 19:39, and 19:30 most recently). There's one 5km effort left, on April 19, two days after the Vancouver Sun Run 10km, which I'm also registered to race. Both will be helpful in deciding my marathon race pace.
So far this year, my only race has been the First Half in mid-February which I finished in 89:46. That time puts me on track for a 3:08 marathon, according to Merv's Running Calculator, a tool I've found helpful in the past few years. That's a pace of 4:28 per km or 7:11 per mile.
Of course I consider my training, so far this year, and that of the past six months. I've been extremely committed to my long runs, having finished three 3-hour training runs, as well as those Tuesday interval sessions with the Titans.
On the flipside, I've been running four days per week, rather than the five days I did in previous years when I was still following a program from Australia's Pat Carroll.Two of those weekly five session were speed work, against my one weekly session this year.
Overall, I feel that I am in great shape, perhaps not the best shape ever but also not too far off it.
I also look at my marathon history. In the past five years I've run eight marathons: my slowest was 3:15 (Gold Coast Marathon in July 2007) and the fastest was 3:07:10 (Victoria Marathon in September 2008). I've run the Vancouver Marathon twice before, in 2008 and 2009 in 3:12 and 3:10 respectively.
The first time I ran the Vancouver Marathon, in May 2008, I was expecting to improve my then-PB of 3:08 (Canberra Marathon in April 2007). My training had gone very well, and I'd set PBs in both the 10km (39:51) and half marathon (88:13) in the months leading up to it.
However, I felt horrible at 25km and struggled the rest of the way. I was initially devastated with my 3:12 finish. The following year I came back, prepared again, but more cautious and ran 3:10, feeling a lot better at the finish line, both mentally and physically. I ran another 3:10 marathon five weeks later and did a 3:11 in my most recent marathon in Rotterdam in April 2010.
Based on all that, and particularly my most recent half marathon time, I think I can certainly aim to start at a pace that will put me on track for a course PB, i.e. a sub-3:10 finish time.
Another good indicator was last night's Tuesday session in which we ran Yasso 800s. For those not familiar with them, they're named after Bart Yasso who found an interesting correlation between the time it took to run two laps of the track (800 metres) and his marathon time. He found that the time it takes you in minutes to do 800m repeats often correlates with your marathon time in hours.
Our awesome Tuesday Run coach, Roger Shirt, suggested we group together based on our 5km times, and could do 6, 8 or 10 repeats, depending on our recent run experience and training. Our recovery time was the same as it took us to run the 800m. Even in the pouring rain, there were 15 of us and we all cheered each other on as we went through our own Yassos, which was very motivating.
Roger suggested I do 10 x 800-metre repeats. My goal was to run them at 3:10 or better. Tim, who also did 10, ran hot on my heels on the soggy dirt track. It's been a while, probably 2-1/2 years, since I last ran on a track and I loved the rhythm of churning out the laps.
My times were 3:10, 3:11, 3:05, 3:10, 3:06, 3:04, 3:04, 3:04, 3:02 and 2:54.
I felt awesome, and was stoked with my times. If Yasso is right, I might be aiming for a marathon PB, i.e. go faster than the 3:07:10 I ran in September 2008. A PB is always a (dream) goal, though not necessarily the one that will determine the pace I plan to start my race at. I'll wait until the Vancouver Sun Run and my final 5km time-trial to make a final decision on my starting pace.