In my last post on the McMillan Running calculator I didn’t discuss some very important points about the calculator and training paces.

One of these points is why I used a goal pace time rather than a current race time.

Two readers comments had some excellent points that I wanted to talk about. Hopefully this post will help you figure out what way you should use the McMillan Calculator that will work best for you and also help you figure out a realistic goal time for your upcoming marathon or race of another distance.

Often when deciding what goal you should have for a marathon it’s tempting to pick a number out of thin air. I did it many times before I learned how to train properly and how to come up with goal paces during training and during races. For my first marathon my goal time was to beat Oprah’s first marathon time – if she could run a marathon in 4:20 something I reasoned I could. I ended up running a 4:20 but it doesn’t always work out that way. If you set yourself up with a goal time that is too aggressive you are setting yourself up for possible disappointment or worse – injuries from over training at a pace your body is not capable of sustaining.

The reason I plug in my goal time into McMillan’s calculator rather than a current race times is because I find that I am better at longer distances than McMillan predicts. My shorter race distances are rarely as fast as they need to be in order for McMillan to predict my marathon time.

Take for instance my marathon PR of 3:11.

I should be able to run these race times:

  • mile: 5:39
  • 5K: 19:37
  • 10K: 40:45
  • 10 miler: 1:08:17
  • 1/2 marathon: 1:30:40


The only race time I’ve beat out of those predicted race times is the 10K time – 40:23 was my PR which I ran shortly after running a 3:13 in 2011. Another fact to note is that I haven’t been racing shorter distances lately so I don’t typically have a short race time to plug into the predictor. I don’t generally think that training runs are good predictors to plug in – because more likely than not you are going to run faster in a race than on a training run of the same distance. That being said if all you have is a time trial run to use – you can certainly plug it in to get a general idea of what you could do.

Because of both of these reasons I plug in my marathon goal time. When I do this – I look at the training paces and see if I am anywhere in range on all the different types of runs.

For my training pace goal of 2:59 with the goal of 3:05 in the marathon my paces this summer will be:

  • Recovery Jogs
  • 8:23 – 8:53
  • Long Runs
  • 7:23 – 8:23
  • Easy Runs
  • 7:23 – 7:53
  • Tempo Runs
  • 6:15 – 6:31
  • Tempo Intervals
  • 6:10 – 6:23


I can hit the slow end of all of these pace ranges now which means that my goal is realistic with proper training. Could I run a 3:05 or faster right now simply because I am in the slower end of the training zones? Probably not. With proper training I would expect to see myself hitting the middle end of the range during the middle of my training cycle and the lower/faster end by the end of the cycle.

I think it’s important to note that throughout the training cycle you should be looking at your paces and determining if your goal is still realistic. Life can get in the way of running, or an injury might sideline you for a little. This may mean that a goal that seemed good at the beginning of the summer is no longer and you may need to adjust to a slower more realistic goal.

Training too fast for what you are capable of that cycle does not do you any favors. In fact most often it’s is the opposite – you will arrive to the start line – burnt out and likely won’t hit your goal.

It is also a good idea if you can fit in races during training to plug those into the calculator and see if the races align with what your goals are. Keeping in mind what your strongest distances is. If you are always faster at shorter distances and can rarely hit what the predicted marathon time is based on your 5K performance – the keep that in mind when picking a goal. If you find that your shorter distances don’t predict as fast as you can run in the marathon – also keep that in mind.

There is no one fool proof way to coming up with a realistic goal time for the marathon. You need to listen to your body – analyze yourself and your strengths and be in tune with what you are doing throughout the training cycle.

Also remember as Celia pointed out that predicted paces also rely on the fact that you are doing the training. If you don’t train properly for a marathon it doesn’t matter what your 5K or 10K time predicts – it’s going to be a rough 26.2 miles for you that ultimately will most likely not end in the goal time you thought it would.

Do the work. Respect the distance. Listen to your body.


Questions? Thoughts? How do you come up with your goal times for your races?



  1. Honestly I just pick a few minutes faster than what I ran last marathon :) I also ALWAYS run a half about a month before my full to get an idea of where my fitness is at. You’ve given me some helpful ideas! I love the McMillan calculator too. It really is a valuable tool for distance runners. Thanks for the advice!

  2. Great points about being smart and probably most importantly for me…planning your paces for different worksouts!

  3. “How Do You Figure Out A Realistic Goal Time For A Marathon?”

    Faster than last time!!!

  4. Thank you for the tips! I’m definitely going to employ some of these when I start training for the Philly Marathon. And, this time, I’m going to follow a stricter plan to make sure I nail my training runs. :)

  5. Thanks for posting this. I find it very interesting that your marathon predicts faster times for your shorter distances than your PR’s. I guess you are a natural marathoner. This is definitely helpful for me to read as I go into my marathon this weekend. I am heading over to Mcmillan right now to see how my training paces match up to my goal time for the race.

  6. I just wrote a similar blog post last week as I prepare for yet another marathon this fall.

  7. Great post! I’m the opposite: my 5K times predict a faster marathon than I have been able to run, but I’ve realized in this past year that I was burning out during my training cycle because I was racing too much (every other weekend) and not allowing myself enough long slow runs or recovery runs. I love the learning process of running and the nerd-talk;-) And it’s true, you can’t skimp on the training and still expect to reach your goal.

  8. Great post! I totally agree with it. I actually also tend to excel at longer distance (well until this year when my marathon had some unfortunate circumstances) and totally get why you might want to use goal times instead of shorter distance races. McMillan has a huge range of training paces and if you can keep up with the slower end in the beginning that seems to be a good indication that with some improvement during the training cycle your goal is achievable. PLUS you are already achieving the slower end, something totally acceptable for the beginning of the training cycle!!! This method needs to be used responsibly though. I actually look at the whole range of paces from what my other distances predict to what my goal time recommends. Since McMillan has a large range there is actually usually some overlap. Even if its not a perfect science, I like feeling informed. Also I think if all of us who “are better at longer distances” actually trained for a shorter distance we might have some “more accurate” predictor times. Maybe. Have you every looked at Daniels predictor calculator? I find he is more accurate for people who excel in long distances…

    On the other hand, I think a totally irresponsible way to pick goal times is the randomly picked time. It really irritates me to then listen to people complain about not being able to hit any of their goal “training paces.” Then they complain some more when they blow up in the marathon. I see this all too often with people wanting to BQ….

    That said marathons are so tricky. So many things can happen to even the best prepared!

  9. This is really helpful Dorothy and a great follow-up to your last post! Thanks!!

  10. This is a great post. Picking a race time can be so difficult, and a lot of it depends on what else you have going on – if you can’t do the training, you will not reach your goal.

    My goal this year is to break 2 hours in a half. Based on my PR from last year (2:04) I should be able to – except I’m currently training for a Half Iron triathlon, so running is not a big priority. I’m being realistic – it may not happen, but I’m still progressing.

  11. I use the race prediction calculator A LOT. I like to race often though (from 5K-marathon) so that might be why. I usually have a good idea where I’m at pace-wise in races I’ve done recently but in February I ran my first 15K and had no idea how to pace that distance. I was in the middle of marathon training and my training called for a 15K race. I used my predicted 15K finish time to find the pace and I started with that. During the last 5K I realized I still had a lot left in the tank so I picked up my pace. When I finished I printed off the results on the McMillan chart and that race actually set the new bar for my other racing distances/ training times. So now, whenever I set a new distance PR I plug that time in to see where it puts me at in other distances. My current *best race* is the 10K. It has set my current training times and predicted race finish times I use. My predicted marathon time seems really fast to me (3:06!) but based on my other race times I know I need to train with this marathon goal in mind.

  12. I am currently using the calculator to help train myself to a sub-4 hour marathon. I can hit the paces for my speed and tempos regularly at the slow-ish end as well, so I feel like I picked a decent goal time. I am going to be using it to work hard this summer and get a new PR in October at Columbus!

  13. This is a great post. I have always wondered how you used those training paces when they have such a wide range. In RLRF, it is one target pace, so I always felt like that big of a range would overwhelm me. Your explanation on the breaking it down to high , middle and low end helps explain that.

    I guess I never have really thought about why I picked the goal times that I picked, other than that I knew that I should be able to hit those goals training paces based on previous training cycles and base mileage. With that being said, a former running buddy looked at me very doubtfully when I told her that I want to train for a BQ. Sure it would be an 8 min PR, but based on the paces I trained at for my last marathon and my 1/2 marathon times, I believe it is within my abilities…if I train properly.

  14. I think you just have to know what’s right for your body. For many people, McMillian is extremely accurate (I am one of those people). Some people might excel at short distances, others might be better at long distances. I like McMillain is a frame of reference, but I don’t pin my hopes on it!

  15. Thanks for this post- I’ve just been debating about my time goal for Chicago. Question for you- how do you plug in current and goal paces? It seems like McMillan gives me pace ranges for my current pace, not my goal pace.

    Any thoughts on how much of an improvement is reasonable from one race to the next? (Whether in terms of minutes or percentage of total time.)

  16. This is great advice. I struggle with realistic goal times, and I am really slow. I’ve actually come a long way, but I know I have trouble pushing the pace and often find myself having a lot more I could have given at the end (specifically for half marathons.) I’m going to check out the calculator now!

  17. Thanks for this – I am running NYC this fall which will be my first full marathon in 5 years. I have since improved a lot speed-wise with half marathons and 10-milers, and have gotten smarter with training. However I had no idea where to set my goal this time around. Thanks for all the advice.

  18. so do you train purely off of pace and not HR or Perceived Effort?

    How did you like Montclair when you were filming with Saucony? It’s my hometown.

  19. I think I must be missing something. When I went on the calculator, I couldn’t find a way of entering only my goal time. I’m training for my first half marathon and so don’t have a current time to enter. Both current time and goal time have a yellow dot next to them, indicating that both fields are necessary. When i try just to enter the goal time, it won’t work. What am I doing wrong?

  20. Every run I go on I use effort to base my paces – unless I am dehydrated or something is going on with my body then I typically hit the correct paces ranges. The only time I look at my garmin is to see what each mile is – I don’t look down during the mile and speed up or slow down. I also don’t slow down based on what the garmin said if the mile was a bit fast because I base it on how hard or easy the run feels. Make sense? I don’t use a heartrate monitor often but was thinking about using it more this summer. :)

  21. Good luck!!! I’m running NYC too :)

  22. Good luck!! I loved Columbus Marathon – such a great course!

  23. Your welcome Michelle – glad you liked it!

  24. I did the same thing when I first became a runner and wanted to BQ – I just randomly thought I could push myself a little harder and I would get a 3:40 and then when I would run slower than my first marathon I didn’t understand why… I know better :)

  25. I too love the learning process. 20 marathons and I still don’t have it all figured out yet :)

  26. Oh I’d love to think I am a natural marathoner – haha – I think it’s more like I just don’t believe in myself in the shorter distances and I don’t like the pain that comes with short and fast :) 😉

  27. I was just checking out your blog and holy fastness!!! I want your PR’s :) You are running NYC this fall???

  28. Welcome :) Glad you liked the post!

  29. yes – perfect sense.

    I think I rely on my HRM far too much. I’ve been reading a lot by Matt Dixon (tri coach out of S.F.) and had a few email conversation with him. He is a big proponent of running as you describe using both pace zones and effort.

    That’s my goal this summer, become less reliant and adherent to the technology and learn to listen to trust my body more.

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  1. […] at Mile Posts wrote a great post about HOW to select a goal time for an upcoming race. Her times are incredible – her current marathon PR is 3:11, she’s […]

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