The advice I've read regarding defining your pace says to use a race during your training cycle as a benchmark. I like that idea, but I think that using MAF is a more reliable data point for two reasons:
- Many factors can affect your race performance
- You don't get much of a sample size
When you race, many things can come into play: weather conditions, fatigue, fueling, etc. can all contribute to sub par performance. Likewise, if you have a great race, you may overextend your goal pace. If you base your marathon pace off a race performance, your data could be tainted one way or the other. Even if you performed a simulated race more frequently, you're still asking for more than your training may specify.
When you use MAF, you can run at MAF pace much more frequently, and that gives you plenty of data to utilize over time to determine a reasonable average. Thus, you can define a pace that is at the upper limits of your ability. Dr. Maffetone recommends 15 seconds over the pace of the first mile of your most recent MAF test. If you felt like your last MAF test is an outlier, you can look back at other tests to determine an average pace and strategize your pace off that. Since you have a bit of data, you're not stuck relying on one or two races of your training cycle; rather, you should be able to see consistent performance over you're training and plan your race accordingly.
I do deviate a bit from Maffetone in my own strategy. For me, I will base my paces off my MAF heart rate rather than MAF pace. The main reason for this is that I think it is more consistent with Maffetone's training program.
So in the end, I plan to run my next race close to my MAF pace (right now it's around 7:25 at 146 bpm) for 2 miles, then ramp up to 10 beats above MAF through 13, then then 10-20 through 21 miles, then 20-30 until the end. If all goes well, my pacing should look like this:
- 7:10*11=(78:50 + 14:50)=94:40
- ? * 5.2
That would leave me with 38:00 to run 5.2 miles (7:18/mile) to execute a negative split (3:09:20). Barring another near-cramping issue, I should expect to be able to pull that off. The dream, of course, would be to get my MAF pace close to 7:00/mile so that I would have the best chance of breaking 3 hours, but that's probably a year out my current training load.
Banking time vs. running smart
Going back to the Skagit Marathon, I'll admit that I was motivated by ego, plain and simple. I had been working hard and had come excruciatingly close to a BQ at the Seattle Rock and Roll marathon (a pretty hilly course) in June, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to qualify on a flat course. But the fact is that it wasn't a particularly smart race for me. I went out pretty fast to bank some time, and at the end and afterwards, I was in a lot of pain. Had I not beaten 3:10, I probably would have been both frustrated and unhappy. When I finished the the RnR marathon, by contrast, I was disappointed, but since I felt so good about running a smart race, I was happy because I raced more relaxed and enjoyed myself.
With time, I came to recognize that you really need to run smart, and that means acknowledging your fitness level to define your pace. You have to understand what a reasonable goal pace will be for you, and use that to plan your race rather than to apply what is essentially an arbitrary goal pace. You can try to bank time by going out faster in the first half, but in doing so, you run the risk of really destroying yourself and paying everything back by the finish.
The Siren Song of the BQ
When I ran Seattle last year, I finished in 3:10:28 (29 seconds shower than my BQ time). This included a bathroom stop (1 minute) and a cramp around Mike 26. The "What Could Have Been" thoughts were numerous. As you might expect, I'm really gunning to beat that time this year.
But, like Odysseus, I have to strap myself to the mast and ignore the allure because marathon running, at least for me, should be fun and challenging without being painful. My previous times have nothing to do with my current level of fitness, and neither does a BQ time for that matter. Using MAF as my barometer and being strict about it, gives me the best chance to get through the race feeling good, and I'd much rather have that outcome than risk pushing too hard, failing, and kicking myself. Still, 3:05 would be so sweet ...