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2011 Chicago Marathon: What Is Your Race Game Plan?

Having a game plan going into a marathon can not only help you reach your goal, but it can also help you pass the miles by keeping you focused.

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 10:  Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya raises his arms in victory as he wins the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:06:24 on October 10, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim Prisching/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - OCTOBER 10: Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya raises his arms in victory as he wins the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:06:24 on October 10, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim Prisching/Getty Images)
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When I decided to run a marathon, I had completed 18 half marathons (PR of 1:45:14) and decided that it was time to take the next step.  I had no expectations for my first half marathon (other than to finish), but for my first marathon, I really wanted to break four hours.  So I set out on my training to do just that.  I made it though my three 20 mile training runs along with all of the other runs, and then the tapering began.  I did these runs at a comfortable pace, not too fast, but not too slow, and after a week or two, I decided I needed to come up with a game plan for the race itself.   How was I going to run the race in order to reach my goal?


It was at this point I reached out to a friend, Ellen, who had some marathon experience along with coaching cross country on the collegiate level.  I wanted to run a couple of ideas I had past her.  I knew that in order to break four hours I needed to run a 9:09 pace, I also knew that I had been running the past couple of weeks at an 8:30 pace (albeit shorter distances).  We decided that the plan would be to try to run the 8:30 pace as long as I could, build a cushion knowing I would slow down as the race went along.   I think Ellen was ok with this plan, but this is where she gave me the best advice; it’s good to have a plan going into the race but know that there may be things (temperature, wind, rain) that are out of your control that can effect that plan and you have to be able to adjust.  I will come back to this point later.


As you get closer to race day, start to think about how you want to run the race, your race.  Do you have a time goal? How are you going to get there?  What kind of runner are you?  Do your mile splits vary or are they consistent?  Is there a big hill that you will need to be prepared for?  What have your training runs been like?  Running a race is no different than any other sport; you have to have a game plan going into the race.  How are you going to run the race to reach your goal, whatever that may be (finish, PR, place, etc)?  Unfortunately there is no easy answer here, each runner is different and while runners may finish with the same time, often how they got there will be different.  What will your way be? 


Personally, I like having a plan going into a race, and would recommend it to anyone.  I like the fact that it gives me something to concentrate on rather then the mile markers.  It makes the race shorter for me and keeps me focused on the task at hand.  I also find that it adds a little confidence as you are going into it with a plan and not just running. 


The day of the Green Bay Marathon was interesting to say the least.  The temperature was perfect, maybe mid 40s, but it was windy, very windy.  Well, I went out, sticking to my plan, I was running an 8:36 pace for the first 15 miles, and then came the bridge over the Fox River by St Norbert College, and the turn north for six miles up the Fox River Trail.  I was actually looking forward to this part because it would be fairly scenic, and flat, however, this day it was also into a 25-40 mph wind!  Talk about hitting a literal wall, not to mention the mental/physical one.  This is where Ellen’s advice really kicked in.  Knowing that there may be things about the race that I cannot control, I knew I had to accept it and keep going.  Those six miles were awful; there was a lot of self doubt, some walking, and a lot of “why am I doing this”.  But I pushed through.  I was feeling a little defeated and was walking through a water station about mile 23 talking with a fellow runner, when a buddy of mine who ran the half that day said “Brian, its time to run, not make friends!”  That comment made me laugh, brought me back, so I picked up the pace.  At this point I knew there was a Parrothead (Jimmy Buffet Theme) water station (FINS UP!) coming up and then the loop around Lambeau Field and then the finish, which I could taste at this point.  I made it the rest of the way without walking and I was able to finish strong.

In the end, having a game plan for the race will keep you focused on your goal, and help to achieve it, no matter what that goal may be.  Much like in other sports, be ready and able to adjust your plan on the fly due to changing race conditions.  Most of all, enjoy the race, after all of the training miles, you have 26.2 miles to enjoy the fruits of all your hard work.


If you were wondering, I finished in 4:16:55.  I did not reach my goal, but I finished a marathon and no one can take that away from me!