Marathon training: sometimes the best decision is not to run at all

Taking a break to manage an injury or fatigue is often the right but difficult call

September is the month where running plans dictate the weekend agenda for Dublin Marathon runners. Invitations for nights out are reluctantly refused as weekend morning long runs require fresh heads as well as fresh legs. We are hitting the peak of marathon mileage and each long weekend run is now on the scary side of 15 miles. It can feel like running is taking over the best part of the week between preparation, running and recovery. But hang in there, these days don’t last forever and this time next month you will be only weeks away from marathon day.

Assuming you have been well behaved and followed my tips all summer, you should now have a few months of running history in your training log. A series of summer memories and lessons learned are now logged on paper. Indeed, you may have made a few mistakes on the road and have had a bad run or two but remember each of these experiences are an important part of the marathon journey. We all make mistakes and it’s much better to make them now than on race day.

Plan for autumn

With eight weeks to go until the main event, now is a good time to look back over your progress and plan ahead for the autumn. Congratulations if you are still on track with your original plan. Keep going in the direction you are heading. However, if you have not had the summer you had hoped for, now is the time to reassess your marathon goal, set a more realistic target and adapt your training plan to suit. No matter how training has gone, you have the future ahead and, based on your fitness, physical freshness and any underlying niggles or injuries, you can make a more realistic plan of what is possible for you now in these next two months.

I strongly encourage you to continue to keep track of your progress in your training diary this month or if you have let it lapse dig out the dusty diary and start writing. 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 in detail will calm many an anxious marathoner’s mind and help us realise all we have achieved to date.


Create more memories by adding some variety to your final few long runs

Regardless of the marathon nerves for the 26 miles that await in October, you might already be anxious about the September training schedule. As always, try not to focus too much on the future and concentrate only on what you can do this week to help your marathon preparation.

If this week goes well, the rest of the month is more likely to go in your favour. You will be a different runner by the time you hit the peak mileage at the end of the month. That runner will be well able for the distance with good preparation now.

Appreciate each mile

Every long run is a stepping stone to get you to next week and, ultimately, to the marathon distance in good shape. Treat each long run like an event in itself to be celebrated. Appreciate every mile rather than just consider these long runs as days to tick off the training calendar.

Create more memories by adding some variety to your final few long runs. Make the miles more enjoyable by finding a new route, enlisting friends to meet you for a few miles or even plot a route to end near water for an energising dip as a post-run reward.

Almost everyone hits a bad patch in marathon training. Often we can feel like we are the only one who struggles but be assured that most of us have bad days or even bad weeks. Accept when the time arrives for you and try not to panic.

Sometimes the best training decision is not to run at all. Taking a break to help manage an injury or fatigue is often the right but difficult call. Indeed, sitting at home may feel mentally harder than running 18 miles. Knowing all your running buddies are adding up miles can be unsettling. Try not to focus on their training and, instead, use the time wisely on mental training, journaling, flexibility and strength training or, indeed, make some lists for race day.

If you are not in a position to do a long run for injury or time reasons, consider breaking up the mileage over the weekend. Spread the long run mileage across two consecutive days. I have recommended this approach to many runners who are anxious about losing fitness or who are building back up after a setback.

New challenges

No one has a perfect training route to the marathon. Accept that each week may bring a new challenge but head into it openminded, accepting that there are lessons to be learned on every route. The runs that don’t go to plan are in fact the ones from which you learn the most.

September is the month where endurance, strength and confidence are consolidated. Being a little selfish this month and indeed making a few social sacrifices will stand to you in the future.

There are just four weekends left this September and if you finish the month knowing you have done all you can to help your marathon training, you will head into the final countdown assured that your legs as well as your head are in the best position they can be for marathon month.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at