Is your running not going to plan? Don’t panic
Most runners will encounter at least one hiccup on their path to the start line
It is the head that will run the last few miles of the marathon on race day. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
If your Dublin Marathon training has been running smoothly then you are indeed one of the lucky ones. Spare a thought for the majority of runners who haven’t had such a clear run. Most runners will encounter at least one hiccup on their path to the marathon start line. Illness, injury, fatigue or self-doubt can all leave a runner feeling anxiously behind schedule at this stage of the game.
September means peak mileage, and it’s no coincidence that most niggles, injuries and doubts occur this month. Runners sometimes choose to ignore the early warning signs and continue to run regardless of new aches and pains. They may also become complacent about nutrition, flexibility and sleep as they prioritise miles rather than minding their body. It is rare to find a marathoner who feels fresh-legged at this stage of training after a long summer on the roads.
An inbox of anxiety
When training is not going to plan, it is easy to panic. We agonise over lost miles and deteriorating fitness. Often we feel like we are the only one struggling and become envious of other runners. Many runners feel like they need to cram in extra runs to make up for missed training sessions. As a marathon coach, my job this month mainly involves reassuring runners that they have done their homework and to keep calm, make sensible decisions and not let minor setbacks derail their marathon dream.
A summer of memories
If you have been following my marathon tips, you will now have at least 10 weeks logged in your training diary, which is quickly becoming a memoir of miles run, lessons learned and summer sessions with running buddies. When nerves and doubts creep into the minds of my students, I first point them in the direction of their training dairy for reassurance. Without the diary all the long runs blend into a blur in our memory and it’s hard to see beyond the most recent setback. Runners tend to focus on the negative and rarely count their blessings and all the positive lessons learned over these weekends on the road.
The long run mood
One morning on the road can make a world of difference to the mindset of a marathoner in training. The weekly long run either builds or destroys the marathon confidence. All it takes is one good run to make the marathon day an exciting prospect. Equally, returning from a disappointing long run can fill the runner with fear and anxiety about the marathon distance. This fear of the next long run can play havoc with a runner’s confidence as they often anticipate a repeat of last week’s performance. We would be wiser identifying what to change in our training to make next weekend better rather than spend our time worrying about the unknown.
When to take a break
Although we all need to aspire to sticking to our training plan, we need to maintain a level of flexibility. Sometimes we are forced to take time off due to injury or make a sensible and brave decision to take a break and nurse a niggle. It can be difficult to watch from the sidelines as friends and running buddies log miles and put photos online. The break from the road doesn’t mean it’s a wasted week and can often be a hard but brave decision. Remember that marathon training is not all about miles, and there is plenty training you can do when not out on the road.
Runners are naturally reluctant to miss a long run, as we worry how it will affect our marathon preparation. Be wise this September and give your body and the marathon the respect they both deserve. Think twice before you run miles on a body that would benefit more from a weekend of rest. It may feel like cheating, but this September I have advised many of my students to take a weekend off and return mentally and physically fresher, stronger and more energised for the next long run.
Training without running
You can train your head while the legs take a break. There are many simple but powerful exercises you can do to prepare like an elite athlete, using this time to apply some basic sports psychology to your training. You will calm the nerves, reduce anxiety and build confidence all without running a minute. From visualisation to positive self-talk, the benefits of mental training cannot be understated. Removing the worries from your head and putting them on paper will free your mind for the tapering phase which is fast approaching. Create a list of all your marathon day fears and identify how you will handle them should they materialise. This simple exercise has been known to calm many a marathoner in distress.
Build your confidence
Don’t let one long run or a setback destroy your belief in your ability to complete the marathon. Approach Marathon Month with positivity, a sensible and realistic strategy and an open mind to keep your body and head on track in the coming weeks. Resting is not cheating. And if needed, it will make you stronger as you replace leg training with head training; for it is the head that will run the last few miles of the marathon on race day.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with forgetthegym.ie. She trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free. Mary is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes – Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running.