Friday, September 10, 2010

Don’t beat yourself up training

When training to run a marathon, ultramarathon or any significant running event, you want to do your best in the race; otherwise it’s no different from a training run. So to make sure you can do your best you trawl through books and websites and Runners World back copies trying to find the perfect training schedule for your chosen distance and your target time. The truth is these schedules are pretty accurate, and have been tried and tested by many people and over many years.

I know this as I followed the sub 3 hour marathon training schedule for about 80% of my training and hey presto did a 3:12:00! Had a followed it 100% I am sure I would have done a 2:59:59.

The challenge any runner has when following a schedule, is exactly that. We all have busy lives, jobs, families and other pressures on our time, and it isn’t easy to fit everything around our running.

So what do we do?  We should complete the prescribed 5 weekly sessions which include an interval session, a hill session, a tempo run, a recovery run and a long slow distance run. In reality we have a busy couple of days at work, and then it rains, and then you have to watch the final of “The X Factor” and all of a sudden there are 3 days left to complete the sessions. We then cram a week’s worth of training into the time we have left, making sure that at least we get all the miles in.

Seems fair enough, we’ve ticked the box for mileage. However, what happens now is that we can suffer the effects of condensed overtraining – tiredness, susceptible to injury, tight muscles, mental lows, etc.  We opt not to listen to our bodies cries to be given a rest, and instead attempt to squeeze more training in to compensate for a poor week, and to somehow satisfy our conscience that we’ve been putting in the hard yards.

Don’t get me wrong, training is meant to be hard, you are meant to get out of your comfort zone, else how else would you improve but there needs to be some checks and balances along the way.

With our strong desires to hit our chosen goal we all beat ourselves up when we don’t train as much as we think we should. If this is the situation for you and you find yourself always trying to catch up with your training schedule then it is time to readjust your goals.

More people drop out of races before they even get to the start line than drop out during a race. The reason for this can usually be traced back to having a strong will and high expectations (both admirable qualities), but unfortunately they don’t have the time and priorities required to prepare their body and mind sufficiently for the task at hand.

Now I’m not saying that a proven schedule needs to be followed to every tiny detail. It’s OK to miss the odd session or maybe to do a little more on those days when you just feel great, but there is a limit to the flexibility in a program. You are better to miss a session than to try and make up for it in another – you may even find you perform better for it as you shouldn’t under estimate the benefit of rest (See post "Out Running Overtraining")

The danger comes when you start missing multiple sessions and think that’s OK, but clearly you’ll just be under prepared. Yes you’ll get to the start line, but don’t expect to hit your target times.

It all comes down to having goals that are achievable and realistic given your race preparation.  By adjusting your expectations and goals for the event in line with the training you have been able to do, you will have a far more satisfying race.

Remember, there’s always next year!

Next year for me is about 9 weeks away, the Great North Walk 100miler. I have had to miss a couple of sessions this week, but I was due a gentler week anyway!

Don’t beat yourself up; running 100 miles of trails will do that for you.

Happy Running,


“Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Training 9-9-2010 (9.4km Trail)


  1. Hey Andy, thanks for following my blog on running and writing, and your comments on my post about the parallels between the two.

    I like your website! This post on matching expectations with the training you've been able to do so true.

    And even when you have been able to do all the training and we don't, for whatever reason, live up to our high expectations we can really beat ourselves up over that.

    I've been there a few times like after the 2008 Vancouver Marathon when I realized about halfway I was no longer on track to break my 3:08 PB. I was destraught to the point of crying, nearly dropped out ... and finished in 3:12.

    I do not exaggerate when I say I was devastated, and it took me a couple of months to realize how silly that was - especially since it was my-second fastest marathon then.

    Sometimes it's hard to keep perspective when we put so much time into our training, mentally and physically. I strongly believe that every race we start is an accomplishment, and so is every finish, regardless of time.

    When we cut ourselves some slack, and celebrate the things we did well in a race and learn from those that didn't quite go according to plan, we are mentally in a much better place to allow ourselves to succeed.

    Happy training!

  2. Great Post.

    I go to for all sorts of FREE training programs... starting with a 5km all the way to Comrades Marathon (54 miles)!

    Gotta run.