Marathon Goal Times… Is It Okay to Run Without Them?

When I tell people I’m training for a marathon, I usually get two types of responses — those from non-runners and those from runners.  Non-runners typically respond with, “wow!  Good for you.”  And sometimes they even throw in a “how far is it?” (I guess a lot of people don’t understand that a marathon is always the same distance?).  Runners, on the other hand, immediately want to know which race you’re running and, most importantly, how fast you hope to run.  Unfortunately for them, I don’t have an answer this year.

Last year, my marathon goals were to (a) finish and (b) break 4 hours — simple goals for the first go-around.  But this year, well… I don’t really have a set goal in mind.  Back in August, early in my training cycle, I told myself I’d set a goal time in October, once I had a better idea of where I was at running-wise.  October has come and is nearly gone, and I still have no real goal…

Obviously, I’d like to enjoy myself.  I’m biased, but I think the atmosphere of the New York Marathon is unparalleled.  Time-wise, I want to beat my best (and only) marathon time of 3:59.  But to be honest, I think that’s pretty attainable (knocking on wood as I type).  All of my long training runs have been 40 to 50 seconds per mile faster this year than last.  And I’ve logged significantly more miles this year.  It’s fairly safe to say I’ve got my sights set higher than that, but I still haven’t decided how high.

Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a “I don’t have a goal time, I just want to have fun!” sort of thing.  Do I want to run as fast as I can?  Of course.  I’m taking this race seriously, just without a goal time.  The truth is, I don’t really know how fast I can run a marathon right now. And to be honest, I think setting a goal time that I’m unsure of would only add stress.  I like running because it releases stress, not because I gain it.

A lot of runners might think it’s strange to embark on a second marathon without a goal time in mind, but in a way, I sort of feel like I’m about to run my second first marathon.  I’m not the same runner that I was 12 months ago.  I haven’t had any sidelining injuries (knocking on wood again).  I’m leaner this year (I swear, I’m still eating cookies).  It may not be true for all, but I know I run faster when I weigh less.  And my training has just gone so much smoother this time around, which has ultimately made me more confident as a runner.

So two weeks from today, as I’m surrounded by thousands of other runners (who’ll likely have a goal time in their mind) making my way through the streets of New York, I’m just going to run with my mom’s old running mantra, “the quicker you run, the quicker you’re done.”  Hopefully it’ll be quick and painless (<– wishful thinking!).  And when I finish, I hope I’m satisfied with my time.

If you’re a runner, do you always run races with a goal time in mind, or do you think it’s okay to run (seriously) without them?


10 thoughts on “Marathon Goal Times… Is It Okay to Run Without Them?”

  1. I think it’s perfectly fine not to have a goal time. If you are gunning for something specific (sub-4, BQ, etc.) then that’s great, but if you just want to finish to the best of your ability, you also won’t have any letdowns if you don’t meet a specific number.

    1. Very true – of course it would be great to do something like qualify for Boston, but there’s definitely not a number hanging around in my head!

  2. I know you can beat your 3:59. It sounds like you’re a lot faster and considering how quickly we ran some of that 12 miler during HLS, I’m sure you can do it. Stay positive, don’t got out too hard and enjoy the race!!

    1. Thanks Lauren! I’m definitely trying to keep all of my good training runs in mind this week – it can be easy to let negative thoughts creep in during taper!

  3. It’s so funny how people ask how long your marathon is. I’ve had the same experience.

    I just ran my first marathon about 2 wks. ago. I did not have a set time goal in mind either. I was loosely gunning for 4 hrs. but honestly wasn’t sure if that was realistic or not. I figured that if I was still capable of running at the end then it was a success. Turns out, it was a great day for a marathon and I feel like I ran a great race with a finish time of 4:05.

    Good luck on your race. Sounds like you are more than prepared. You’ll do great!

    1. I know, I just laugh on the inside when people ask how long a marathon is 🙂

      Congrats on your first marathon, that’s great! I agree, just making it through the thing is a success in itself. And a 4:05 gives you a solid goal for next time (break 4 hours!)

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