Should you train for a marathon this summer?

Use this uncertain time to get a plan together and build your mileage

It is very easy to postpone all our bucket list goals until we get Covid behind us and return to normal. For many projects, that can be the best option, but for marathon training, the months ahead could actually be the perfect time to train.

But will there be races?

The uncertainty about races going ahead has runners wondering if they should bother putting the time and effort into training for a long-distance event right now. At the moment some events are optimistic they will return with fanfare, while others are a little more cautious about what the autumn might bring. But please don’t let your decision to run a marathon be placed in a race organiser’s hands.

Finish line glory

You could indeed spend the summer speculating what a race day might look like this autumn, but you are much better off using your energy to get a plan together, build your mileage and focus on what you can control. Decide if you want to run a marathon distance first and then try to be openminded about the race day location for now. A lot changes in a few months in this Covid world so if you don’t have a race entry for a marathon, fear not. There will be options when the time comes. Even last year, at the height of Covid restrictions, runners found a way to celebrate their marathon by creating their own virtual routes and made the marathon an experience to remember.

The marathon journey

Regardless of what your marathon day turns out to look like, the marathon itself is only a tiny part of your marathon journey. In fact, we gain a lot more from marathon training than we do on the final day. The discipline, routine, setbacks and celebrations along the way teach us to respect our bodies, help create wonderful memories and bring focus, direction and motivation to an unpredictable time. In order to enjoy the whole experience, which I believe should be a key marathon goal, you need to really consider if now is the right time for you.


Would I be able?

A marathon is an incredible achievement but not something that should be rushed into. Firstly, you need to be injury free, with no health concerns and of reasonable fitness. As a runner, I would recommend you are very comfortable currently running 10k. I would never recommend anyone to commit to running a marathon without having completed a half-marathon in the past. If your body adapted to half-marathon distance and you enjoyed the discipline of training, then marathon training is the next logical step. But just as important as physical preparation is our mindset around the marathon. It is completely normal to feel apprehensive but consider how the word “marathon” makes you feel. If it is a combination of nerves and excitement, that’s a sign that marathon training could be for you. A passion to run the distance is what will carry you through the tougher days.

Where to start

The first step to is find a training plan which fits in with your goal, your lifestyle and also your approach to training. When you can see a plan on paper, you can start to map your future. There are numerous training plans available from coaches, clubs and online. They vary in number of weekly training sessions to level of intensity. There is no perfect plan, just the one that fits best with your life. What time can you dedicate to training and what other commitments do you have in the coming months? The answers to these questions will help you decide a reasonable goal and the right training approach for you.

The right plan for you

Seeing a plan on paper will help visualise where you are going but will also hold you back from enthusiastically rushing into long mileage too soon. Remember also, there is no rule to say that you have to run the entire marathon either without stopping. Some people choose to walk the distance and many are now choosing training plans which combine timed intervals of walking and running with great success. Once you have chosen your path, try not to get distracted by what others are doing. There are multiple ways to train. Don’t try to do it all.

Step by Step

Make sure your training plan has some stepping stones along the way. Removing the pressure from one big day at the end of the plan and spreading the success across a series of smaller milestones/races is better for our head as well as our body. Consider also who will help keep you going on the days when you feel less enthusiastic about training. Do you have a friend who might like to join you on the journey? Training with like-minded people can be a great source of motivation. Check to see if local running clubs have a marathon programme in place or consider working with a coach. Having support both out on the road and at home is key to help you stay focused and motivated along the way.

Make the call

This week marks the halfway point of this year. Take a moment to picture your running future and how you would like to feel about your running by the end of 2021. If you would like to call yourself a marathoner by the end of the year, now is the time to commit and take an evening to yourself to look up training plans and read more about what is involved. Talk to those you know who have already completed the distance. Do your research, really think about why you want to do a marathon and only then make the decision. Be sensible, be practical and if you give the training the respect it deserves, you might be just surprised at where the marathon path will lead you.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' 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 with Her summer running programmes for runners of all levels start on July 5th.