The Running Formula


Enter a distance you have run recently in miles or kilometers, enter the time it took you to run that distance, enter the distance you want to predict, and click calculate. The formula was devised by Pete Riegel in the late 70s to predict how fast a person could run one race based on their finish time of a previous race. I bet I’m not the only runner to obsess over, or cuss this formula.

Using my last half marathon time of 1:56:20, the formula predicted I would run a marathon in 4:02:32. Of course we all know the formula can’t predict everything that magically happens on race day. . . which began last Sunday when the alarm rang at 3:45am. Our clocks had sprang forward a few hours earlier, already leaving me with one less hour of fitful sleep.

After two days of debate, my husband had finally agreed that I should drive myself to the starting line. It was only the 2nd time I have ever gone to a race by myself, but the race director had been insistent that all runners should be on the shuttle bus to the race venue no later than 6am – which would put us back home again at least 2 hours after our oldest dog could no longer “hold it,” if you know what I mean.

I brushed my teeth, dressed, had breakfast, and my husband fixed a cappuccino for the road – a routine that is exactly backwards to everyday life. I had filled water bottles, and packed extra clothes, in case the forecast didn’t fib and it rained. My husband gave me a kiss, and told me he’d see me at the finish line around noon. It was 65 degrees (18ºC) at 4:30am when I left home.


Fast, Flat, & Fun Marathon in Cary, NC
The Tobacco Road Marathon spans 20 miles of the beautiful American Tobacco Trail in Cary, North Carolina. Whether you are a marathon expert or just starting out, this Boston Qualifier marathon will give you what you need to achieve your personal best.
The fast, flat, and fun course offers a shaded, scenic run with optimal running conditions all the way through the downhill finish helping you reach your best time ever!


Most runners will consistently improve when they first start running, even if they do everything wrong. I know this to be true because I did everything wrong. At some point, however, it becomes harder and harder to best your finish times. With the natural slowing experienced with age, I’ve always believed it to be a “win” just to maintain. Nonetheless, runners live and die by setting personal records, achieving Boston Qualifier times, and forever running faster. I am no exception.

I drove myself to the race, completely forgot to bring along my purse (i.e., no money), panicked when the directions took me on a toll road, marveled that there is such a thing as “Pay by Mail” on a toll road, shared “war” stories with a fellow runner on the shuttle, sat on the curb between taking turns standing in line for the porta-potty, positioned myself at the starting line, and ventured off on 26.2 miles all by myself.

The race was touted as “Flat and Fast” – the reason I chose this race in the first place. It was not flat.

Tobacco Road Marathon Elevation; the fourth ‘flattest’ course in North Carolina.

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22+ mile trail of rolling hills. There was a 2-mile stretch on the road before the trail where the half marathoners turned left, and the rest of us turned right onto a ‘granite screenings surface’ – a naturally decomposed granite created when granite is compressed and broken down into a combination of sand and gravel. Somehow in my search for the perfect, flat and fast marathon, I didn’t realize this course would be mostly sand. By the end of the race, I had sand everywhere.

The home stretch.

Things went well for the first 2 hours, and I felt pretty good until mile 22 when I bonked. Determined to run that 4-hour marathon, I didn’t accept that this course wasn’t flat until I had spent too long at a flat course pace. I also didn’t accept that it was warmer than one might expect for an early spring morning.

It crossed my mind that an elite runner would walk off the course, preserving their effort for a day when their body cooperated. As usual, I decided I had worked hard for a medal and I wasn’t leaving without one.

There were several miles between 22 and 26 that I walked – only to remember my husband had been standing at the finish line since noon wondering where I was. He later told me he had positioned himself directly in front of the line, and worked his way further and further back down the course as time went by. His next move was to start walking the course.


Sometimes a race just feels right, and sometimes it doesn’t. As soon as I crossed the finish line I told my husband, “I don’t ever need to do this again. I’m done.” Wisely he smiled and told me I could tell him that tomorrow, not today. He was right.


Hunters running in a cave painting made 2,000 to 3,000 years ago in Zimbabwe.
From Racing the Antelope.

Berne Heinrich wrote the book, Racing the Antelope: What Animals Can Teach Us About Running and Life, (xii + 292. HarperCollins, 2001) where he proposes that humans have evolved into endurance hunters. Athough a biologist by profession, he has held the masters (40 and older) world record for an ultramarathon (100 kilometers) from 1981 through 2007, and at the end of 2007 he was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Association’s Hall of Fame.

Heinrich makes the case that our bodies are physiologically well adapted for the long run; from our flexible Achilles’ tendons, arched feet, and strong big toes to the fact that our lungs, blood and circulatory systems supply oxygen for aerobic processing that allows us to burn fat for energy – the key to fueling the body for the long run.

Perhaps most importantly, Heinrich argues that we are psychologically adapted to endurance running since we can visualize far ahead and use our imagination to motivate ourselves.

Yes, this is the life of a competitive runner. We wake up the day after a grueling race, assess our errors, re-visit the formula, and vow we can run this race to the peak of our ability. We vow to try again.

At the end of my very, long race day, my husband told me yet again how proud he was of me. He said, “You are my warrior.” I gave him a tired smile, and warned him that sometimes warriors die. He said, “No, sometimes warriors have to live.” That’s when I realized I had survived, and I would have to try again.