When I was training for a sub three-hour marathon, the numbers of consequence were 6.52. Run each mile of 26.2 in six minutes, 52 seconds, and you will run a marathon in under the magical three-hour barrier. I have new numbers of consequence: 8.57. Let’s call them nine-minute miles: that would be a 5k in 27.58, a 10k in 55.56, a half-marathon in 1:57.59, a marathon in 3:55.58. Easy. I have PBs that obliterate those times. My marathon best is more than 65 minutes faster on the road, 50 minutes on the trail.
But here’s the snag: running nine-minute miles for 66 miles, almost 11 consecutive 27.58 10k repetitions. That’s a more daunting prospect. Or is it? I tapped my most recent marathon time into a Runner’s World race calculator: a 3:21 effort at the hilly Three Forts in Sussex where I was several minutes slower than I’d have liked to have been. My calculated time for 67 miles (to be on the safe side): 9:03.47, a time that would mean running eight-minute miles. To use a running metaphor, I don’t think there’s much mileage in race calculators beyond entertaining unrealistic goals.
I set off on my final recce of the Vanguard Way today aiming to run 8.57 pace. I ran almost 16 miles from Troy Town, near Edenbridge, to the breezy heights of Gills Lap in Ashdown Forest. My overall pace, despite the awkwardness of running over ground churned up by horses’ hooves, was 8.46. Taking out all the pauses – caused by route-finding paranoia – the pace was 8.04, much closer to the holy grail of a nine-hour finish time. The recce tells me little about pacing, though; it’s hard to equate form over 16 miles into 66, or – on the other hand – replicate ‘race’ day conditions.
I have been told many times over the years to embrace the spirit of time-less running that doesn’t obsess about how long it takes to travel from A to B. After all, no-one really cares, do they?
Does time matter? Unfortunately, yes. Too much. As it does in life. A runner doesn’t even need to ask the question.