Can I Run a Marathon 12 Minutes Faster?

My last marathon was a PB and I am so pleased with my race that day. It was the Leeds Rob Burrow Marathon, my home town, my lifelong Rugby League team and two of my heroes. I was even lucky enough to spend most of the race yoyoing with Rob and Kevin Sinfield as they ran faster than me but had to keep stopping to check on Rob, the noise when they were near was incredible. All in, a fantastic day.

But……. I went 4 hours 12 minutes, so close to the magic 4 hour mark I had to give it another go to get sub-4 so I have signed up for the Yorkshire Marathon in the autumn. This wasn’t just a random choice, but I have picked a race that should help me get the magic time and I am going to explain my reasoning

It’s close to family

I have a lot of family in Yorkshire who all live within 26.2 miles of the start of the race so I should get great support and I can stay with family before and after the race. That means a lot and I always race better knowing that loved ones are nearby. It’s also an area I know from growing up nearby and I have a lot of happy memories around York, OK not as well as the Leeds marathon but it is a great second choice.

It’s flat (flatter than Leeds!)

The Leeds Marathon is not flat at any point other than maybe the last 50m on the rugby pitch at Headingley. Overall it has about 460m of climbing, including a 3.5km stretch where you gain over 100m in a continuous climb. Compare this to London (74m), York (84m) or the even flatter Manchester marathons (54m), there is a lot of time to be saved by running a flatter marathon.

At the hill from Otley to Bramhope, over a 3km section I gained 105m and compared to the previous 3km where I only gained 12m, I was 3 minutes 16 seconds slower or 196 seconds for 93m. Leeds is approximately 376m hillier than York which is just over 4 times the single hill where I lost 196 seconds. Multiplying that 196 by 4.04 gives an estimated time loss for me of 792 seconds or 13 minutes 12 seconds. All else being equal, the hills alon should give me more than the 12 minutes I am looking for.

It should be cooler than May

Leeds and York are only a marathon between them so the weather is normally the same temperature but May is going to be hotter than October. On average Leeds is 16c in May and York is 14c in October but May this year was hot and the race peaked at 21c in the second half of the race. The sun in May is also much stronger, being only 5 weeks from the summer solstice, where mid October is over 3 weeks AFTER the autumn equinox so even on a sunny day in October, I won’t be overheating anywhere near as much.

Heat affects runners in two ways, firstly it takes energy to cool down. Sweating is not a passive process and takes a few heart beats worth of energy to cool my body, energy that I could otherwise have used to run faster. Secondly, seating causes dehydration and although my hydration plan was good, I will have lost some time due to dehydration. Above 2% fluid loss you will suffer and slow down, proper management and drinking plenty will minimise this but I can’t do too much to minimise the heart rate changes.

The optimum race temperature for an age group marathon runner like me is about 8c, a little lower for the elite athletes, which is why marathon season is spring and autumn. If I compare Leeds to the 8c perfect temperature I can assume that the first half of the race was cooler – I was in the shade and it was earlier in the day. The first half of the race was about 13c and I can estimate that I ran 3% slower so for the first 2 hours I lost 3 minutes 36 seconds. The second half of the race was much hotter, especially in the bright sun so lets assume an average temperature of 18c for 2 hours and a 6% loss – 7 minutes 12 seconds and a total of 10 minutes 48 seconds lost to the heat.

York should theoretically average about 13c, bit less at the start, maybe a little more at the end but a 3% loss over the whole race seems reasonable. I will drink plenty and try to reduce that further, same as I did at Leeds but I can expect a 7 minutes 12 seconds loss, putting York 3 minutes 36 seconds quicker. On a cool October day, that number can be even higher.

It comes down to my training

Adding the figures together for heat and hills I have a potential 17 minutes I can save , everything else being equal so it will come down to my training as to whether I manage to get sub-4 or not. Can I stay injury free in the last few weeks, can I get my nutrition plan and hydration plan spot on and will I be prepared to suffer on race day and keep going when my rational self says STOP! That is the big question that I will find out next month!!