Setting A Realistic Race Goal

Although I have a hard time setting specific goal times for my races, I usually end up picking some number to chase after as I run the course. Sometimes the number is a nice round number that sounds good, like the 2:00 goal my friend set for us for the Rock’N”Roll USA Half Marathon. Sometimes the number is based the pace I think I can keep, like the 1:25 goal I had for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. But there are several reasons why it can be difficult to meet a goal based on your estimated race pace.

Setting A Race Goal
1. A crowded start. If I get caught up with a group of faster runners, my first mile may be really fast. On the other hand, if it is a crowded race or a narrow course, I may spend much of the first mile trying to break away from the pack and find my groove. It’s hard to factor this in ahead of time unless you are familiar with the race, but lining up towards the front of your pace group and near the outside can help minimize the impact of a crowded start.

2. Water stations. Obviously if you decide to walk through water stations, that is going to impact your finish time, but even if you grab a cup as you run through, you are likely to slow down at least a little bit. Even if you skip the water entirely (or carry your own like I do), you may be slowed down by runners cutting in front of you to grab a cup or even stopping altogether!

3. Inaccurate GPS. No matter how much money you spent on your GPS watch, it won’t provide an exact measure of your pace. Its accuracy is limited by how frequently it collects data and by the number, location and configuruation of the satellites that are within range.

4. Shortest Possible Route course measurement. Certified courses are measured by the “shortest possible route,” which is nearly impossible to run.  As explained on the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run Facebook page, the SPR follows “a line that cuts all the tangents just one foot from the curb or road edge.”  Again according to the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run Facebook page, most runners will run a course about 1% longer than the official SPR distance. This also explains why the average pace reading on your GPS watch will be faster than your average pace statistics from the race information–your watch will be dividing your total time of the distance it measured, while the race organizers will divide your chip time by the official course distance.


(My Garmin after the Zooma Annapolis Half Marathon)

There are a few other things to keep in mind when setting a race goal.

  1. The course. Is the course hilly? flat? lots of twists and turns? All of these can impact your finish time.
  2. The weather. Will it be hot? cold? raining? windy? I find that the weather has a tremendous impact on my pace. The perfect running weather for me is in the 50s and overcast. When even morning temperatures are in the 70s, I stick to shorter races and look for ones that start early.
  3. The company. Are you running with a friend? Will s/he push your pace or hold you back? Do you plan to stay together no matter what?

The most important thing to remember when setting a race goal is that it is your goal. If a friend is chasing a PR and you just want to enjoy the course, your goal is just as vaild as theirs. If your running the race as a training run or practice for a “more important” race, you shouldn’t feel pressured to target a “race” pace instead of a “training” pace. If you’ve trained hard for a PR, go ahead and be agressive when you set your goal–you just may surprise yourself! 🙂

How do you set a race goal?

Do you always try for a PR?

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4 Responses to Setting A Realistic Race Goal

  1. David H. says:

    Set a goal. Go for it. All these other things are more mental than anything else and can easily break you.

  2. Miz says:

    not in racing but in everysingleotherelsething 🙂

  3. totheacademy says:

    Love this post! My husband actually ran the GW 10 miler with me but we decided early on that we were each gonna do our own thing – different pace, different strategies. I think it allowed us to enjoy the race in our own ways.

  4. Pingback: Choosing Between Quality And Quantity - Got2Run4Me

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