Every year athletes wake up in the fall realizing that their season is technically over and that winter is looming. Full of fitness and facing the reality of the coming cold, most athletes try to cram in one more good race for the year.
But sometimes one more race is just one race too many. While I can’t stop you from signing up for a fall marathon, my hope is that I can give you some parameters which will help you understand the best way to approach whatever training you add this Fall.
Adding a race at the end of your season can bring a lot of positive elements to your overall fitness. But every race has a hidden cost as well. Ignore the warning signs at your own peril!
Reason Number One: Marathons Hurt. A lot.
Having done almost 50 marathons in my lifetime, I can honestly say that they hurt. There is a significant difference between a standalone marathon and one run within the context of an Ironman. A huge part of the “hurt” comes from a focus on your finishing time.
That finishing time is either a stick or a carrot. Regardless of which way it affects you, know that you will be running at your limit for a large portion of those 26 miles.
The cumulative cost of those miles mean the end of the marathon is full of lactic acid and discomfort. For many runners, this is why they race.
But for those of you who’ve never done a standalone marathon chasing a time, it’s important that you understand exactly what you’re signing up for. Race day is nothing like your long training runs, and doing a marathon means that you will need at least four weeks of recovery after the big day.
Reason Number Two: That Pesky Finishing Time Goal
Most marathons start by considering your desired outcome instead of the process itself. You likely have some massive goals manifesting itself. If your friends picked the race (or tricked you into it) it’s possible you’re chasing a time goal that they have.
As your coach, I want you to understand that the main function of the marathon is to have you do quality running across a 3- to 4-month window. In the short term this culminates in your marathon, but I only care about the bigger picture. This run block is an incredible investment in your overall endurance fitness even though it comes at the end of your season.
But trouble lurks around the corner. The number one mistake most runners make is picking a time that’s simply too aggressive.
Instead of throwing darts at the wall, do yourself a favor and look at your training log. See how your long runs have gone in training as well as paces from other recent races. Identify your strengths and pace that you believe you can sustain. Oh, and start running!!!
Reason Number Three: That Long Run Is Going to Get You
When people think about marathon training they think about one thing: the long run. Not just think about it…most runners are obsessed with it. They place significant value in the duration, distance, and quality of that single run.
Years of coaching runners has taught me that no single run defines your training.
Being ready for marathon means that you have successfully put together countless runs across many weeks all of which contribute to your fitness.
Do yourself a favor and look at your target weekly mileage instead of your long-run distance. Especially look at the end of your season, adding long runs to your program may come at too great of a cost to your body.
Instead of becoming disheartened, get strategic. Break that long run down into two intermediate runs. This is not only more manageable, it’s likely more effective given the time of the season and the fatigue you are carrying!
Reason Number Four: Cooler Weather Could Mean Faster Times!
For those of you who are affected by high temperatures in the Summer, a Fall marathon is an opportunity for you to run fast. Without the heat and humidity of the summer, your body is able to run at a much faster speed.
You’ll enjoy some additional nutrition bandwidth as well. You’ll sweat less, meaning you don’t need to drink as much in the heat of the summer. And your stomach simply functions better in cooler weather.
Not to mention the fact that running in the Fall is simply more enjoyable. At the very least you should enjoy quite a few runs with your friends and training partners as the leaves turn.
Reason Number Five: There Is Always A 13.1 Nearby
You should absolutely consider the full marathon if that’s on your agenda. You should lay out a training plan that fits your schedule and fatigue level. Do your best to execute that plan adjusting along the way.
But if your body starts to push back, you have to respect it.
What was once just a “thing” you could force yourself through in the Spring is now something that could potentially set you back for a long time.
You have to ask yourself just how much this marathon means to you within the context of how it could impact the rest of your year and next season as well.
Generally speaking, I ask athletes to consider whether or not the training is fun. If it’s not fun, why are you doing it?
Instead of forcing yourself to complete a race that will set you back, you always have the option of dropping down to the half marathon distance and doing that instead. Odds are you will already have enough fitness to be successful and you might even have an opportunity to pick up the pace as well.
Building Your Run Engine (Plus Webinar)
Regardless of what your fall running goals may be, use your racing desire to race as a tool to get you off the sofa and out the door. Over the years we have found that a consistent and steady fall running schedule sets the tone for a strong winter. That strong winter drives right into your next season and makes you a much happier athlete.
To learn more about how we consider the fall a critical part of our season, please check out our Run Durability Webinar Available Online Free Here. Best of luck to you this Fall and we hope to see you when winter comes!