I drive a lot. I live a long ways from work and as a consequence I drive on average 11 hours or more per week. I stay sane by listening to audiobooks and podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is the highly entertaining and informative Runner’s World Show. It’s sister-podcast, The Human Race, is also very good. I am always happy when I see a new episode drop in my feed.
A few weeks ago, they put out a call for questions for their panel. It was a couple weeks after my less than stellar showing at the New York Marathon, and I was thinking hard about qualifying for Boston. Much of what was on my mind was how my progress was starting to get a little shaky. Could I ever hope to qualify?
Fast forward to today, and there was a new episode of The Runner’s World Show in my podcast feed, with the round table panel consisting of host and Runner’s World Editor in Chief David Willey, Executive Editor Tish Hamilton, Training Director Budd Coates, and Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso. I was enjoying the show on my ride home from work when this came out of my car’s speakers:
David: Another very common goal, and a question from James Lee. He says, “I want to BQ.” BQ, of course, stands for Boston Qualifier. “I’m 45, started running in 2013, and have already taken 45 minutes off my marathon time.” Wow! “I have a 4:16:20 PR, and to BQ I need to run under 3:25. Is this a realistic goal?” And then lastly, and actually I want to start with this broader question and then we’ll circle back to whether that BQ is realistic for James, “How do I set realistic goals?” Which is such a good question and definitely worth some thought at the beginning of the year, and worth some wisdom here from you guys. Budd, what do you think? What’s the best way to set realistic goals for yourself?
Budd: Well I think the easiest way is to take into consideration some of your shorter races, whether it’s a 5K or a 10K. We have a great calculator at Runner’s World that, once you input your times for a 5K or a 10K, it gives you an idea of what you’re capable of running for the half marathon or the marathon. So it gives you a realistic idea of where your present fitness is right now and what you could legitimately train for in the next three to four months. In James’s case, I’d say he needs to take a step, at least one step in between where he’s at right now and a BQ, because that’s a 50 minute PR. The fact that James has improved 45 minutes, that’s phenomenal, that’s almost two minutes a mile and wouldn’t we all like that? But it’s a bit unrealistic to think that it’s just going to continue that way. It’s not a straight line graph, so maybe look at breaking four hours the next time, or maybe 3:50, and then understanding the work it took to do that, and then move on.
David: Would it be maybe better to think on a longer horizon than just the year for somebody who wants to take another 50 minutes off their marathon PR? Maybe think about, even if you don’t BQ in 2017, you know, you worked toward it. Maybe you get it the year after?
Budd: Yeah. To take almost an hour off your time is going to be very difficult. So long term thinking is really the way to go.
David: Ok, and that race calculator is a great tool . We recently revamped it, it’s on our website. And James, if you’re listening, you can plug in your most recent 5K or 10K and that will give you some indication of what a realistic time in the marathon might be, you know, this year, for you. What about non-race specific goals, Bart? What about more general goals? What’s the best way to think about something that’s realistic?
Bart: Yeah, well I agree with what Budd said. You have to prove to yourself what you’re capable of doing by running shorter races, and then it becomes realistic. I’m sure our calculator will say that James has to run a half about 1:30. I would say, first off, the BQ is 3:25, it’s actually like 3:21, 22 to actually make it into Boston.
David: Right, there’s BQ’ing, and there’s actually getting a bib. Two different things.
Bart: Yeah. So when I looked at James’ question, I thought, okay, he’s gotta be comfortably running about a 1:33 half marathon; that will prove to him that his goal is realistic, and then you go out and accomplish that. But You gotta prove it to yourself, if you don’t prove it to yourself… you know you can stare at calculators and all these things, but you have to prove it.
Most runners, I find, they do, they accomplish a lot more than they think possible, so you have to think big, think that you can do these things, but then go out and prove to yourself that you can do it. And You know, there’s no short cuts in running. It’s the amount of miles you put in, the time on your feet. But You have to do it properly so you don’t run into injuries. You can’t just pile on the miles and try to go for these times. I think Budd made a great suggestion; James breaks four hours, take those little strides first which make long strides long term.
Think long term, I mean, that’s the key. Is he trying to BQ right now, or a year, year and a half from now?
David: Incremental progress.
So that was fun to hear! If I had been in the room with them, I would have clarified that wanting to BQ doesn’t mean I want to do it in 2017. I’m totally down with the intermittent step, and getting under 3:50 would be a huge step, exactly one minute per mile faster than I can run a marathon today.
I’ve participated in a few shorter-than-marathon races the last few months, but only really raced at the Jingle Bell Half. The race calculator asks for how many miles per week I will train leading up to the race, and I can’t say with certainty what that will be… Coach Braz will be in charge of that, but if I put in a number that represents a modest increase in mileage (for example, 43 miles a week), I get the following prediction: 3:49:54.
Which is another way of saying that this statistical model suggests that if I’m willing to commit to just over 40 miles a week of running, based on my most recent half marathon time, I should be able to break 3:50 in Berlin. As a certified industrial statistician, I need to channel my statistics professor now. “All models are wrong, but some models are useful.” I know from past experience that race time models tend to break down on me when we get to marathon distances, but that may be because I haven’t done the right kind of training to optimize my marathon performance. Also, this new race calculator at Runner’s World is a lot more sophisticated than the old style “input one race time and see what you get” kind of thing.
Also, I now have Coach Braz on the team, so I don’t have to worry about preparing properly. It’s his job to teach me how to train more effectively, and he’s writing my weekly training plan anyways. I’ve been pretty regimented about following his plan to the letter; it will be very interesting to see how the next nine months go. Stay tuned – I’ll be sharing more stories as I go! But for now, he’s scheduled a three mile warm-up followed by four miles at 8:10 to 8:20 per mile. Time to go for a run!