You’ve spent hours on line reading all the marathonguide.com reviews of races, you have spent countless Friday nights googling marathons, attempting to see if someone could just give you a comprehensive list of the fastest races in the country. You try to explain to your significant other that yes it’s about the journey, but after going on the journey so many times, it’s becoming about how fast you can complete that journey. You care about the time on the clock at the end of the destination.
For some of us time matters. For some of us it doesn’t. For those of you who it does, read on and consider my thoughts on how to find a fast fall marathon.
1. Take reviews left on marathonguide.com and other such sites with a grain of salt. Unless you know the story behind the person leaving the comment you don’t know if his or her opinion is credible. I once had a guy tell me not run The National Marathon because it was a horrible course and it wasn’t fast at all. He said his time was awful – it wasn’t. I soon found out it was actually his fastest marathon he had ever run. He personally had a bad day emotionally. He had wanted to run faster, and took it out on the course. You can’t listen to what these type of people have to say. Do your own research.
2. Marathonguide.com is helpful in looking up how the top finishers of a race did compared to past performances. Before picking a marathon now I look up the top finishers. I write down their names and times and plug in their name into the previous marathon look up section on Marathon Guide. I write down their times and see if the time at this particular course is about average for them, slower, or faster. If I notice a pattern and see that most top finishers there ran faster than their past races, than I use that as one indicator that it might be a fast course.
3. Study the course map. Not just the turn by turn, but look at the elevation. Look deep. Don’t assume that all courses use the same elevation numbers. What could look like manageable hills, might not be if they make the numbers huge on the side in an effort to make the hills not look at big. Perfect example of this is Freedom’s Run Marathon. Don’t run this race if you want to PR – it’s for the tough at heart. It’s a challenge you don’t want to take on if you want the fastest race of your life.
Don’t just consider elevation when you are looking at the course. How many turns does the course take – turns slow you down. Are their any hair pin turns? These really break your momentum. Take for instance the GCF 1/2 Marathon Course. It still stands as my PR, but I know had my stride not been broken countless times I might have been able to achieve my 1/2 marathon goal of going under 1:30.
4. Please, please don’t listen to every Tom, Dick and Harry about Chicago. Yes some of the worlds best put in their fastest marathon performances at this race, but it doesn’t make it the fastest. Think about it people. These runners train year round for one or two races. They go to the high profile races that pay the most in prize money and or appearance fees. This is their job. They might be able to have an even faster time on a small local fast course, but they wouldn’t win anything.
Case in point – I won $100 for winning the B & A Marathon. I doubt you will see Kara Goucher run B & A ever. The worlds best aren’t going to *waste* their peak marathon performance on something that will not give them the publicity and $$ they want.
Further I’ll say, yes Chicago is flat. Flat marathons are not all they are cracked up to be. Imagine using the same muscles for 26.2 miles with out any variation. These muscles get fatigued way more easily than if there were a couple of small but manageable hills thrown in there so you can give certain muscles groups a break and utilize others. With 33,701 finishers last year you can bet money on it that I will not run this marathon again until I don’t care about my finish time. For the average runner who finishes a marathon in 3:00 and beyond – this is not a PR course. If you do PR here(as I have done) you probably could have gone even faster on another course. [The year I PR'ed at Chicago I went on weeks later to knock off over 9 minutes on my time on dead legs, 3 weeks later. Maybe I should have run a better course the first time around?] Remember DON’T FEED INTO THE HYPE of big races.
5. New York is not fast. End of story. In 2009 there were 43,660 finishers of the New York City Marathon. Imagine this many people on a 26.2 mile stretch and you begin to understand why it’s pretty hard to PR on this course[in case your brain still isn't computing the numbers properly - that's well over 1,000 people per mile]. If you want to experience a marathon like never before – go to NYC. If you want to qualify for Boston, skip it. *note – I have not run the full 26.2 – I ran the last 10 miles one year and then ran another friend into her first marathon finish another year. I can attest that on fresh legs, they were some of the hardest miles I’ve ever run.* Again if you PR at NYC – you could have gone faster somewhere else.
6. I used to look at the races that had the fastest median finishing times in order to see what race was the fastest. Sure this can help guide you in a good direction, but again you need to do your own research. Ask any runner what courses are fast – they will most likely say – Steamtown, Chicago, Columbus, National Marathon, and even Boston.[25% will know what's up, 75% will be repeating what they have been told again and again].
While yes Boston and Steamtown both are on the top 5 list for fastest Median Finishers list, we must analyze. Of course Boston is fast. You have to qualify to get there, so its not necessarily the course. Again refer to what I said about the elites the next time someone tells you the elites PR there. They PR there because they have to PR there. If they don’t go fast – they don’t make $$ – they don’t eat. I haven’t run Steamtown but it’s on my to do list. I’m wondering though if it’s a *fast course* because fast people go there to try to have fast times. Have runners fed into the hype and turned this race into a go to destination for runners who are trying to PR? I guess I won’t know on this one till I run it and find out for myself.
7. Running USA often does statistics on the fastest marathons in the country. They base these statistics on the fastest median finish times. When looking at STATS you must think back to classes you may have taken in college. Stats can be worded to pretty much say whatever you want them to say. When Running USA ranks fast marathons – think about the race before you just believe what they say. A race that say, has a time cap, is going to have faster median finish times than a race that lets finishers finish in 8 hours. In turn this is going to make it qualify as a fast race course. The course doesn’t have much to do with it – it’s the runners on the course and how long they are allowed to be out there. Boston is going to have faster median finish times because DUH you have to be fast to qualify and run the race. Some races may have fast times because like I said about Steamtown – we as runners have built it up to be a fast course, whether it truly is or not. I’m sure you can think of local races in your area that fit into these categories. Point being – do you own research to find a fast marathon – don’t just believe what Runners World says is fast.
8. The last things to think about when you are trying to find a fast course – is to do what works for your body. Do you run better in colder races?[according to the stats bone chilling temps in the 40s are best for peak performance] If you do then pick a marathon in November when it’s chillier – say Richmond for example. Do you do better in warmer weather but not hot, pick Marine Corps Marathon
My point is this. When trying to find a fast marathon, you must do your own research. You can’t rely on what the masses say. 467,000 people finished marathons in the US last year, according to Running USA. The average median finish time for men was 4:13:36 and 4:41:26 for women. Do you want to listen to the masses or do you want to listen to the minority of runners who have run faster than this? It’s up to you and what your ultimate goal is!
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