Do you really need a goal marathon time?

Do you really need a goal marathon time?

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All of last year I dreamt of my goal, and I visualized crossing the finish line, and breaking down in tears on seeing my time goal minus some seconds/minutes on the clock and fist pumping as unicorns and mermaids showered glitter on me and presented my medal and walked me along. (Surely I’m not the only runner who fantasizes!) 

None of that happened, except for the tears. 


My history of marathons have been as follows – 

Chicago Marathon 2011 – 6:16 (No experience, didn’t adjust for heat)
New Orleans 2012 – PR 5:45 (Ran by feel, just like the long training run but started slower at 13:30 and ended at 12:50 for perfect negative splits) 
Chicago Marathon 20125:58 (First attempt at sub 5:30 but Flu day, good training helped me maintain almost even splits unconsciously)
Little Rock Marathon 20136:56 (Back issues during training, never got over it)
Dopey Disney Marathon 20157:07 (Goal was to get a ton of character photos and I did)
London Marathon 20166:37 (I overestimated my training and hence legs didn’t run, GI distress)
Marine Corps Marathon 20175:56 (Avr 12:45 over first 10 miles, slowed down to 13:xx pushing through the next 12 miles and then fell apart literally)


So, out of the 7 marathons I’ve done, there has been 4 races where I’ve “raced” and 1 successful race. But even in those races that I didn’t care about time or when I decided to cut losses and just enjoy the experience (London Marathon), I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t frustrated over my time (yes, I know that finishing a marathon is an accomplishment in itself).

One thought I’ve had has been to throw that time goal out of the window, to just train and run. I KNOW I want to do more marathons (and some 70.3s). So does training with a goal in mind really matter?

So many factors

The marathon distance of 26.2 miles is very finicky. Even with all the training, the RIGHT kind of training, the day itself is influenced by so many variables like the weather, the course, your hydration, your fueling during the race and before, and after all that it just might not be your day for whatever reason. 

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Why I should not think of a specific time

I’ve heard many runners say that some of their best marathon times are produced when they run by feel, when you know how the distance should feel – easy, uncomfortable and then hard. Always asking the question, “does this feel like a pace I can maintain for another X miles left?” and adjusting accordingly.

I actually run really well by feel. Almost all my long runs are negative splits (except the 26.2 mile ones). 

New Orleans

Just like race day is a lot of variables, a training cycle is a lot of controllables. Training with no time goal will help me identify patterns that I can control.  

And really, if I trained right, will the goal time not take care of itself without me specifically targeting it?

But I don’t think I can …

When I say “throw out the time goal”, I mean not reference it at all. Not let it influence my training and going into a race with just thoughts of doing my best whether that best is sub 5:30 or 7:00. But can I be that honest with myself?  

I’m all about being goal oriented. Goals keep me focused and goals give me a point to look at. Without a goal time, will it be easy for me to slack off and do things half heartedly?

Chasing that time goal is what pushes me, what inspires me to wake up early and what inspires me to to be disciplined. It is so tantalizingly within reach and after chasing that for a while, not thinking of it leaves a void that I am not brave enough to face.

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It shouldn’t be this hard and I am certainly overthinking it. It just tells me that even though I thought I was over my Marine Corps Marathon performance, I really am not over it. 

Do you train for a race with a particular time in mind? Or do you train and run the best you can that day? How does either strategy influence your training?


These are some of the weekly linkups hosted by great bloggers. Check out some of the posts in the linkups.

Meatless Monday – Confessions of a Mother Runner and A Whisk and Two Wands
Tunes Tuesday (first Tuesday of the month) – KookyRunnerRun With No Regrets and RunSteffRun
Tuesdays on the Run –No Guilt LifeMCM Mama RunsMarcia’s Healthy Slice
Running Coaches Corner – Running on HappySuz LyfeCrazy Running Girl and Coach Debbie Runs
Friday Five 2.0 –Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness
Weekly Wrap up – HoHoRuns  and Taking the Long Way Home

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  • All good questions! I guess my answer would be it depends. In general, I am not the best racer. Nerves race day jitters I don’t know I tend to do better on training runs and rides. Go figure! I think you have to go with what is in your heart

  • You have hit on so many things I wrestle with myself. I do not consider myself a racer, but I do enjoy a PR now and then (usually by accident…when I’m not desperately trying for one, but simply enjoying the magic of running for its own reward). I want to do more marathons, too, but I feel like I always have that “finish time” hanging over my head, no matter how much I try to ignore it.

  • My goal would be to finish! !

  • I like to train with a time goal in mind so that every training run I have has a purpose whether it’s to improve my endurance, lactate threshold or VO2 max – knowing my ultimate goal sets mini goals within those workouts. But I also have set a goal in the past to just have fun without worries about time!

  • I had no time goal in mind whatsoever when I ran my first marathon. In the years I was gunning for a BQ, every workout I did had a goal pace. In the years post BQ I simply did my best with training and racing. I’ve always been content with whatever my finish time was UNTIL last year in Berlin when I ran a 5:01. Going over 5 hours, even though I was coming off of being injured and stopped like crazy for pictures, etc., bruised my ego. I did run by feel and really had fun on the Berlin course but I runfess that one minute bugs me. Haha!

  • If I were training for a marathon, I think I’d need a goal range. Having a specific goal for any race is tough because you never know how crowded the course will be, etc.

  • Kathryn Thayer

    I usually have a specific goal in mind when I race, but I often set A, B, and C goals for myself. I find it difficult to just run based on feel, because that often leads to me slowing my pace way down.

  • This is a great post! I have done both, but I find that I do not enjoy getting wrapped up in my time. Now, I just train to finish and I enjoy running long distances so much more!!

  • You are so right about the beast of distance 26.2 is…no matter how much your train race day can hold unforeseen challenges! Finishing is a win when you are talking race that long but I totally get having a time that will make you feel accomplished. I had to go back and run a second for that reason. I say run off feel and you will get that goal time, the more experience you have the more prepared you are for that break through moment 🙂

  • I’m like you. Even if I want to run by feel or say I don’t have a time goal, I let myself get easily discouraged by how fast I’m not running!

  • Jennifer Pug Pug

    When I ran my marathon, I felt nothing at the finish. I don’t know why, but there was just no triumph, no victory, no sense of accomplishment. It was kind of a let down. 🙁

    I think there should be a goal, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a time goal. I honestly have no desire to take on 26.2 again in the near future, but if I do, I’m fine just seeing where the race takes me. Too many things can happen on race day for me to add the pressure of time goals.

  • Katie Shepherd

    I’ve been training for my second marathon with plans on just to finish. I have no goal time in mind. My one and only marathon time is 5:49:45. I think since Shamrock is a flat course compared to Nashville I might beat my time, but you just never know! The marathon is a beast!

  • I have an ‘I wonder if I can’ time but it’s not a goal and I’m not disappointed if I don’t reach it as long as I’ve stuck to whatever my plan was and given it my all. You’re so right – the marathon is it’s own beast and can throw up so many unexpected blocks. I’ve only run one but developed blisters which I hadn’t had on any long training runs which changed the plan for the considerably. But I finished and that’s ultimately what I hope for.

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