Tuesday, March 2, 2010

3:10 or bust for NYC Marathon

There I said it. Publicly.

As an added twist, within team Sports Bistro we're having a little friendly competition on who can run the fastest marathon in 2010. I can't predict whether I'll win this fun little game, but I can predict what a reasonable finish time for me is.

So you might be wondering how I came up with 3:10. During my experience as both a competitor and coach, I've come up with a number of ways to predict and validate run performances. I'm going to share some of these methods and assumptions with you and use myself as an example as I walk you through the steps. It requires some physiology background, but if you get the science behind it you can then use a similar set of steps to make your own prediction.

#1 Do the training appropriate for the distance and the goal time. Sorry no way out of this one. I can easily write myself a training program that gets me there. The hard part is finding the time to actually execute it! Big assumption -- but I think I can pull it off.

#2 Use a run race predictor to predict the result of a future race based on a previous one. You can find many of these online with some simple searching. The more similar the two races, the better the validity. I'm going to use my PR on a hilly 4 miler (26:46) which predicts a ~3:20 for me. Admittedly, a 4 miler is not close to marathon, but the underlying fitness potential is still there. I also very recently ran this 4 miler in a time of 29:19 at a comfortable (non-race) pace. Cutting 2.5 minutes would not have been hard if I went all out. 3:20 is a good starting point but it's not 3:10 so...

#3 Factor in some improvement from your starting point. (otherwise what's the point of training?) 10% is a good amount. My belief that an athlete should be able to improve by about 10% if he/she follows a well structured training plan for the course of ~26 weeks. This assumes that the athlete is not already near the limits of human performance or the absolute limits of his/her own ability... otherwise you might be lucky to get 0.5% better. One can estimate absolute performance ceilings through a VO2 max. A 3:10 (on a flat course) roughly equates to someone with a Vo2 max of 50 ml/min/kg. With a personal V02 max of 60+, I have enough headroom to know I'm not nearing those limits. Since my lactate threshold is also quite high, I have to assume that mechanical efficiency is my limiting factor. 3:10 is also well within 10% of the 3:20 predicted time (see above). It's actually only 5%.

#4 Cross check this goal time with your zones. I use Joe Friel's system predominantly. A 3:10 marathon (7:15 pace) is roughly mid-zone 3 effort. I can check my heart rate at goal pace and see if it lines up in the middle of zone 3. Today that ~7:15 pace I need is more of a zone 4 effort. Hopefully with some improvement I can drive it down to zone 3. I will need to continuously monitor the relationship between my paces and zones as training progresses and see if this goal is still realistic.

#5 Fuel efficiency? What percentage of your energy comes from carbs vs fat at any given intensity level. If you're a carb burner you're very likely to run out of fuel and bonk mid race even if you choose an appropriate zone/pace/intensity. This is a problem I know have -- I've been tested on the metabolic cart and can see how I switch to carb burning mode at even moderate intensity levels. While I could circumvent this problem on race day via carbo-loading the day before and taking sufficient gels and sports drink I probably wouldn't survive the training plan that gets me there; I'd be constantly tired and exhausted. This constant tiredness has absolutely plagued me in the past. I recently started following Bob Seebohar's nutrition periodization protocols in hopes of making myself more fuel-efficient. I will try to get myself retested on the metabolic cart and see how well it worked!

OK - that's A LOT of assumptions! But none of them are that far fetched. I'll post some regular updates and let you know how it's going.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck! That'd be a 20+ minute PR, so you've set a high bar. I hope to go sub 3:30, but that is a much more reasonable goal (maybe too easy?).

    Perhaps 3:10 seemed like a good goal because it's BQ? :)