Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Kielder Marathon : Predicting/Estimating Finish Time, Part 1

With just 5 days to go till the Kielder Marathon my preparation has turned to working out what time I time might be capable of given my current fitness, this time in will give me an idea of what pace I should be expecting to run at. The pace to run at isn't just important for the day, but also when practicing running at that pace during the last runs during taper.  With this post I hope to illuminate a little of how I've gone about working out a target time and how to practice it in the run up to big day on Sunday 7th October.

Avoiding past mistakes

One of my motivations in being so thorough with preparation such as trying to get a good handle on what pace to target is down to wanting to avoid the experience I had last year at Kielder Marathon.  My 2011 performance was rather an epic fail, I finished in 3 hours 55 minutes, part in due to having a severe lack of running training due to an Achilles injury that I had a few months before, and partly down to a going out way too fast - my splits were 1:39 and 2:16.  I felt great in the first half and did actually try to hold myself back, but by mile 16 my lack of running in training showed itself in my running out of energy and my hips, quads, knees and calves hell bent on self destruction.

Clearly I don't want to repeat this miserable experience, the first part has been putting in the required training - I was only able to run 44 miles in September last year, this year despite my knee and plantar fascii injuries have put away 138 miles, and the months of before have also all been much better so I have a much stronger base. Sure it would have been nice to not have injuries and put away more long and tempo runs but I am in much better place than last year.

The other aspect of avoiding the mistakes of last year is to be realistic about what pace I'm capable of and actually getting out and practicing it on similar terrain to what I'll be running on during the Kielder Marathon.

Kielder Marathon specifics

The Kielder Marathon is rather unusual for a marathon - it's hilly trail marathon so the pace one will run will fluctuate, for myself I'll be expecting to be running between 10min/miles uphill and 7min/mile or under on the downhills.  Not only does such a hilly marathon present it's own problems with taxing the body but it also makes judging average pace very difficult, so rather than just practice race pace my plan has been practice the feeling of the intensity that relates to the average pace, using my breathing, HR and the feeling of leg turn over as a guide.

All the undulations also makes estimates of finishing time more complicated,  with around 1700ft of total ascent/descent on route, and several 200ft+ hills and many many smaller ones one can't easily predicate how much difference this will make.  There are three broad ways that I've looked at to estimate my finishing possible time range:
  1. Use online calculators that extropolate race paces at shorter distances to the marathon.
  2. Looking at similar classed runners in last years Kielder Marathon results.
  3. Using my own training logs and my previous marathon performances.

Estimating Finishing Time using online Calculators

If one does a search of the Internet on the topic of estimating marathon finishing time you'll come across a range of different tools that use your times from other distances to compute the likely finishing time at marathon or other distances.

Of the ones I've come across the three that look the most useful are:
  1. MARCO Marathon Calculator
  2. McMillan Running Calculator
  3. Daniels Running Formulas
The MARCO calculator is the most marathon specific and provides and guide of HR and pacing that you should use to maximize your chances of achieving the time.

For each of the calculators I plugged in my most recent 10k times in 2011 and 2012, which are my 40:32 10k from the Trossachs 10k in May 2011, and my 39:36 10k from the Killin 10k in August 2012.

Year                            2011               2012
10k time                        40:32              39:36
MARCO Estimate:                 3:11:57            3:07:30
McMilland Estimate:             3:10:10            3:05:48
Daniels Running Formula:        3:07:39            3:04:36
Actual Kielder finishing time:  3:55:19            ????

Clearly the 45 minute gulf between the estimates in 2011 and what I actually achieved suggest for 2011 using these calculators was hopelessly inaccurate and using them as a guide for a racing pace completely inappropriate.

So why might they be so inaccurate?  First up in 2011 I had 6 weeks completely off running while recuperating from my Achilles injury and then had to cramp all my training into four runs in the final couple of weeks before the race.  Secondly Kielder Marathon is more hilly than either of the Trossachs or Killin 10k, although both themselves are quite hilly for 10ks.

Estimating using 2011 Kielder Marathon Finishing Times.

To look at how much difference the hills make it's useful to look that actual results of last years Kielder Marathon and cross reference these to other marathon and 10k performances of runners to see just how much slower the hills make it.  Thankfully the Power of Ten website is really useful in doing this cross referencing as it provides the results as well as links to athletes results from other races.

Last years results can be found at thepowerof10 website: 2011Kielder Marathon Results.

Next if we look up some athletes to see how their Kielder marathon and nearest 10k times match relate to what online calculators listed above would suggest:

Athlete          10k    MACRO    McMillan  Daniels  Kielder

Top three places:

Ricky Lightfoot  32:26  2:33:28  2:31:51   2:30:36  2:35:14     
Marcus Scotney   33:30  2:38:36  2:37:10   2:36:44  2:47:26
Steve Cairns     32:49  2:35:41  2:33:58   2:32:35  2:55:22

Around 3:20 to 3:30 finishing time (more relevant to me):

Richard Dennis   37:50  2:59:09  2:57:30   2:56:01  3:21:47
Catriona Ried    39:23  3:06:09  3:04:47   3:04:36  3:23:26
Tom Crossley     39:36  3:07:30  3:05:48   3:04:36  3:28:55

What can we deduce from all of this?  The variation between the calculators and the actual times varies a lot between athletes, from +2 minutes slower for Ricky and the MACRO times, through to +22 minutes for Steve, Richard and Tom.  Looking at actual marathon times achieved by these athletes Kielder does tend to be 10 to 20 minutes slower, with the calculator results generally still a bit too optimistic but at least a bit more realistic.

For myself it would look like a sub 3:30 or perhaps even sub 3:25 time should be possible based on that how others with similar 10k times have  done.   However, my result last year was still way off what the calculators suggested even when adding 22 minutes as this would have given me a 3:33 time (MACRO + 22m) rather the 3:55 that I actually did.  Two things are responsible for this - going out to fast (on 3:20 pace) and my lack of training due to injury as I wasn't in the shape I was when I did my 40:32 10k four months earlier.

This time around my 10k used in the calculations was only back at the end of August and my training since has roughly maintained my fitness so will be more relevant.  Going out at with a more realistic pace is something that is yet to be determined...

Estimating Finishing time based on training logs

While it looks possible that I might be able to do a sub 3:30 given my recent 10k and the results of others with similar 10k times, as a science geek I can't help be curious to see if it's possible to develop estimates based on training logs.  The advantage of this is that one needn't have a recent 10k or other race time to go by, instead one can look at how training has been going in the run up to actual event being planned for.  One can also start estimating results for races that calculators don't cover like ultra's or very hilly routes.

I have done the leg work in this, but don't yet have time to write it up... so will leave this element of of the estimation process to a Part 2 blog entry.

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