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Marathon Goal Setting

It is a race week. I can't believe it. I am so ready and also I am a little bit terrified, if I'm being honest. Until basically peak training, I had such a good training cycle. Everything has felt so good. Then peak training came with a small cold for my kid and I've now had a cough for about a month that I can't shake. I went to the doctor on Wednesday, so about 11 days out from the race and was diagnosed with bacterial bronchitis. She put me on antibiotics a couple days ago. As of the writing of this it'll come out on Thursday, but I'm writing this on Friday, so I've taken two doses of antibiotics and it's still not completely gone yet. So I am just rolling with it and hoping that, you know, by the time I'm done I will give myself a little bit more rest, that I am going to race really well after a crazy strong taper, with maybe one speed workout in the last 2 weeks before the race.

But I had planned to talk about marathon goal setting and my philosophy behind setting and chasing and achieving race goals, so let’s do it!

Learn more about marathon goal setting and my philosophy behind setting and chasing and achieving race goals.

Marathon Goal Setting: How to Set Race Goals

When it comes to setting race goals, I always tell my athletes to not just set time-based race goals. I recommend setting three or four goals where one or two are pace goals and the rest are process or feeling based goals, things that you have control over regardless of the weather, your stomach, travel, sleep all the rest of the elements that contribute to a time goal. I like to think about it as an ABCD if you want that fourth one where maybe your A goal is a time or pace related goal but the rest of them aren't.

ABC Goals in Running

I like to recommend the ABC goals because a lot of times we'll be in a race and maybe we'll be halfway through the race or a quarter into the race and it's just not our day or the weather is not getting along with us, whatever the case may be and we realize we're not going to hit our goal and then we give up. We just throw in the can and really go, “I guess I'm just going to phone it in from here on out.” Having a B goal and a C goal and maybe even a D goal depending on the day really helps you to still push, to still have something to focus on, and to not feel like you failed (not that I believe there is failure in running but it's really easy to get go negative. That's where our brain is automatically going to go. We're wired for survival to automatically go to a negative place). Having an additional goal after you realize you might not hit that A Goal to focus on is really powerful. It is a really good strategy to bring you back to a more positive place. You can tell yourself, “it's okay that I'm not going to hit that pace that I wanted for these miles because I also wanted to do this other thing and now I'm going to focus on that.”

Quick break for a pic because the sunrise was unreal
Quick break for a pic because the sunrise was unreal

When I was running my 22 Mile training run this couple weeks ago, I had a big chunk I was supposed to do at around goal pace. I had a two mile warm up, 18 mi a little bit slower than race pace and a 2-mile cool down. I was in the thick of some nasty congestion, still had the cough but I felt fine. So I went out for my run anyway. After about 6 miles, I realized that I was not going to be able to hold those race pace miles. Instead of just deciding to phone it in all easy, I said, “okay I'm going to practice negative splitting. I never negative split on long runs so that's going to be my intentional way to finish this run.” I took a really easy for 22 miles and then I picked it up just a little bit for the second half and I did I negative split by almost 4 minutes, which felt really powerful and a really good way to end my final long run. Even though I couldn't do the workout that was prescribed, I still did this other thing that made me feel really prepared for race day. Having that B goal can be really helpful, then even a C goal after that.

Is it OK not to have a running goal?

Sometimes runners come to me and they tell me they don't have a goal for a race. I always like to push a little bit when I get that feedback because even if you are just showing up to a race there's something there you have in mind that you want to do, even if it's just to show up and do the run. Then your goal is to run 6 miles. Maybe you want to have fun! So many people get so stressed out once the race environment happens and they forget that it's the goal is to have fun.

At the end of the day most of us are not doing this because we're going to sit on the podium, because we're going to earn money, because someone sponsoring us to do it, so figuring out how to race and have fun is a goal. That's something you need to learn how to do, that you actually need to focus on.

I also think goals can be really important when races are not short, when we get in our heads about the races, having a goal can be helpful. It can be helpful to have something to focus on outside of the pain in your lungs or the pain in your legs or how you wish it was over. The goal can give you that thing that will mentally get you over that tough part of the race.

My Race Goals for the Chicago Marathon

My A goal for the race is going to be a 26 minute PR (personal record, or fastest time I’ve ever run a marathon). My A goal is a sub 4:10 marathon. If I'm being perfectly honest, I would like to go a little bit faster than that, but I also know that the last couple big runs of my training cycle, I didn't get to do the pace work that I should have done. I did do some of the work effort wise, but with a cold so there was some coughing and some other stuff going on. I didn't get to practice those long blocks at goal pace. Given that I am adjusting my goal a little bit. I am also going to see how the race shakes out, especially that last 10K, and see how I feel. At this point a 6 mile run is not nothing, but it's also not a big challenge right? So that is my A goal, the big time-based goal.

My B goal is to have a race where all the things that I have practiced and have control over are executed on race day. In all of my four other marathons, something has gone wrong. Whether it's I've messed up the fueling, I changed something just a little bit from practice, and it didn't go well on race day, or I hadn't trained enough, I was under trained, or I wasn't in the right headspace. So just making sure that all the pieces I have control over, I put into the race day plan.

Throwback from the 2017 Chicago Marathon Expo.
Throwback from the 2017 Chicago Marathon Expo. So excited to bring the girls this year!

My C goal- this is my final one - is to soak it all in cuz it's a freaking world major marathon. It's the Chicago marathon! I remember just thinking it was so much fun the last time and I don't want to lose that. I want to finish and still think that even though it was hard, it was so freaking fun. Last time I ended up with the flu the day after I ran the Chicago marathon and even then I could look back, feeling miserable, and think that the first 8 to 10 miles were just freaking fun. I want to do that again. I want to keep the fun. Some of the things that I'm going to be doing to keep the fun are:

  • all those mantras that I talk about all the time. I will have two. I have not decided on what they are that I write on my forearms again.

  • I will also just be making sure that I'm really intentional about my time. I have already RSVP’d to some events and not to some others with Every Mother Counts, with some of my Brooks Run Happy Team people, with the ShakeOut run that I'm hosting, and that's kind of it. I'm not going to do a lot beyond that because I just want to sit in the moment. Friday we get in around 1:00 and our only plan on Friday is to go to the Expo. I just want to bring my girls to the Expo and let them soak it in in the biggest building that they've ever been in in their short little lives. I'm really intentional about planning that kind of stuff because I really want that for the weekend

All right that's that's it that's all! I am really excited and a little bit nervous and trying to remind myself that those things just mean I care and that that's a good thing. Mostly I just really want to go and have a good race and have fun.

If you are going to be in Chicago I would love to see you! Let me know–you can comment here or shoot me an email. You are more than welcome to come to my ShakeOut run I am hosting (RSVP HERE). I will have some goodies for you (even if you’re not running but are in the area, come!)

I'll keep you updated after the race. You can follow my Instagram for more immediate results otherwise I probably won't update the blog until the week of the 16th just to give myself some time to process and recover.

Thank you so much for your support. It means so much I feel very honored and lucky.

Oh and I am running on behalf of the Every Mother Counts Organization. It is a non-profit dedicated to helping change motherhood because for whatever reason it is more dangerous for us to have a baby today in the United States than it was for our mothers. Every mother counts as trying to change that. I am fundraising for them so you can donate here. I would appreciate anything, even $5 is super helpful in helping them reach their goal of making it more safe to be a mom, thank you!

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