Why focussing on the marathon might be the wrong thing to do

I was recently at a really cool event called Write This Run – a get-together for running bloggers in Bushey Park. There were 12 speakers at the event, from inspirational characters like Mimi Anderson and Kevin Betts to a running form coach, a personal trainer, some blogging experts and Scott Overall. This post is all about Scott and one of the things he said during his talk.

A potted history of Scott Overall

Scott Overall in Berlin 2011

Scott Overall in Berlin 2011

Scott Overall is an international athlete and Olympian, having pulled on a Team GB vest to represent the country a number of times, initially over 5,000m and then, in 2012 in the marathon. You can find out more about Scott on his website: www.scottoverall.com.

But it was probably Scott’s marathon debut in Berlin in 2011 that catapulted him into the limelight and certainly meant that he was the male winner of the inaugural RESPY awards. He ran 2:10:55 and finished in 5th place overall.

Possibly the most impressive thing about Scott’s debut marathon was that at the end he said that it felt easy!

Easy! 5 min/mile pace… But the reality is that if you are used to training for and racing over 5,000m on the track, marathon pace does feel easy. This is why we all do track training. If you train part of the time much faster than marathon speed and can manage the fuelling issues around the marathon, then the pace won’t be a challenge.

Since Berlin

Since Berlin, things have not gone so well for Overall. He decided to pace other British athletes in the London marathon to try to help them get the qualifying time. They didn’t follow him and he stopped before he had said he would.

Then Scott went to the Olympic Games marathon and ran a disappointing 2:22:37. He followed this up with 2:14:15 in the Fukuoka marathon later in the Olympic year. And then in the London marathon this year he didn’t finish, dropping out just after half way.

Too much focus

Listening to Scott talk at the bloggers meet-up at the weekend, I was really struck by his plan for how to rectify the few poor marathons he has run since the amazing race in Berlin: he is going to focus on track work and training for 5km and 10km races.

The lesson we can all learn

Scott’s comments made me think that perhaps the problem has been that he had been focussing too much on the marathon, both mentally and physically? And I suspect that for many of us the same might be true. It is all too easy to get overly obsessive about marathon training and that can have a negative effect on both body and mind.

In Overall’s case, leaving the marathon to one side while he trains for shorter distances will allow him to get some mental perspective on the 26.2 mile race and also allow him to train in a way that his body is more used to: still likely to be very high mileage, but fewer of the really damaging long runs.

In my case, I think that the launch of the business I run with my wife, meant that I had less of an obsessive focus on the marathon. I missed sessions because of work and possibly through that avoided over-training. I also did other things like a little bit of swimming and cycling. And I felt more relaxed: suddenly my self-esteem and confidence was not precariously reliant on the time that I could run a marathon in. The result for me, was that I went into the London marathon this year relaxed and ready to do my best come what may… and I loved every step of the way to my new PB!

I hope that for Scott the same is true. He is undoubtedly a hardworking athlete and I really hope that he has a great race when he returns, refreshed mentally and trained perfectly, to the streets of Berlin later this year.

And maybe if you have been training consistently hard for marathons for a while now and worry that you are hitting a plateau, a change will be as good as a rest. Try training for 5kms or 10kms or even for a bike race or a triathlon. Mix it up and let me know how that works for you…

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About simon

I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that.

4 Responses to “Why focussing on the marathon might be the wrong thing to do”

  1. Dommy May 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    It worked for me… Hard consistent training for a fast half marathon performance in Berlin, then a week of easier training and 3 longer runs squeezed in before a last minute marathon got me a 3:11.
    If it hasn’t been for the crazy weather, I know that Manchester run would’ve been a sub-3 hour.

    Felt much better for that than I did for Amsterdam marathon after a more ‘traditional’ marathon programme!

  2. Hannah May 17, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. Obviously not on a par with Overall or yourself, but after a year of chasing a sub-2 half marathon the lightbulb moment came when I decided to change my focus to 10Ks for 6 months. The result? A continuing PB party and a sub-1:50 HM. Having a short fast time under my belt, coupled with enough long runs, did wonders to boost my confidence, give me faith in my legs and teach me to keep pushing through the burn. After all, I hear that half the race is in your head.

  3. Linda Byrne May 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    It sort of worked for me too!… Hard consistent training for a fast half marathon performance in Berlin, then a week of easier training and no long runs due to a dodgy calf.

    Race day came. Calf fine. Raced really well and loved it until hypothermia at mile 23.

    If it hasn’t been for the crazy weather, I know that Manchester run would’ve been a sub-3.45.

    Felt much better for that than I did for Amsterdam marathon after a more ‘traditional’ marathon programme!

    ;)

  4. Chris Lancaster July 7, 2013 at 1:03 am #

    Love this approach! As you know I’m going to run Bournemouth Marathon in October. May just enter the Copenhagen half in September now, in a bid to not get too hung up on the longer distance…

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