When The Fastest Way To Get There Is To Go Slow

Well, this is a bit awkward. I’m currently trying to figure out a strategy for running a slow marathon. Yes, you’ve read that right; this time next week, I’ll be heading to Rome in order to run a very leisurely 26.2 mile loop around the eternal city.

Where most runners would be planning a race strategy and pacing plan that will allow them to shave a few seconds off their personal best time, I’m actively trying to figure out a path which will lead me to a new personal worst. I will be most upset with anything better than that.

I promise there is madness to my method. Firstly, I have run my socks off at a half marathon last weekend, and although I can’t feel it in my legs at all, I still want to give my body a chance to fully recover without demanding another endurance race straight away. This is especially important given that my next target race is a 55 mile ultramarathon in June; that is, only three months away now. And because ultras don’t run themselves, I want to be able to hurl myself into training for the monstrosity when I return from Rome, rather than having to make room for extensive recovery time from my latest racing folly.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Rome marathon is notorious for following a downright amazing route, which passes the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican and countless other monuments, landmarks and cool stuff. I’d rather enjoy the truly awesome scenery than spend my time alternately focussing my attention on the extent of the pain in my abs and the numbers flashing on my watch.


So having decided that I’ll go slow, all that’s left to do now is to figure out just how slow I want to go and how to achieve this.

Given my recent half-marathon race time, I should be able run the big 26.2 in about 3:30 if I were to attack it. Therefore, I have decided that I shall be most upset if I run the Rome marathon in anything under four hours. I honestly don’t care how long it takes me to reach the finish line, as long as it’s over that threshold.

Here are some of the specific things that I can do to ensure that my pace remains leisurely:

  1. Before the race begins, I’ll line up a couple of pens back from the one I have been allocated into, hoping that the slower moving masses will rein in any potential outbursts of speedy stupidity on my part.
  2. Once the race starts, I will make sure that my start is very slow indeed. I might even walk the first kilometre or so, just to make sure that all my splits are “terrible”. My theory is that this will drastically reduce the possibility of committing an act of idiocy after glancing at my watch at the 10/20/21.1/30km marker.
  3. I’ll be a good tourist. I shall study the route extensively on the three hour flight to Rome, so that during the race I can focus my attention and energy on spotting as many landmarks as possible. My camera might also make an appearance or two.
  4. I solemnly swear that I will walk through the aid stations. All of them.
  5. Should my watch, at any point, indicate that I’m running faster than 5:41/km (4 hour marathon) pace, I have to immediately perform a 100m walk of shame.
  6. Should I spot the 4:00 pacer at any point during the race, I’ll have to walk until the 4:15 pacer makes an appearance, using the time to think about what I’ve done.

Have you ever aimed for a minimum time in a race? Do you have any tips?

32 thoughts on “When The Fastest Way To Get There Is To Go Slow

  1. Honestly, good for you for taking things a little slower. Without having to stress over numbers, I think you will really be able to take in the experience of running in Rome! However, this is easier said than done. I’ve gone in to a couple of races telling myself to just take it easy and enjoy the ride-but ultimately my self-competetive side takes over and I end up trying to really race! But I think you have a good list of ideas to slow yourself down, as long as you can stick with it 😉 Maybe stop and take pictures of everything, that will help extend your race time!

    • Thank you Jamie! I know that going slow is the right thing to do, hence I’m adamant to do it. But once the gun goes and everyone sets off, I too find it hard to keep the inner racehound in check! I might bring take a camera on the run – maybe even a little video one, that’ll keep me occupied and distracted, right? 😉

  2. Angie says:

    I still think you should take a camera or your phone and take selfies by all the big landmarks. That should slow you down. Then your post race blog would be full of cool photos.

  3. The last two strategies made me laugh! I also agree with Angie’s suggestion about taking photos/selfies on the way round. I’m going to do this in the Paris breakfast run the day before the marathon as I know what I’m like when I say I’m “just going to take it easy” – I get carried away and end up running too fast!
    I say just enjoy the day, enjoy the landmarks and if you get “stuck” behind slower runners, go with it, maybe chat and make some new running friends.
    Have fun!

    • Yes! Meeting other people! I haven’t even thought about striking up conversations with other runners during the marathon – that’s a great idea. 😀 I think it’s really important to stick with the “slower” runners. Even though I always run my own race, I have no doubt that my pace is affected by that of the people around me. And like you, I find that there’s something about the adrenaline boost you get in a race situation that makes me throw all good intentions out the door and then go chase after them! But not this time!

  4. Trails and Ultras says:

    I love this…when I came back from the Lakes in November I had to run the Cornish Marathon the week after on tired legs. I was forced to run slowly but I really enjoyed it, much more than the year before where I raced it. Plus I quite fancy being the tourist runner (dreaming of mountain ultras abroad 🙂 )

    • Thank you! I must say that I’m super excited about seeing Rome from all angles, and I don’t think that daydreaming will be necessary on this occasion. It’s just that I genuinely want to aim for a normal long run pace, rather than anything resembling race pace. Maybe I should just find and join the 4:30 pacer and be done with it. 😉

  5. That sounds like a gorgeous race! I don’t plan for times. I’m happy if I cross the finish line right now. Maybe some day…

    • I think it’ll be an amazing route – I shall dutifully report my verdict in 10 days or so, of course! 😉 I’m just used to racing and my speedwork has been going really well lately, so I know I’ll be tempted to put it to the test yet again. I just don’t want to get carried away and do something seriously stupid this time around. 😉 I’m signed up for another marathon later on in the year, and if things continue to go well, I can always throw all I’ve got at that race instead!

  6. Definitely take your camera: you’ll obviously have to make a complete stop when you take photos. Great strategy to run smart, lucky you’ve got such beautiful scenery to do it in. Good luck!

  7. Amy says:

    I’m in agreement about the camera. Plus, then we can enjoy the marathon vicariously through your pictures! I think your strategies sound pretty solid, but be careful that you don’t get so caught up in going slow that you miss all the landmarks. I find that in the beginning of a race when I’m trying to force myself to slow down, my eyes are glued to my watch.

    • Oh, that’s interesting – I didn’t think that going slow will force me to look obsessively at my watch, but I think you are right in pointing out that it could be a real danger… I’ll see what I can fathom up on the picture front!

  8. piratebobcat says:

    I set personal worsts on the first three races (5k, 10k, 13.1) of the Dopey Challenge so I could have something left in the tank for the final race (26.2). It was hard not to race, but at least Disney has lots of stuff to look at too. My friend ran Rome last year and said it wreaked havoc on his lower legs because of all the cobble stones you run on. It’s an amazing city, have fun!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m aware that the course in Rome isn’t the easiest, it’s busy and the ground conditions are varied, as you’ve pointed out – it’s also flat as a pancake, which can be a poison chalice in a marathon I think, as it keeps putting the same old pounding through one’s legs. Oh well, maybe I’ll just hop and skip some sections, that’s bound to slow me down too! Either way, having fun is definitely the main goal for the day! 😀

  9. Jim Brennan says:

    Rome marathon sounds so cool. I was there in 2005 when my daughter was studying abroad, but didn’t run because the Boston marathon was a few weeks later. To qualify for Boston I ran a lot of hills and intervals, but don’t over-train. It’s a delicate balance. And good luck in the ultra too.

    • Thank you, Jim! I think I’ve got my strategy for Rome sorted, which should bag me a personal worst (as planned!). From then on, it’s only 12 weeks until the ultra, so time for some serious trail running. The weather is really starting to turn here though and spring has pretty much arrived, so I can’t wait to get out and about so much more than I have been able to during the winter! Are you able to run again?

  10. rsouleret says:

    Can’t wait to read that blog!!!

    • The race is a week from today (the countdown is soooo on!), and I’ll definitely be reporting/moaning/bragging on about how it went as soon as I return to Scotland afterwards. 😉

  11. Lily says:

    I love this, especially after my last half marathon. And I know that whenever I run my first full marathon, I’ll be taking this route as well! Can’t wait to read the recap.

    • Thank you Lily! I’ll let you know how I get on. 😉 Which marathon are you aiming for again? I know it’s one here in Europe and your family will come over to support you, right? It sounds so amazing. I hope your trip is going well, too! =)

  12. hellyfast says:

    Going slow is hard for the competitor in me but if it was something I knew I HAD to do, I would do it. That being said, I wish I was YOUR slow! lol!! How excited to do that race in Rome–it sounds absolutely amazing!! I’ll be doing a 1/2 marathon in Madrid next month and am super excited 🙂 Yay for Europe races!!

    • Hey, and thanks for the comment! I’m most worried about the start – if I manage to go slow for that, I’m sure I’ll be set for the run! 😀 I’m so looking forward to the route around Rome, it’s basically sight-seeing on the run… There are quite a few bloggers running the R’n’R Madrid half, it sounds like an awesome race – I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun! Maybe next year I’ll do it too. 😀

  13. I’m so jealous! What a race location!

    • It’ll be amazing, I’m so excited about it. I know I could be more aggressive about it and plan to race it, but I won’t. Like you guys, I’m using this race basically as a long run in preparation for my upcoming ultra. Also, I’m on holiday in Italy, why not just kick back and enjoy the journey?

  14. Haha – this post made me chuckle. Especially the punishments you will dole out to yourself 🙂 I think this slower pace will really allow you to enjoy the sights. Sounds so incredible!

    • Thank you! I’m glad that you like my strategy. Part of me thinks that maybe I should just race it, I’d certainly be ready for it. But on the other hand, I’m trying to see this marathon in the context of my upcoming races this year, and the smart thing to do would be to take it easy. Besides, it’s a vacation in Rome – it might well be the only time that I get to run this notoriously awesome marathon, so why not kick back and enjoy it?

  15. […] I have pointed out in an earlier post, my goal for Rome was to take it easy, to give my body a bit of a break (as far as that’s […]

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