Training for the Milan marathon the question that keeps popping up during the build-up is “are you ready?”

The goal of any training block is, of course, to be ready for race day, but more often than not athletes finding themselves wanting more time the closer the race gets. If you often find yourself with negative response to this question, there are some changes you could make to help be ready for race day.

Set realistic goals

One issue that sees athletes feel unready for race day is unrealistic goals. If the marathon time you have set yourself is just an arbitrary number (sub 4 or sub 3 for example) and comes from simply wanting to see yourself achieve a certain time then it can be labelled an outcome focused goal.

Focusing on the outcome without a willingness to adapt can mean that we set goals that simply are not achievable in the time frame we have. Or the goal is too soft and you’re under-achieving on race day too.

It can mean that every session you’re focused on a certain pace. The golden, sometimes elusive, marathon pace you desire might actually be just out of reach and constantly you feel like you’re “not ready” to run that time and that translates to “not ready” to run your marathon.

It’s important to separate the physical conditioning to simply run a marathon and the level needed to run your goal time. You can be ready to run a marathon, but not ready to run the particular time you want.

Photo: Zoe Salt

Be adaptable, dynamic

One way around this is not to limit yourself with a set time, but aim to run the best marathon you can on the day. Instead of dialing into a pace you want to sustain for 26.2 miles, work on the effort level instead.

Not only does this approach allow for those tired marathon training days, when the kids have been sick the night before and work is doing your head in, when X minutes per mile would basically be a 5k effort, rather than marathon, but also means a sudden jump in performance is taken in your stride too.

Focusing on the effort level also means that you’re more accustomed to adapting on race day too. If it’s too hot, bitterly cold or the media have named another storm that’s going to mess up everyone’s race then you’ll be able to adapt. If you’re tied to a set number, regardless of how well you’ve prepared for that number, and it’s suddenly 26 degrees, then you need to slow down.

How do I decide on a marathon pace?

There’s quite a few different marathon indicator sessions, as well as formulas to apply to your most recent times, but it’s not really that simple. We’re all very individual and when one runner can multiple their half marathon by two and add six minutes, another needs to add 10, whilst someone can add just two or three.

The same goes for indicator sessions. Personally I like to see an athlete being comfortable running (and fuelling) at marathon pace in the second half of a long run, on tired legs.

You’re likely starting that run tired from the preceding days and weeks of training too and if you can comfortably run marathon pace, or even effort, in the second half of a 2:30 long run then you’re in a good place. The taper will help with the numbers too.

Photo: Robbie Britton

Do I have to hit target pace?

Yet some athletes, myself included in some race build-ups, won’t hit race pace until race day or taper time. Others find marathon pace easy in training and then come unstuck on race day for a variety of reason, such as conditioning for the later miles, chaffing or fuelling issues.

If you want a simple formula to tell you your time then it’s not coming from me. Focus on what slows you down in the second half, be it the pace or the energy requirements, for example, and try to train with those in mind.

If you bonk at mile 20 because you don’t like eating gels at your marathon pace, but your Yasso 800s say it’s the right pace, then you either need to train your gut (and mind) to eat or slow down.

Be ready, for anything

So what effort should marathon pace be? On race day it should feel easy for quite some time. If it’s hard work in the first 5-6 miles even 11-13, then you’re likely going too fast. Don’t worry, the hurt will come.

When you ask if you’ll be ready for race day try not to think of a certain pace and ask yourself instead if you will be ready for 26.2miles. Is your nutrition and hydration plan prepared and taking into account what the race will have on offer and have you practiced in the kit you’re going to wear, rather than can you run X minutes per mile.

Organising the travel to the start, your accommodation or where you’ll see your friends and family on course to smile at will have a direct impact on how you perform. The closer you get to race day, the more you worry about a certain number for pace, the more likely it is you’ve set yourself an unrealistic goal.

Worry about what you can control. Balance anxiety with excitement and by the time you’re in a taper make sure you know you’re ready for everything in your grasp. You cannot control the weather, but you can prepare for it.

When someone asks if you’ll be ready on race day, make sure you can say “yes” because the question is are you ready to give it your best shot on the day and if that’s not true, then maybe you shouldn’t be on the start-line.