A Personal Best Marathon Course
It goes without saying that the most important thing to do if your aim is to achieve a personal best in the marathon is to train properly. However, with that as a given, let’s take a look at the most important criteria in the selection of the right race...
It’s true that all courses measure 26.2 miles, but it is the different characteristics of each measured course that make a race “fast or slow”. If you want to run a marathon to the best of your abilities, you need to opt for a “flat” course. Make sure you take a careful look at the plan before registering for the race.
In an international context, the quickest marathons are without doubt Berlin, Rotterdam and London. New York, out of all of the majors, is the most unforgiving.
It is better to opt for a marathon close to home, ideally a race in your hometown (as long as it is a reasonably flat course, as mentioned above). You can eat at home, sleep in your own bed and avoid disrupting your normal pre-race routine, all of which helps you to get to the start line feeling ready and in control.
3. Number of participants
If you want to beat your personal record, race size can make a difference. It is important to select a race with plenty of participants to ensure that you won’t be running long sections on your own without the stimulus of crowds or other runners.
At the same time, I feel that marathons with a huge number of participants can often be too chaotic and “stressful”. This is both due to the discomfort prior to the start where you can find yourself squashed into the corrals, and the fact there is often a bottleneck in the first few miles which makes it difficult to run at the right pace for you.
When achieving a new best time is your main objective, I think that a marathon with 4 or 5000 participants is about the right size.
The factor that has the biggest impact on performance is without doubt the weather on race day. Clearly none of us mere mortals are able to govern atmospheric events, but all the same, there are periods in the year with a higher risk of bad weather. Again, look back to see the weather conditions in previous editions of your chosen race to get an idea of what is typical.
Weather conditions also play an important role in race preparation. If you decide to take part in a (fast) marathon in September, you need to take into account the fact that your marathon-specific training sessions will be undertaken in the summer months, that is during what is usually the hottest time of the year. Personally, I prefer to run an autumn race in the months of October or November, and a spring race between the start of March and mid-April.
Enjoy your Marathon!