PGH Marathon training – Race Plan

This is it!! Just one week before the big day! Instead of describing my super boring taper-week workouts, I decided to write about my plan for race day. One of my 5 planned steps to try to improve my marathon time drastically was to run a smarter race. Last year I decided to improvise, I started too fast, and I ended up hitting the wall before mile 16. This tim I know the course, I have my experience, and I have a plan.

First,Β  I divided the course into 8 sections: the pack, the bridges, south side, the awful climb, rolling hills, the grind, back down, and the last stretch.Β  From my experience doing the full marathon last year and the half marathon two years ago, I sort of know what to expect from each section. So, I have several plans with target paces for each section. I made several plans so that I can make adjustments on race day. The most ambitious plan has me crossing the finish line in 3:01:33 and qualifying to Boston, the most conservative one in 3:33:27, two minutes slower than last year (I hope it doesn’t come down to that).

Race gear

Before describing the plan, I’m happy to report that my new hat arrived in the mail today. Now, my marathon outfit is complete, and I am very happy with it. I am concerned it is a bit too matchy-matchy, but my wife likes how it looks and that is good enough for me. What I really love about it is how light it is (except for my Fenix 3). I was more worried about overheating than about muscle fatigue. So, I decided to ditch the compression gear. Instead, I went with super-light breathable fabrics, short socks and short shorts, and a white tank and hat to protect me from the sunlight as much as possible.

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OMG OMG OMG 🚨🚨 only 1 week to go for the Pittsburgh marathon!!! πŸπŸƒπŸ»πŸƒπŸ»πŸŽ½πŸŒ‡ #GameOnPGH #pghmarathon @pghmarathon —- It is going to be close. I have no doubt I can PR. I'm quite confident I'll make the 3:15 mark, probably 3:10, maybe even 3:05. I'm not so optimistic about making the cut for Boston, but I'm still going to try. If I get to mile 20 in under 2:30 and my legs haven't given up I'm gonna fly those last miles. #bqtraining πŸŽπŸŽπŸ’¨πŸ’¨ — My new gorgeous Ciele hat arrived today. So now I have all my gear ready. Just need my bib and I'm good to go πŸ˜ŽπŸŽ½πŸ‘πŸΌ#cieleathletics #newtonshoes #nikerunning #garminfenix3 — #hellobetter #marathontraining #runningfashion #gearcheck #runswag #happyrunner #marathonrunner #hellobetter #findyourfast #beatyesterday #roadtoironman #roadtoboston #pittsburghmarathon2016 #pittsburghmarathon #triathlete #trilife #swimbikerun #runnerofsteel #runnerscommunity #fitfam #prerace #momentoftruth

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I usually train with Newton Gravity shoes or Newton Distance IIIS. For race day, I like to run with Newton Distance III (without the S)Β  which are much lighter than the gravities, and a bit lighter than the IIIS. My hat had to be from Ciele,Β  I just love how well they fit, and how they manage to stay dry much better than other brands. For the socks I knew I wanted Nike elites. I love these socks but I usually find it hard to justify spending $18 on a pair of socks, a marathon seems like a good excuse. For the shorts and singlet I went with Nike, just because they are the only brand I could find that sold 2″ shorts that were not black or grey.

Continue reading to see my actual race plan…

Segment by segment plan

  1. Pack (1.7 miles) β€” The first stretch of the race is always packed. I will have to be dodging people and won’t be able to really fine-tune my pace. Also, my legs might still be a bit stiff. So, I don’t plan to go too fast here. I think of this segment as an extended warm-up. My target pace is in the 7:20 to 7:40 range.
  2. Bridges (5.1 miles) β€” Around mile two, the course makes a sharp u-turn. By this point, other runners will be more dispersed and I’ll be able to run my race. This part of the race is flat and cool, crossing three bridges around the stadiums. Ideally, I want to get into the upper end of my BQ pace and run it around at around 7:05 min/mile.Β  If I am too eager and can’t control myself I might end up being a bit faster but I will try to avoid this. If I am having a bad day it might take me more than two miles to warm up and I might end up in the 7:20 to 7:30 range.
  3. South Side (4.4 miles) β€” This is perhaps my favorite part of the race, because of all the awesome crowd support. By this point I should have found my groove already. I will do my best to keep my pace close to but above 7:00.Β  At the end of this segment, the half-marathoners go left and the full-marathoners go right. At this point, I think I will have a pretty good idea of what kind of day I’m having and what to expect from the rest of the race.
  4. Climb (1.3 miles) β€” Here comes the first challenge. A long steep climb just at the middle of the course, that can bust my legs and my lungs, and make the rest of the race miserable. Last year I made the huge mistake of rushing up. I was in waaay worse shape that I am today, and I raced up at a 7:30 pace. This year I plan to take my time. Go with small quick steps, maybe stop for a bit, maybe walk for a bit. I am more than willing to loseΒ  60 or 90 extra seconds on this hill if it means I’ll be able to finish strong. I will aim for an pace between 8:30 and 9:00 min/miles for this segment.
  5. Rolling (3.7 miles) β€” More than half-way done. There are no more big climbs ahead, but this section has deceivingly difficult rolling hills. Ideally, I would like to go back to a 7:00 to 7:05 pace, which is what I need for a BQ. However, if I’m having a bad day, I don’t want to end up burning out here and then struggling to finish. So I am willing to slow down as much as I have to to get through this.
  6. The Grind (3.8 miles) β€”Here comes the hard part. This is what I have been saving my legs for. The first two miles of this segment are flat, but it is almost 9:00am now and the sun is already out. There is no shade in sight, and this is the loneliest part of the race, with minimal crowd support. The last two miles of this segment are uphill. I have no target for this segment. I just want to survive. If I did things right, and I am having a good day and my legs are feeling strong, I will try to push the pace and make it to the a 6:50 to 7:00 range. But I won’t be surprised if I can barely keep my pace under 7:45.
  7. Back down (4 miles) β€” Alas, mile 20 is a ray of hope. First, there is no more climbing. In fact, there a mile-long descent ahead to give my quads a break. Second, it is mile 20 already (!) it is only a 10k to go, I’ve run hundreds of those. If I my clock says I am under 2:30, that means I have a shot at a BQ, and nothing will stop me from going all out, I won’t let the last 6 teeny tiny little miles take that away from me.Β  Even if a BQ seems unrealistic at this point, being so close to the end, I hope a new burst of adrenaline will kick in and takes me to the finish line.
  8. Last stretch (2.2 miles) β€” Good news #1, there is shade on the left side of the road. Good news #2, it is only two miles left. There is no need to save anything for later. It is time to go all out, and everything will be over in less than 15 minutes. Good news #3, with 1.6 miles left to go, the crowds are back. It is time to fly and take it home.

This google spreadsheet has four pacing plans. The two more optimistic ones have me with a BQ time. But they might not be realistic. I will not be disappointed if I don’t make it. It is only my first serious attempt. Pittsburgh is not an easy race. And, even if I don’t qualify, I’ve come a long way and I feel very proud of that.

Plan Boston Plan realistic
distance pace time pace time
1. pack 1.7 0:07:20 0:12:28 0:07:30 0:12:45
2. bridges 6.8 0:07:05 0:48:36 0:06:55 0:48:02
3. south side 11.2 0:07:00 1:19:24 0:07:10 1:19:34
4. climb 12.5 0:08:30 1:30:27 0:09:00 1:31:16
5. rolling 16.2 0:07:05 1:56:39 0:07:20 1:58:24
6. grind 20 0:06:55 2:22:56 0:07:35 2:27:13
7. back down 24 0:06:40 2:49:36 0:06:55 2:54:53
8. last stretch 26.2 0:06:20 3:03:32 0:06:30 3:09:11

Wish me luck!!


Author: brunosalcedo

Can't spell Bruno without a run. I do game theory between long runs.

2 thoughts on “PGH Marathon training – Race Plan”

  1. Wow this is really helpful, thanks for posting! Have you thought about running with the 3:05 or 3:00 pace groups for part of the race?


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