People who know me reasonably well know that I'm an analyzer. Not really terribly surprising; I like math, and data, and numbers, and studies, and science. I like making plans & following them. I like planning to plan. I like to pre-mortem, post-mortem, assess, re-assess, and evaluate. I *really* don't like uncertainty and error and sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to interpret statements like "I am just going with the flow" as "I am too lazy/scared/generally incompetent to commit, plan, & execute."
This has played heavily into the whole marathon training thing. Having never run one before and not really knowing how or what pace was reasonable, I tried to gather as much information as I could in order to come up with a training & race plan that was ambitious but not stupid. In the course of doing that, my expectations and goal pace have been all over the map. Back when I started, I was shooting for eight-minute miles, or about 10 seconds slower per mile than the Runner's World training calculator said I should be able to run, based on my times at other distances. Little by little, though, I've been backing away from that pace, for a couple of reasons.
First, I just don't think I'm there. My core competency definitely lies in the 3 - 13 mile range, which I think has a very different set of demands than the 20+ range. (This was one of my post-Clarksburg reflections -- as long as you've got the endurance for 13 miles, a half-marathon & a 10K are really almost the same race in terms of strategy, preparation, fueling etc.) Those are the distances I know and feel comfortable with and have been gearing my training towards for the last couple of years. On the other hand, I've only been doing marathon-specific training (long runs & MP runs) for about 3 months, which is just not a ton of time to learn a new set of running skills & prepare your body for very different demands than it's used to in terms of racing.
Second, it's hard to predict how I'll deal with all the rolling hills in the first 13-15 miles. Some of my MP runs through parts of GG Park have been pretty miserable in the uphill sections; for example, last Saturday I ran 8 miles at marathon effort (I wasn't trying to maintain a specific pace), and around mile 3 of a gradual uphill I was running about an 8:30 pace and absolutely hating life. On the other hand, I've sometimes found myself running nearly effortless sub-eight's on some of the gradual downhill sections. I think the CIM hills will be a little more rolling and a little less prolonged, though, so until I'm actually on the course, trying to guess how I'll deal with the terrain is kind of a crapshoot.
Third, I was hoping to use my Clarksburg time to get a more updated prediction for my marathon pace. Since that time ended up being kind of useless, I'm stuck with the 10Ks I was using back in September, which, while probably not wildly inaccurate, are definitely not as reliable as a more recent time from a longer race would be.
Finally, the most important thing to me is to have a happy, good race and finish strong. There may be an outside chance of my being able to do that at an eight mile pace, but if I try it & end up being wrong, I'm likely in for an utterly miserable first marathon. And that's something I don't want to risk.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the training I've done and feel completely confident that I'll be able to finish and with a respectable time. I'm just having to rein in my competitive side a bit and remind myself that no, I actually DON'T know how to race a marathon, and I need to stop thinking about it the way I do distances where I know what I'm doing. So, in the interest of having a happy, fun, low-key, low-pressure first marathon, I've made a new CIM plan.
My new plan is to run by feel & effort, rather than trying to keep up a specific pace. Partly, I think I need to do this because I'm not familiar with the course and I don't know for sure how I'll deal with the hills in the first half. I think I have a good sense at this point of what (safe) marathon pace should feel like -- long run pace, then push it just a little bit. I'm not committing myself to any numbers, but I would guess that, between the uphills & downhills, that should work out to around 8:15 - 8:20 for the first half if I'm having a good day. (And if I'm having a bad day & it means 9:00 miles, then so be it.) If I'm still strong & comfortable once the course flattens out, I'll feel a little more confident pushing the pace for the last 10-12 miles. If I'm feeling at all uneasy, though, my plan is to invest in the last 10K by backing off until I can get comfortable.
I've also promised myself that when I finish (and barring freak medical issues, I really don't see any reason why I shouldn't), I *will* feel proud of myself & happy with my performance. I *will not* mope about my time or pace, regardless of what it is, or over-analyze the entire race & brood about everything I could've-should've-would've done differently. I *will* smile as I cross the finish, even if I have to fake it with every fiber of my being. :)