A runner named Lindsey writes in with a very common question that has to do with predicting her pace in her first marathon. Figuring out where you’ll finish in that first race is a difficult question, because there are multiple factors at work that include both your physical capabilities and the training that you’ve done to prepare for the race. First, here’s her question:
“I am training for my first marathon and just ran my first 16-miler today. I was surprised though that it took me 3 hours! Is it reasonable to expect that I will be able to run a 4:20:00 marathon for my first time? Is there an average time for first marathons?? I run a 22:00 5K, and my only half-marathon time was 2:03, with a calf muscle pull, so I think I could have gone under 2:00 for it. Am I unreasonable to think that I can keep that pace for the marathon?”
For other readers, don’t get caught up in the the specific numbers, the fundamentals of this discussion that can be applied to all marathon runners. First let me debunk one common misperception: there is a strong belief held by many first time marathon runners that they can simply double their half-marathon time and come up with their goal marathon time (e.g. having run a 2:00:00 half-marathon, they can run a 4:00:00 full marathon). This is not the case for the reasons that I’ll explain below in answering Lindsey’s question, although her time goal is not quite that aggressive.
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