Why you shouldn’t set a time-goal for your first marathon

Running your first marathon is a super exciting thing. You’ve put in months of training, suffered through too many early-morning wake-ups and have pushed your body and mind further than it has gone before. With race-day approaching fast, you feel ready, confident and strong to step up to the challenge of running 42.2km. But the question still remains… how long will it take you?

It can be very tempting to plug your recent training times into a race-pace calculator and see what the algorithm predicts as your future. These calculators ask you to give a recent race time, anywhere from 1 mile to a half-marathon, for which it returns you a number across any other distance you may wish to estimate. This can be a major confidence booster, but can also be wildly inaccurate. Firstly, it is incredibly difficult to predict a marathon time from a 5km result, because they are two wildly different types races. A half-marathon input has a higher chance of being accurate, but even at that distance phenomena like ‘the wall’ are unlikely to occur. Secondly, the algorithm can’t factor in how much you’ve trained, whether you’re feeling sick, picked up an injury etc.. In a marathon, those variables can drastically change your outcome.

Your first attempt at taking on the 26.2 miles is a unique experience, because you will set a personal best time no matter how long it takes you. You will never get this opportunity again, so it is pointless in trying to aim for a time-goal during the race. Doing so will only cause you stress or shift your focus from the enjoyment of running to calculating numbers and splits. Use the opportunity to savour the city you are running in, feel the excitement of the people supporting from the sidelines, and adapt your pace depending on how you feel on the day.

I met a lot of people in the lead-up to London Marathon who had picked an arbitrary time to aim for in the race. Some achieved it, but most didn’t. The marathon is a brutal distance and you simply do not know what will happen if you’ve never run one before. Instead of being completely happy and excited that they had achieved a major life goal, these runners posted that they were ‘disappointed’ because they hadn’t hit their goal time. This is not how you should feel after your first marathon.

If you feel like you need some sort of goal for the marathon, I would suggest a different approach. Instead of counting minutes and seconds, count high-fives and smiles. Judge the success of your run based on how happy you feel having completed it. From experience I can tell you that the more energy and happiness you put out into the world while running, the more spectators will return it two-fold in cheers. That will make you feel even happier, to the point where you will almost forget you are even running 42.2km.

You should only have one goal in your first marathon: to finish it and join the 1% of the population that can call themselves a marathoner. You’ve completed the journey already in all the training you have done: the race itself is just the finish line.

Forget the time, just go out there and enjoy!

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