Selecting a goal race: things to consider

Recently I ran the Warner Robins Aviation Marathon as my goal race for a sub 3 marathon. Aside from wanting a more flat course, there are a lot of other factors that went into my race selection.  I made a list of considerations.  Some of these items may seem obvious, but I really struggled with settling on the Warner Robins race, so this list might end up helping someone trying to decide on their next goal.

Some really basic things to consider:

  1. Terrain: Do you want for this to be a trail race or a road race?
  2. Distance: Are you looking for speed or distance? Any PRs that you want to chase?  How long do you have to train? What shape are you in, and how soon do you need to be recovered?
  3. Type of run: Is this a goal race, or is this just a fun training run?  If it’s just a fun run, many of these considerations won’t make too much of a difference. But for goal races, it will be nice to focus on what will best help you succeed.

Getting more into the specifics:

  1. Destination: How far are you willing to travel for the race?  Will a long car ride or plane ride affect how you perform?  Will the stress of a new city add to your race jitters or make you feel more motivated?  Is it in your budget to travel, and will you need doggy/childcare if you leave town?  My next race will be a destination race, and my husband and I are really excited about the opportunity to travel. But we decided that my sub-3 marathon attempt was best run closer to home.
  2. Weather: What will the weather be like for the race?  Will you be able to train in conditions similar to race day?  One other element of weather to consider is humidity. Georgia, where I live, typically has really humid weather, but we can typically let that slide in the winter.  This is a really good website when thinking about humidity (and dew point).
  3. Running crowd: Do you like big races or small races?  Big races are great for feeding off of the energy of other runners and using the talent of other runners to push you to run harder. However, the larger the crowds, the more likely that you may have to weave around runners to maintain your pace. I love running Atlanta races, but they are always really crowded. For this reason, I intentionally selected the Warner Robins race so that no one could interfere with my paces.
  4. Fan support: is the race very accessible to spectators and how important is this to you?  Trail races very rarely have many locations for fans to gather.  Out and back races are more likely to have fan support because you get to see the same fans twice.  I did not realize how much I like some fan support when I’m road racing until the Warner Robins Aviation Marathon where there was only one place along the race at mile 13 for fans to stand.  I was fine, but it definitely would have helped to have a few more cheers.  The Boston Marathon is by far the best fan support I have ever experienced!
  5. Elevation change: If you are going for speed, are you willing to sacrifice some of the effort toward climbing hills?  For the right race, it’s always worth the sacrifice!  I really like hills (and the more the merrier on the trails), but for my sub-3 hour marathon attempt, I really wanted to limit the hills that I needed to climb.

It’s always fun to fill out the calendar.  I like to switch between trail races and road races. My next goal race will be on the trails, and I’m really excited to get back out there in my training and focus more on hilly distance over flatter speed.

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Ready to run at the ATC Thanksgiving Half

What races do you have coming up?

Book Report: First Ladies of Running

I just finished reading Amby Burfoot’s book First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries who changed the Sport Forever.  I didn’t expect for a book to change the way that I view my position as a female runner, but this book made me both proud and honored to be part of the lineage of such remarkable women.

First Ladies of Running chronicles 22 women and the stories that brought them to running in a time when running was a man’s activity.  Some of these ladies joined men’s running clubs (because that was the only option), and trained really hard to be excellent (I was really impressed to read how most of the men welcomed them).  Others seemed to just go out and run sub 3 hour marathons months after just picking up the sport.  Either way, all of these women did more than just run; they helped advance women’s opportunities and promote equality.

I highly recommend this book to any female (or male) runner who appreciates good history.  Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book, although all of the stories deserve special accolades.

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Grace Butcher: “I believe we’re all here to discover our life’s purpose, and then once you’ve discovered it, for Heaven’s sake, get on with it. The saddest words I know are, “If only…'”

Julia Chase: “Running puts you in touch with your primal self and your deepest resolve.  You learn how to deal with pain and other obstacles.  You realize that it’s not important to do conventional things.  You can do whatever feels worthwhile to you.”

Doris Brown: “When you don’t get what you want, you can let it drive you up or down. The more heart and soul you put into it, the better your chances.  Besides, the best things always take a while.”

Katherine Switzer: “It worked just the way my dad said it would. I didn’t have many skills, but no one could match me running up and down the field.  So I learned an important lesson: Running isn’t just about running.  It’s about the sense of empowerment you get from going the distance.  That empowerment can help you succeed in so many other activities.”

Katherine Switzer: “That race fulfilled all my dreams.  In fact, I think the Olympic Marathon was in many ways as important as giving women the vote.  Everyone had come to accept what women could do in the social and intellectual realms, but it took the Olympic Marathon to show the entire world how physical and powerful women could be.”

Sara Mae Berman: “I liked the way that running is different for girls than ice skating, where you have to be pretty, or swimming, where no one sees you sweating under the water, or equestrian events that are so very genteel.  Running takes a lot of hard effort and sweat, and you’re wearing clothes that aren’t much more than underwear. I didn’t run to promote myself, but to promote women’s running.”

Joan Ullyot: “Running gave me great health.  I feel so much better when I’m running.  How could anyone not exercise? It gets me outside every day to appreciate Mother Earth and Father Sky. I had grown up thinking I was terrible at sports, but running taught me that I could be an athlete.  I could be successful with my body as well as my mind.  And it made me so happy.”

Jackie Hensen: “The key is consistency and hard work.  You can’t pass the test unless you’ve done all your homework.  Things can go wrong, and things will go wrong.  You can’t control all the variables in your life. That’s why you have to prepare 100%. You’ve got to give it your absolute best.”

Miki Gorman: “Running gave me so much more self-confidence that my daily life became totally different.  I wasn’t timid anymore. I said what I believed in and what I wanted. I was still shy perhaps.  That is my nature. But I didn’t have fears any longer that kept me from speaking up for myself.”

Miki Gorman: “I learned that the looks and size of one’s body are not important, and that anyone can be competitive.  I gained so much confidence from my running.  I finally realized that being small didn’t have to hold me back.”

Marilyn Bevans: “All my life, I believed if you trained hard, you could get better.  You might never be the best, but at least, you could be learning. At Springfield, we trained hard, and I picked up lots of new training methods. When you have a solid work and learning ethic, it always pays off one way or another.”

Marilyn Bevans: “In my life, it also gave me peace, quiet, and thinking time. When there was a lot going on, it got me out into nature and away from the chaos. It makes you tough, too, from battling with the cold, the wind, the rain, the blizzards, the hills, the heat, and all.  You learn that you can get through stuff. It helps you see what else you can achieve in your life.”

Patti Catalano: “I’d like to think that I helped lay the bricks for other women to follow and to run on. I feel like I was a bridge from some of the earlier women to Joan Benoit. The progress we made is so amazing. When I began running, I didn’t know anything about women’s running. I didn’t even know that we weren’t supposed to be able to run distances. I just wanted to burn calories and get skinny legs.”

Grete Waitz: “The last part of the race in Central Park was very difficult. My legs were cramping, and I wanted to stop. But I didn’t know how to get to the finish except by running there, so I just kept going. It was hard, but at least I didn’t get lost.”

Grete Waitz: “I am in good form and I hope to run well on Sunday.” And after: “I knew I was in good condition, and I felt okay today, so I was able to win.”

Joan Benoit: “Faith is the key to everything. You can never let anyone or anything deter you from your best efforts. There are no shortcuts in life, or in the marathon. The marathon is a metaphor for life. You have to run your own race at your own pace.”

Oprah Winfrey: “Life is a lot like a marathon. If you can finish a marathon, you can do anything you want.”

Chris McKenzie: “If I can carry a baby for 9 months, I can run a 10-k.”

 I admit that I did not know who most of these women were before reading this book, but wow! What an inspiration!

Is there anyone who has been pivotal in helping you love the sport of running? After reading this book, there are a lot of names that I might need to add to my list!

Are Boston qualifying times too easy for women?

I wrote my last post about the qualifying times needed to gain entry into the Boston Marathon, and I planned to also explain why there is a disparity in the times between the men and women’s standards.  And then I did a little research and it made me uncomfortable.  There is a 30 minute difference between the men’s qualifying time and the women’s qualifying time, starting at 3:05 for men and 3:35 for women.

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This year especially, I am aware of the differences in males and females!

I know that men and women are physiologically different, and women’s competitive times almost always fall behind those of men’s.  That should explain the 30 minute difference in Boston qualifying times, right?  Not exactly.

What I didn’t realize was that women do seem to have a softer qualifying time than men when observing elite runner performances.  According to Tim Noakes in Lore of Running, there is about an 11% gap in performance between men and women.  This can be attributed to men having greater muscle mass, increased VO2, and higher levels of testosterone, amongst other things.  In using 11% as the difference between men’s and women’s performances, this would mean that women would need to run at about 3:20 to be an equivalent.

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We all look like superheroes, regardless of finishing times

The disparity of this qualification standard has not been lost on many Boston Marathon runners and commentators.  Compilations of former marathon times comparing the average finish times of men and women are documented in many articles and blogs trying to determine if the current standards are equivalent between men and women.  There is something called the Age Grade Calculator, which is the ratio of the approximate world-record time for a given age and gender divided by the actual time raced.  Using this form of calculation, the Boston Marathon standards would come up short, or long rather, for the women’s standard qualifying time.  This calculator also favors younger women age groups as opposed to older women age groups.

As Amby Burfoot notes in a Runner’s World rebuttal, however, this calculation is a world record comparison tool, which does not scale proportionally with the rest of the population of runners. Burfoot cites data from Ken Young, at the Association of Road Race Statisticians (ARRS), who notes that the men’s and women’s world record times are just 9.5 percent apart, while moving down the scale from the 100 percentile to the 99.8 percentile, there is a 21.4% difference in finishing times.  Chris Schwirian, a Biological Sciences lecturer at Ohio University, also corroborates that the average gender gap is closer to 20-22 percent for half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon. 

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The unicorn is a perfect symbol for the Boston Marathon

So that is the kicker.  In order to reconcile the Boston qualifying times between men and women, one must concede to normal, average performance range comparisons.  And the Boston Athletic Association has elected to go this route in order to get a representative sample across age and gender based on the total population of people who complete marathons, not according to elite athletic performance.  As I said in my last blog on Boston qualifying times, my 2016 BQ was only a 3:29, so I benefit from using a calculator that takes the normal population data set into account.  I’m thankful for the way that the BAA has chosen to do the math because it provided me with one of the best running experiences of my life!

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What do you think?  Are the qualifying times too lax for women?  Or is it appropriate to select a scale that will permit an approximate number of both men and women into the race?