Gone to seed or laying fallow?

Marathon training: laying fallow or going to seed?
Marathon training: laying fallow or going to seed?

I was recently talking to my friend and fellow Chaser, Tom Craggs, a coach and personal trainer who is quickly developing a reputation as one of the top running coaches in the UK. Tom and I ran the Berlin marathon together, literally in stride, back when a sub-3 hour marathon was something that I dreamed of running. Since that day, we have become firm friends and we often talk about what we are trying to do with our running.

The last conversation was about the fact that I really have not been training well for the upcoming London marathon and I am coming to the realisation that I am no where near in shape to run a decent time. Freestak is growing fast and that is proving to be too much of a distraction for me to maintain the levels of training that I should be.

Not always ‘on’

There have been other times when I have thought that I might need a break – when Julie and I were buying a house. When we were contemplating setting up Freestak. When my Nan passed away.

But now I look back on those periods, I realise that every time I have felt that I need to take time away from running, it has been under duress and I haven’t really done it. I have maybe dropped a few runs for a week or so. But I have continued to plot and plan and try to negotiate with myself about what I can do.

However recently my training has really nose-dived and perhaps my feelings about that have changed as well. My training plan has been suggesting 8 or 9 runs a week – three of them being sessions or long-runs with good hard efforts in them. I have actually been managing to get out 5 or 6 times a week… sometime even less. I have only been to the track three times in the last 8 weeks. Threshold sessions have been ditched in favour of a steady run. The rain has been all the excuse I have needed to not go out at all. You get the picture.

Guilt about marathon training, or not

The problem is that when I am not training as I know I should, I feel guilty. I worry and negotiate with myself. I try to convince myself that there is still time. That it will all be OK.

But the honest truth is that I have not trained hard enough for the London this year. I know that it is very unlikely that I will be able to get anywhere near my PB. In fact I am not sure I am going to run at all. I know that I don’t have to make a decision yet so we will see, but with 7 weeks to go I can’t expect a miracle.

Something Tom said to me has stuck in my head. I don’t need to worry that I have gone to seed and that my days of running a decent marathon is over. Instead I am looking at this as a fallow period – a chance to focus on other things and allow my mind and body to recover from 7 or 8 years of marathons.

The number of marathons I have run each year has reduced since the third year after I discovered running. But the intensity and effort to run them has definitely gone up. Last year I only ran one marathon hard – the London (I also ran the Copenhagen marathon, but it was with a friend and I was not hammering myself). But the effort of that one race – 16 weeks of hard training, with a 75+ mile average to finish in 2:37:07 – was massive and I finished feeling relieved, rather than excited about the next one.

So I will have to see what I am going to do in 7 weeks. I am off to Portugal for a warm weather training camp with 2:09 Events and Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs and it may be that I find that I am not as far off decent shape as I fear I am. But then maybe I need to decide that I am going to avoid ploughing the same marathon furrow. What say you?


  1. Simon, I know we are different – our ages make this so as a starting point – but, like you, my first marathon was 8 years ago this spring. I’ve experienced many different training programmes, had illness and injuries and been through plenty of life’s roller-coaster challenges in that time and had times when the motivation has sunk low and found many ways to get back on track. I’d be more than happy to meet up for a coffee and chat through our relative thoughts and experiences if you think that may be of any benefit.

  2. Going through the same challenge, race routines, training plans etc is bound to result in your motivation reducing. Not a bad thing, maybe just means time to find something new to inspire you? Perhaps no surprise that you’ve been getting more interested in trail running?

  3. Simon, taking a break is really not a bad thing, and perhaps you should welcome it. Your desire to run a hard again will come back I assure you.

    I would perhaps advise not to dump London, but run it as a fully supported training run, go round it 7 minute miling and enjoy the occasion, high fiving the kids and playing the crowd. You have paid the money, and I assume running off the champ start, so why not enjoy it.

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