Posted by: Joe English | February 4, 2008

Question: What will Lance Armstrong run in the Boston Marathon?

A reader named Ken writes in the following comment after reading about Lance Armstrong running in the upcoming Boston Marathon:

Lance made a sizable improvement on his time on his second NYC marathon. Does any one know how typical such an improvement is for a sub-3 runner? Any predictions about what his finish time will be at Boston?

Lance Armstrong
Lance after the NYC Marathon last Fall

Those are really interesting questions Ken. Let me take a stab at them.

First, it would be hard to say what a typical sub-3:00 marathon would show for improvement. It really depends if the person is on a track toward improving or has already plateaued in their development. If someone has been racing awhile, then the gains might be slight (in the range of seconds to a few minutes). However, with new runners, it is not unusual to see improvements in the range of 30 seconds to 1 minute per mile or more in their second marathon — which comes as their training gels together and they begin to build a more substantial base.

In Lance’s case, we see something more typical of a new marathon runner in race #2 – he had a big improvement the second time out. His pace increased by about 30 seconds per mile. This most likely came from better training and the experience and base coming from the first race.

We do know something else about Lance’s first race: he said that his longest run was something on the order of 15 miles prior to that first race. This means that he didn’t have a great training base going into that first one. The second race was probably more indicative his true capability.

What will happen at Boston? A lot of that depends on Lance and his training. If he gets good, high quality, training then maybe we’ll see something on the same order as New York. The course in Boston is quite tough, but everything really depends on what type of training he does to prepare. Boston’s course is not so tough that it would throw the typical marathon runner’s time way out of whack, especially if the runner does an adequate amount of hill training to prepare for the up and down nature of the course. Of course, it also possible to see him do a really focused, high quality, training program and knock more time off his PR — or the opposite could be true as well (a lack of good training leading to a horrible race). And then there are the many other factors that can impact any runner in a race: weather, health, nutrition, etc.

I’d love to predict his time for you, but there are so many variables that come into play that it would be hard to make such a prediction. The most important element will be his training program and his goals for the race. But in any case, we’ll all find out next April on race day.

Thanks for the great questions Ken!

Coach Joe



  1. I agree that it is most difficult to predict marathon times. The best predictors are Lance and his coach because they know what he has done to prepare for this race. As for general improvements, I’ll add that the variability in improvement in times has far more to do with consistency of training, amount of speed work (yup speed work!) and solid long runs. Certainly, the faster you run, the less seconds per mile you will be cutting off. It just gets pretty tough at the top end speeds to continue improvement without some very specific training adjustments.
    Coach Dean

  2. I did a comparison on my blog on the repeat sub-3:00 runners in the NYC 2006 and 2007 marathons. I was surprised to see that very few took more than 10 minutes off their times.

  3. He’ll run just about whatever he wants to run. the man is a machine. He will eventually win some lower caliber marathons if he keeps it up.

  4. […] answer clears up some speculation that surfaced amond runners about what the cycling great might try to run on Monday. His qualifying time came at the 2007 New York City Marathon, where he ran a 2:46:43 on […]

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