In the 8 weeks since I completed the Reykjavik Marathon I’ve run 5 times. Rewind through the years and it’s a familiar story; after completing the London Marathon (4 times), in the months after Glencoe, the autumn after Orkney. Seven times now I’ve started and finished a marathon yet after each marathon I’ve hit the wall with my own training in the immediate months that follow.
As running has become more important in my life I’ve ensured that I maintain contact with the community by coaching, spectating or volunteering in the months following a marathon but it’s taken a long time to return to a regular routine with my own training. So what’s going on?
Before I get going on to the main thrust of this blog it’s worth pointing out I’ve loved every one of the marathons I’ve done. The distance made me a runner, it introduced me to running clubs and therefore lots of my current friends. 26.2 miles gives me a sense of personal achievement which completing other distances can’t come close to. I enjoy the adulation from non-runners which only seems to be afforded to marathon runners. I love the history of the distance. I love training consistently, motivated by a looming goal. I enjoy listening to podcasts on long runs, something I rarely make time for otherwise. I enjoy having an easy go-to topic of conversation with other runners. I’ve loved the intimacy of events like Orkney and Glencoe, the unique atmosphere of London and running through phenomenal backdrops such as Reykjavik. I wouldn’t change those memories for anything.
Some of you will already be thinking; ‘It’s ok’, ‘ You should take a break’. It’s true, a break is well earned and necessary post-Marathon to allow the body to recover. Depending on the rule you go by this usually involves somewhere around 3 to 4 weeks of inactivity. One day per mile raced seemed to be to be the most fashionable recovery mantra around the time of my first marathon (although does this apply to all distances? If so why does nobody stick to it?). Why though do I fall out of good habits so easily and for so long after a marathon? This is not an anti-marathon blog. However after each one completed I’ve totally fallen off the rails running wise and it’s taken a marathon effort to get back into the routine of running regularly.
I’ve spent a long time pondering this and still can’t quite put my finger on it;
Being brutally honest I just couldn’t really be bothered running over the past 8 weeks. This can go on for several months (6 after my first marathon). I know I have gotten frustrated that my times over other distances have tailed off and it can seem like a long road back (the irony being the road back gets longer with each passing week). As a result I get more and more frustrated with myself as well as losing the positive wellbeing and mental health benefits of running.
Is it the frustration of not quite hitting a target in an event where you invest so much time but only get one chance to perform? Unlike other distances where you can pencil in another effort in a matter of days whilst allowing your body a good amount of recovery. Certainly in my last two marathons this isn’t the case as I’ve dropped my time significantly.
Is it physical fatigue? I’m not so sure on this one as I see people running ultras and long runs on a much more regular basis than I do with no ill effects. I’ve run decent times soon after a marathon where I’ve signed up to races and gone along just to see how I feel.
Is it sour grapes that I haven’t quite reached a level of performance which I have in other distances? My 5k, 10k, 10 Mile and Half Marathon times should put me on course for a time just outside the 3 hour mark but I’ve never even come close.
I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know running is great for me in so many ways though and I don’t like it when I am not in that regular routine. Hard to break, difficult to pick up.
What do others think? For every amateur runner churning out brilliant personal bests over the marathon distance, for every runner ticking the distance off their bucket list…… there’s a more silent minority steering well clear of the distance. Not everyone reckons you should complete a marathon to be classed a runner despite what you might think. There are several vocal proponents of complete abstinence. There are coaches who tell you not to bother. Yet the lure of the distance, the kudos lavished on marathon completers by non-runners, the prestige of participating in the majors keeps drawing us in. This is despite the marathon often being an anti-climax for those, like myself, who become time obsessed.
It’s a split decision amongst amateur runners.
In summary this blog is not so much about what is the right recovery but about the growing feeling that marathon running might be having a negative impact on my running performance. It’s hopefully something that will spark some thought and debate. It’s aimed at anyone thinking about or who has recently completed a marathon. Seven marathons in I find myself contemplating retirement from the big distance – the perceived holy grail of running. At least for the time being.
With so much pressure (from myself) to perform it’s quite literally all your eggs in one basket hoping everything (weather, course, guts, fuelling and health) aligns perfectly on one day of the year. The reality is everything is not going to align unless you spread the risk and enter a lot of events. The trade off is not worth it for me – you’re going to be training a lot more on your own and your performance in more club friendly and social events is likely going to suffer. That’s not to say I’ve not hit great 5k and 10k times during my training blocks but these have tended to come around the middle third of a training block when runs of around 12-14 miles are common.
So one week back in to training what’s next? Well I’d like to replicate the same consistency and commitment I’ve proven I can over several marathon training blocks to other distances for the 2019 season. I hope to get back close to my 5k and 10k pb times in the near future and work hard over the x-country season. I have the endurance in my legs from a marathon training block that will undoubtedly help. I have arranged some middle distance runs with a group of guys from the Harriers on a Sunday as this is a type of training I’ve only really focused on when completing a marathon block.
Could it be that the marathon just isn’t my distance? Maybe I should focus on the 5k through Half Marathon range where I am happy with my performance level. Perhaps as runners we don’t often think about what discipline is our strongest and work on that. We simply see running as running when some of us are built for speed and others for endurance.
As I develop my coaching skill set and look in from the outside I guess I am looking at year on year progress as I move from one training block to the next. This was sacrificed in the second half of 2018 as I concentrated my efforts on the marathon which was never part of my grand plan and this is perhaps behind my current frustrations.
Non-runners might not be as impressed if I drop below 18 minutes for the 5k or get closer to 1 hour 20 for the half but I know these will be greater achievements than running another marathon. That can wait for now. I’m just glad to be back running.
Hopefully this doesn’t put anyone off the marathon. Just take your time though and consider if it is right for you – do you want to get faster over shorter distances first? If you go for it remember completing it really is the goal and the achievement. Times are for seasoned marathon runners. Tell people that when they ask how it went / or if you have a goal time in mind. (Remember our previous blog on First Time Marathon Running). Look after yourself. Increase incrementally and build in easier weeks to allow your body to adapt and recover.
On a side note. I actually fatigued during training prior to Reykjavik. I only did about 60% of my planned long runs and dropped out of regular hard sessions in the crucial 12 weeks leading up to race day. Despite this I ran well (11 seconds inside my pb although the course was later measured as 200 metres short). Maybe something for a future blog but I actually think I could run the same time tomorrow as I think it’s much more a mental test than a physical one.