Six tips for marathoners as they hit peak mileage

Mary Jennings: September provides a huge opportunity to hone preparations for the big day

September is the month where long runs take over the weekends of those training for a late autumn marathon. These are the weeks of peak mileage and looking ahead at our training plan can seem very daunting. But this month is actually a huge opportunity for runners. Rather than wishing it away or facing it with trepidation, these are weeks that you will remember long past marathon day and they certainly don’t need to be filled with fear.

Hitting peak mileage

September is the month for building endurance, resilience and most importantly self-belief and confidence. Over the next few weeks you will learn so much about your body. Even if some of your long runs don’t quite go to plan, there are plenty lessons to be learnt that will help you run better on race day. In fact, September is the month you can make all your mistakes, so you head into October knowing what works (and what doesn’t) for your body.

By the end of the month

Rather than worrying about the time you will be on your feet each weekend, I encourage you to take every long run this month as an opportunity to celebrate what you can do and also find answers to the many questions and uncertainties that might currently be spinning in your head and causing anxiety. There are six things you can focus on this month that will help you head into October confident about your marathon potential and feeling proud of your September achievements.

1) Make an adventure

For one of your weekend long runs, aim to go somewhere completely different than your usual route. Many of us are too focused on getting these long run done to actually making a conscious effort to enjoy them. The distraction of a new route will keep your mind off the miles and allow you to appreciate how far you are actually running. Maybe someone could drop you 18 miles from home and you run back, or you could try running some of the actual marathon route. Why not map a route around your local town and ask others to join you for part of the route. The opportunities are endless but it is important to celebrate each of these long runs for the achievement they are.


2) Night before routine

For every long run this month aim to have the same dinner the night before, the same breakfast and set out everything you need for your run before you go to bed. Take a photo of what you have laid out and that will act as a reminder for you when it comes to race day preparation. From technology to socks, drinks to blister plasters, if you are organised and prepared going to bed, you will sleep better and you can start your long run morning with the mindset of someone ready to run, rather than waste time and energy getting prepared or waiting for a watch to charge.

3) Your marathon outfit

The less decisions we need to make the better for our energy and our confidence. I don’t want you having to decide which sports bra or socks to wear the night before the marathon. Start now by dedicating certain items of clothing to be your marathon attire. Pick out the underwear that works for your long runs. Decide which running shoes are best for endurance. You should even consider which way to tie your hair, what you will carry with you and if there are certain areas you need to protect from chaffing or blisters. Ideally by the end of the month you should be able to picture your full marathon attire knowing that all elements have worked in training. I would even recommend you keep your long run running shoes and clothing just for your weekend runs now so they are fresh and ready come race day.

4) Pacing and Snacks

Last month, I shared with you all the tips for avoiding hitting the marathon wall. In summary, running at a comfortable pace combined with a gradual drip of drinks and snacks along the way will set you up for success. You have four more weeks now to finetune this marathon day diet. Decide before you set out on each run at what point you will eat and drink and stick to it. Try new foods if you have yet to find the ones that work for you. Make notes after each run and by the end of the month you will know what works for you. Remember that there are no prizes for speed this month. You will build your endurance best by running at a comfortable conversational pace in your long runs.

5) Accept the rollercoaster

Remember that almost everyone hits a bad patch in marathon training. We can feel like we are the only one who has to replan or rejig our marathon goals. Taking a break to help manage an injury or fatigue is often the correct but difficult call. Knowing all your running buddies are adding up miles can be unsettling if you cannot join them. Try not to focus on what others are doing and instead use your time wisely on mental training, journaling, replanning, flexibility and strength training. If you are not in a position to do a long run, consider breaking the long run mileage across two consecutive days or try a walk/run strategy. I have recommended this approach to many runners who are anxious about losing fitness or who are building back up after a setback.

6) Write it all down

I cannot overestimate how important having notes on paper is for a nervous marathoner. It may seem a chore now, but it provides reassurance once the race day panics kick in. All these months of marathon training can blur into one long run in October. Being able to read through the history of these long runs and all the setbacks you have overcome will calm many an anxious marathoner’s mind and help us realise all we have achieved to date.

A month to remember

It can feel like running is taking over the best part of your week between preparation, running and recovery right now. But hang in there, these days don’t last forever. The next long run you will do after these important weeks with have hundreds of people cheering you along from the footpaths. Can you picture that? It’s exciting. Keep that image in your mind as you run closer and closer to your grand finale.

You can do it – one week at a time.

- Sign up for one of The Irish Times’s Get Running programmes (it is free!) First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.

  • Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
  • Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
  • 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark. Best of luck!

- Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at Her autumn term of running classes and workshops in Dublin start next week.