Posted by: Joe English | October 1, 2010

Marathon Strategy — What to Do When You’re Not That Prepared

running-advice-bugJust a week ago I was writing about the waves of pre-race anxiety that may be sweeping over runners getting ready for their fall marathons. One of the subtle messages in that article was that if your training has not gone well, then you need to adjust your expectations to match the potential that you have considering how things have gone. Michelle writes in with a question that I get a lot from runners that I coach personally. It goes something like this:

“I am the captain of a charity team that runs the NY Marathon on Nov 7th this year. I was injured for 6 months and only this week was I able to start any sort of a schedule. (My longest run was 14 miles about 5 weeks ago). Is there anything I can do so that I can finish without really being in agony the next day? Quitting is just NOT an option, but I am pretty scared. I have run 10 marathons before, and I have never been this ill-prepared; not even close.”

Michelle’s question accurately sums up a situation that comes around over and over again. Things have not gone as planned in training and as a runner it is not only that you don’t FEEL prepared, but you really AREN’T prepared. But for whatever reason there is a pressure that is pushing you to complete the race anyway. This pressure might come from having made a commitment to a charity or just planning a trip, but the pressure is understandable in some cases.

It is important to understand at the outset that a good decision needs to be made here that balances the desire to complete the marathon with any risks of serious injury that might occur. In some cases, it is just not possible to complete a marathon without risking severe and permanent injury and that should be the main consideration in making your decision to move forward. If you’ve been struggling with a stress fracture, any type of hip injury, problems with the Achilles Tendon or any recent illness that involves fever or heart issues, you should not even consider attempting a full-marathon.

Let’s for the sake of argument say that, like Michelle, we’re talking about someone that was laid up during the peak of their training and is now recovered from their injury — in others words, someone who is physically able to complete the race, but that just missed the bulk of their training. If I were asked my advice, this is what I would say in response:

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