All marathons are not made equal.
Each race has a distinct set of unique challenges that heavily impact a runner’s (or fat guy’s) expectations.
Some variables include race length, elevation change and grade, length of climbs/downhills, weather (heat, cold, rain, snow, etc.), surface type, and other technical aspects of the trail. A smart race plan takes these into consideration when planning out what parts of the course to hit hard, when to back off, and what time splits to shoot for on race day.
Why pay attention to a race plan and split times? So you don’t end up flat on your back a mile from the finish line (see Post #6 for more on this).
My 2017 Grandfather Mountain Marathon Race Plan (edited 7/7)
Training plays a major role in determining a realistic race plan. Coming into this race, my training has dipped in the last month due to a Europe trip and traveling complications. I got in a number of hilly long runs, but I am likely slightly undertrained for this specific course. After all, it is billed as one of “America’s Toughest Marathons.”
For an “uphill” marathon, this course starts off with a tantalizing downhill stretch to the lowest point of the course (3160 ft.). The overarching strategy for mountain races is to manage the pace on the uphills and crush the downhills. But this early in the race, I need to control myself to conserve energy for the climbs ahead, including a long 600 ft. climb immediately following the downhill section.
Target Split Pace: 8:00/mile
This section has the first long sustained climb followed by a couple smaller drops and rises. This will be the litmus test for the rest of the race. If my legs feel strong after the first climb, it should be a good day.
Target Split Pace: 10:30/mile
The last downhill. A 400 ft. drop over three miles. This will be the time to push the pace if I’m feeling strong.
Target Split Pace: 7:45/mile
The death climb. The largest climb of the day will eat up a good chunk of mileage just over the halfway mark. Slow and steady up this hill to save some energy for the finishing kick
Target Split Pace: 11:00/mile
This finishing section is relatively flat with some uphill at the end to the finish line. At this point, my legs will either be shot, and I will be hanging on til the tape, or they will have some life and I can clip off some decent mileage through the flat ground and hustle up the slope til the end.
Target Split Pace: 9:15/mile
Total target time: 4 hours, 20 minutes