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Marathon Goals Explained: How to Setup Meaningful Realistic Goals

The #1 mistake runners can make when preparing for a marathon is setting up the wrong marathon goals, which usually ends in injury or disappointment. 

But don’t worry. At the end of this article, you will have a clear plan to set a meaningful, realistic goal that sets you up for success. We even have a handy calculator to help you.

Your marathon goal is the foundation of everything you will do over the following weeks:

  • How long is your training plan
  • Your long runs
  • Your rest days
  • How fast or slow you will run
  • Your fueling strategy
  • etc.

Setting a realistic yet challenging marathon goal is the first step to training smarter and maximizing the time you devote to it.

Marathon Goals Are Not Random

When setting a marathon goal, it’s essential to remember that this decision should not be made randomly or arbitrarily (as 90% of runners do).

Your marathon goal should be based on your current running fitness level or recent performances. Choosing a challenging and achievable goal is crucial, as this will provide the motivation and focus needed to succeed. 

Simply picking a random number, like under 3 or 4 hours, without considering your fitness level and past performance usually leads to a poor training plan that has two outcomes:

1. Your Marathon Goal is Way Beyond your Capabilities

You overtrain and get injured by pushing your body beyond its limits.

2. Your Marathon Goal is Way Below Your Capabilities

You are disappointed throughout your training and finish your marathon, knowing you could have gone faster. 

Instead, take the time to evaluate your current capabilities and set a goal that is both realistic and ambitious. By doing so, you’ll be able to train more effectively and increase your chances of achieving your target with success. Remember, marathon goals are not random – they require careful consideration and thoughtful planning.

Setting Marathon Goals Based on Your Current Fitness

If you’ve never run a marathon, haven’t run one in a while, or are returning from an injury, assessing your current running fitness is the best starting point.

I recommend doing Dr. Veronique Billat’s 6-minute test to asses your vVO2 max. Check out the video below, where I explain how to perform the test.

One really useful thing about this test is that you can perform it regularly. You can do it every 4-5 weeks to assess your fitness and adjust your training paces. This way, you are always training to your fullest potential.

Real Life Example

Three weeks before my fastest marathon to date —Mississauga 2022— I did a 6-minute test at a pace of 3:19/km, which predicts a 2:55:31 marathon. In the end, I was able to run that marathon with a personal record of 2:54:31.

marathon goals

6-Minutes Test Explanation

Setting Marathon Goals on Recent Performance

I personally like, use, and recommend the 6-minute test to set a marathon goal. But many people also like to use a recent race to do it.

Just a word of warning. Your fitness could be very different if your recent race was more than 3-4 months before starting your marathon training.

Marathon Goals Calculator

Whatever method you choose to set your marathon goal, you can input your paces in the calculator below to estimate your marathon time.

What’s Next

With this realistic and challenging goal, you (or a coach) can build a training plan that suits your current running fitness and will set you up for success.

The above calculator will also tell you the appropriate paces to hit for different workouts and distances.

In conclusion, setting the wrong marathon goal is the #1 mistake runners make when preparing for a marathon. It can lead to injury, disappointment, and poor training plans. However, by following the advice in this article, you can set a meaningful, realistic goal that sets you up for success. 

Remember, your marathon goal is the foundation of everything you will do over the following weeks, from your training plan to your fueling strategy. Don’t make the mistake of setting a random goal without considering your current fitness level and recent performances. Use the tools and resources provided to assess your capabilities and set a challenging yet achievable goal. 

By doing so, you’ll be able to train more effectively and maximize the time you devote to it. With the right mindset and training plan, you’ll be able to achieve your marathon goal and feel proud of your accomplishment.

As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write me at diego@bannister.coach

Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.