Pittsburgh Marathon Goal-Setting

Welcome to Day 21 of the blogging streak! 10 more days!


Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Marathon


I can just see all of you sitting in front of your computer screens, brows furrowed in confusion as you count to yourselves: “your marathon is…2…5…6 months away still? And you’re already writing about your goals??

Yes. Yes I am. Because even though it may be too early to think about this, it doesn’t change the fact that I am thinking about it. So I might as well just bite the bullet and write about it. Also, I’d normally start talking about this stuff in November but now that I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to blog next month. I’ll try to pop in once a week but, writing 50,000 words in 30 days is kinda time-consuming, so the blog is going to get thrown on the back burner. Might as well write about it now when I have space to fill!

Pittsburgh Marathon training officially starts 2 months from today! For those of you with good memories: yes, I had originally planned to start it on the 28th and yes, I am now bumping it up a week. The reason is because I’m going to take a full week off literally right in the middle of my cycle, and I still want to get in 18 weeks of training so I’m adding a week at the beginning (as for that week off – I’m not saying why yet, you’ll just have to wait for that announcement! Don’t worry, it’s good stuff!).

It is still too far out from training to set my A, B, and C goals in stone, but I already know a couple big things I want and those things are still going to be there on December 21st no matter how my fall racing season goes. The goals I have in my head now have been there ever since I signed up and haven’t gone away yet, so I figure that unless something changes drastically in the next 2 months, that means they’re probably here to stay.

I’ve flirted with the idea of having no time goal at all, just training really hard and seeing how I do when I train and race solely by effort instead of pace. But since I already know I want to PR, which means running at least a 3:46:53, I can’t really claim that I don’t have a time goal. I still may go with my no-time-goal plan…but I know myself. I like having time goals to guide my training, so while having no goals seems like a fun idea, I don’t know if it will work out for me in such a big race. I will, however, hopefully change my attitude toward time goals and how I approach them but I’ll save that for another post.

Okay, okay. I’ve kept you in waiting long enough. Let’s get to the good stuff!


My “A” goal for this race – aka I’m in the best physical shape of my life, training went flawlessly, race day weather is PERFECT and I feel like a million bucks at the starting line – is to run a 3:36 (8:15 pace).

I pick 3:36 because it is a nice even 10 minutes off my current marathon PR of 3:46. I’m sure it seems absurd to aim for a 3:36 when it is only 2 minutes off a BQ goal of sub-3:35. But even if it’s only 2 more minutes, aiming for a BQ adds a whole other level of pressure that I don’t feel ready to take on. Plus, with the way Boston has gone in the last few years, if I want to actually get in, I pretty much need to aim for a 3:30. I am nowhere near that level yet!

Like I said, the stars would really have to align to make a 3:36 possible, considering that my current HALF marathon PR pace is 8:18, and that Pittsburgh is a challenging course. Aiming for this time at Pittsburgh is not the same thing as aiming for it at Grandma’s or Lakefront. But, if I have a perfect day, I think it can happen.

My “B” goal aka my real and down-to-earth goal that I’ll be thrilled with and, as long as nothing drastic happens, I have a very realistic shot at – is to run a sub-3:45 and time-qualify for the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I think this is very doable for me, even on the Pittsburgh hills, because I would only need to improve my time by about 2 minutes. I would like it closer to 3:40 though, so I will probably train for that (8:23 pace). Improving my PR by 6 minutes wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling as improving it by 10 minutes, but it’d still be pretty darn cool. And the knowledge of being less than 10 minutes from a BQ would be amazing.

My “C” goal for this race – aka, I could do a lot better and I’m not thrilled about this, but it ain’t half bad, either – is to run sub-4:00. I would hate to not get a PR, but not many people can have a bad day and still run a sub-4:00 marathon, so the fact that I can have this as a C goal says a lot. While it’s nowhere near what I’m capable of, it’s still a pretty darn good time, all things considered!


So, if you want me to take all of this and drill it down to one specific number, I think it would be this: 3:40. 6 minute PR. 8:23 pace. That’s what I’ll be striving for and basing my training around. A lot can change in the next couple months and I may change my mind based on how my last half marathon goes. But I think 3:40 is a good number for me, half marathon PR or not. It’s a healthy PR but it’s also very realistic (Grandma’s was great, but it was my 2nd marathon and I can’t realistically expect to better my time by 15 minutes every time I run a marathon). It’s something I’ll still have to work hard for, since Pittsburgh will undoubtedly be the most challenging marathon I’ve run, but I really think it’s mine for the taking.


A lot of people might not set such ambitious goals on courses they know are going to be hilly and hard and maybe even hot on top of that. But the fact that this will be a challenging race just makes me MORE pumped up and inspired to have big goals. It’s one thing to get a PR on a fast flat course that works in your favor, but how cool would it be to cross the finish line saying “that course was hard, and those hills were gnarly, but I crushed my goals ANYWAY”? Pretty darn cool.

Pittsburgh 2016, here I come!


20 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Marathon Goal-Setting

  1. Time qualify for Chicago 2017! That would be awesome and such a big step on your way towards BQing.

    The way you describe Pittsburgh sounds like it will be a big challenge, but I have never seen you back down from a good running challenge!

    1. Ha! I guess I am a little dramatic about the hills. There’s really just one huge one in the middle that’s scary but, well, I’ve never run a race with a mile long hill before…

      Pittsburgh isn’t like re hardest marathon in America or anything but when it comes to races, I’d much rather overestimate the difficulty than underestimate it! I’d be happy to work harder than I have to in training and get to the race and think hey, this isn’t so bad! 🙂

  2. Okay this is how out of the marathon loop I am… I didn’t know you could QUALIFY for Chicago! So if you qualify, you are guaranteed entry? I wonder what an old ass 33 year old like me would have to run? Okay I will probably be 34 before I run another full marathon…

    I think you have very realistic goals for your race! I love having A,B and C goals because it takes into consideration things that are out of our control on race day! Weather is bad, we get sick, etc, etc. I will be excited to read about your training! I have never run Pittsburgh but have visited. It’s a cool city. Ride the Incline!

    1. The TQ for Chicago is pretty new – I think they started it when they started the lottery, so about 3 years now. Unlike Boston, the standard is the same for all ages – so it’s 3:45 whether you are 18 or 68. I think the men’s is 3:15.

      I rode the incline the first time I visited Pittsburgh, which was – wow – over 3 years ago now. It was da bomb!!

      1. No, I’m pretty sure it’s just a marathon that can qualify. And it’s not just you, I agree. I’ve always thought Chicago’s and Boston’s standards seemed much harder for men than women. Doesn’t it seem like you know way more women who can run a sub-3:35 than men who can run close to 3 hours? I know I do! I think a 20 minute difference would be a lot more fair and wouldn’t underestimate women as much.

  3. I think your goals are very realistic. As one “crazy runner” to another, for my marathon training plan when I do pace miles I have trained faster than goal pace for those miles. It has worked. I have been gauging my speed work for more of a half marathon PR. It is great that you are excited to start your training!

    1. I did something similar during my last training cycle, although not intentionally because I started doing my tempo work by effort, not pace. Toward the end of my training cycle I noticed that many more of my goal pace miles were ending up about 15-20 seconds faster than goal MP – I think as a natural result of my fitness improving. I agree it’s a good idea anyway, if for no other reason than it will give you much more confidence about hitting your actual goal pace on race day.

  4. Your race times have always lined up closely with the McMillan predictions (1:48:55 before Grandma’s, predicts 3:49 at Grandma’s, you were slightly under that time as I recall). So for a 3:40 in Pittsburgh, I’d expect you to be capable of running a 1:44 half leading up to it. You are aiming for 1:46 this fall, right? So I think as long as you come close to that goal, you should have no problem turning that into a 3:40 marathon in the spring. Are you planning any additional tune up races before Pittsburgh?

    Also, I’m so jealous of your endurance! All of my race times predict that I should be faster at longer distances than I am. My 5k PR indicates a 1:37 half…and I just don’t have the endurance to hold that pace for 13 miles. Maybe someday!

    1. So, for what it’s worth – McMillan and other predictors are great for ballpark guidelines and are great for those who might not know how to come up with a realistic time goal for themselves, but they aren’t something to live and die by. For one thing, the predictor doesn’t take into account the conditions (course profile, climate, etc) for each race or the fact that some people, such as yourself, are better at sheer speed than endurance, or vice versa, etc. I find them very helpful in setting guidelines – I will absolutely aim to be able to run a 1:44 half at a tune up this Spring, but if I fall short of that I’m not just going to assume my goal is unreachable. I beat my McMillan prediction by 3 minutes at Grandma’s, which is actually somewhat of a significant difference considering that I probably didn’t train as hard as the minds behind these calculators would recommend. Again, they are great to use as suggestions/guidelines, but I think that runners who take them too literally are potentially doing themselves a disservice. Shorter distances can only predict so much – it’s all about putting in the work. But, with that said, I am still hoping I can hit those recommended marks anyway, if not for that then the fact that it’s important to see my fitness improving after months of training.

      Ha, I could turn that around and say I envy your speediness! The thought of running a fast 5K, frankly, scares the crap out of me. I can run for a long time but the thought of pushing myself to the edge in a fast race is intimidating to me. Which is probably why I avoid racing 5Ks! 🙂

      1. Since I am no longer setting time goals for my races I like to use the predictors to determine what is a reasonable starting pace. I mean, I obviously have time goals in mind (sub 20 5k, sub 1:40 half) but I don’t have a race in mind for either goal or a self imposed deadline for reaching that goal. I just hope that each training cycle brings me closer to my goals. This way I don’t have to suffer the disappointment of having a terrible goal race and feeling like I’ve wasted a training cycle. I can be unreasonably hard on myself. For me, the predictions also provides a bit of a confidence boost in terms of what is possible.

        I actually think that your tune up race will be more likely to predict an even faster pace than 3:40. 🙂

  5. I think it’s beneficial to consider all of your goals before you start training – it helps determine how you train and provides motivation! A 3:40 is a great goal – and as you train, you can judge from there. I also plan out my goals super far in advance – there’s something so exciting about goal-setting!

    1. Thank you Laura! One thing I definitely plan to do differently this time is to be more flexible with my goals and evaluate them as I progress (or don’t progress?) in training. Last time I really dug in my heels about my goal and it caused me a lot of stress and anxiety toward the end that I’d rather avoid this time, if possible!

  6. I love that you’re setting your goals now. This gives you plenty of time to put your plan into action, and these are goals you are definitely capable of achieving. I totally hear ya on the BQ goal adding an extra layer of pressure! I’m excited to see how your training goes!

    1. Thank you! I am such an early goal setter. I can’t help it, I just get so excited! lol

    1. I agree, it would be hard for me to go into such a big important training cycle with no goals to guide my training. Having that number in my head definitely helps me stay on track in the beginning, when it’s easier to slack off because it’s so far out from the race so you think your training doesn’t matter as much yet.

  7. Nice goals! I am really excited to follow your training! I like to have goals before starting training, too. I think it helps guide how you train. You are going to do awesome!

    1. Thanks, I agree! I don’t think I could go into such a big cycle with no goals. It’s just my personality, I guess – I like having plans and guidance to navigate Big Scary Things, and those numbers give me that extra push to stay motivated and help me structure my workouts.

  8. I love love LOVE your goals and I think you are completely capable of achieving all of them! You have a solid understanding of what you need in your training and you are excellent when it comes to the execution. I can tell that you are all in for this one – I can’t WAIT! I’m excited for all of it – the training posts and the race itself. So freaking exciting!

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