Stop Chasing the Marathon If You Want to Run It Fast

We runners are a unique breed.  How long after finishing a grueling race are you thinking about signing up for your next one?

For me, it’s usually a few minutes.

While I’m still taking my time recovering from the marathon, setting new goals is something I like to do right away.  I’m going to take a break from long distances for a while and for the first time in three years, I will not sign up for a spring marathon (please, somebody stop me if I do!).

I’m planning on sharpening my speed and racing shorter distances only.  A lot of them.

So while I’m got my feet up for now, this spring will be quite different from what I’m used to.

Aren’t my runners’ toes lovely?

My coach at Runners Connect is in favor of switching focus.  “If you want to run a fast marathon,” Coach Danny says, “you have to stop chasing the marathon each spring and fall, year after year. Be a better well-rounded runner.”

The idea is to view the 5K to 10K races as a third workout in a week.  If you are racing, you don’t need a long run every single week to maintain endurance.  “I like to race or get a third tempo/hills/speed workout in one weekend and then a long run the next. Alternate between the two,” he told me.

So starting next month, I’ll line up for a 5K and try to race about every other weekend.  To keep me motivated, I finally joined the Asheville Track Club so I can compete in their Grand Prix Series.  To qualify for a monetary prize at the end of the year, I’ll need to run at least 10 of their approved races and the higher I place, the more points I’ll get.  Hopefully, I’ll do well enough that the majority (if not all) of my race fees are paid for!  There’s some pretty tough competition on the women’s side this year, so we’ll see how it goes.

The other goal I have is to get back to more serious strength training.  As I wrote last summer, I had to give up my favorite tough ST class because it was making me too tired and sore for running well.  Now that I will be decreasing my mileage, I’m hoping that I can add more strength back in.

The speed work and the strength training should also help with my body composition.  As any marathoner knows, logging tons of miles does not always lead to weight loss.  I had the highest volume I’ve ever had last fall and I still could not get down to race weight.  In fact, I was 8 pounds heavier at the start of Charleston than I was at Boston, despite keeping my diet the same, if not a little better.

Obviously, I was faster even though I was heavier, but that is most certainly due to the training.  Weight is not everything, but is does make a big difference as I wrote about last year, so I’m hoping I can get in top shape this spring so I can race faster in the fall.

Most importantly, I’m looking forward to the change in focus this spring.  I’m the type of person who loves the process of marathon training, just putting my head down and doing the work.  Maybe I’m a masochist who enjoys the punishment or maybe I’m a martyr who likes to be seen suffering for a goal.

But I don’t think that’s really it.  I love that in running hard work equals accomplishment, which is not always true in the rest of my life.  Actually, that’s not always true in running either, but most of the time it feels that way.

I have not chosen a fall marathon yet and I’ll take my time to decide.  But whatever it ends up being, I’m hoping that by skipping a marathon this spring I’ll be ready to crush some big goals this fall.


What do you think?  Do you race marathons every spring and fall?  Or more?  How do you fit shorter races into your schedule?

7 Responses

  1. Good post. I always think about doing this, but it’s so difficult when you love distance! I’m already registered for another 50k in April and was considering doing shorter races after that, but I think I want to run my first 50 miler in the Fall. Maybe after that I’ll want to do some shorter, speedier stuff for the spring. How much do you plan to reduce your milage? Will you run less days per week if you do more strength training with higher intensity running? I still strength train twice a week during 50 k training, but i definitely feel like you can’t really build strength with high milage. The focus is more on maintenance and injury prevention.

    And it’s such a conundrum with weight loss and distance. You want to lose weight to run a better marathon, but sometimes that’s what causes you to put on the weight in the first place (or just not lose.)
    I bet you will come back super strong and speedy in the fall! Good luck.

    • I’m planning to keep my mileage in the fifties at the highest. I haven’t decided whether or not to drop a day, but that might be a good idea. I’ll ask my coach. I’m hoping he says that’s good because I’d be fine losing one of the jogs for a fun class or even a good hike. What 50K are you doing?

  2. Oh my gosh, Claire — I feel like you are totally in my head with this post. I am currently training for Eugene this spring as part of my elusive chase to qualify for Boston, and the reality is that for weeks I’ve been thinking that I need a year off from marathon training. I ran five marathons in 22 months, and just kept coming up short. So I just keep trying, and as I train this time, I keep finding that I’m really enjoying competing in 10K’s. I’ve run three now over the last three months, and have finished top 10 in each one. Now, they are small races, but still they are fun, and I enjoy it a lot.
    I’ve been meaning to send you and Michael Hammond a note on this subject. Does RC have a program to help me get faster? Danny’s comment to you really speaks to me, as well.
    We can email if that is easier. or perhaps I send the note I’ve been thinking about to you and Michael and we go from there.
    Great post — thank you for sharing.

    • Yes, we can help you switch your training to 10K specific which looks a lot different than marathon training. I think you and I are probably both at a threshold mentally and physically and we need to mix it up to improve. If you decide to drop the goal marathon, let us know in the stream and we’ll get you set up.

      • Very good — I think you’re right. I just kind of feel stuck, and burned out. I think a program where I figure out how to get my 10K time consistently down to like 42-43 minutes (I’m in the 46-47 min range now, so maybe i’m loopy to think I could lower by that amount), and then re-develop my motivation for a fast marathon would be really helpful to me. more to come!

  3. Did exactly this after my last marathon in March of 2016! Ended up LOVING a fall season of 5k’s and a half marathon and I definitely think it made me faster! At the very least, it rejuvenated my desire to run the marathon distance again. Ironically, I still trained harder than ever with more mileage than ever, but the switch to shorter distances was refreshing, both mentally and physically. I might just stick to one marathon a year from here on out! Although I admit I was scoping out the Jacksonville Bank Marathon online this week for a possible December marathon (after Boston)… Haha! The flexibility to go with my gut and listen to my body- THAT is the goal.

  4. I’ve never raced anything less than a half, but I’d like to get better at shorter distances. Your post has me thinking 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stay Planted!

Become a stronger, faster runner today with my weekly tips!

Enter your email below to join us.

Holler Box