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You don’t have to run a marathon

When my sister finished her first half marathon, she said to me: “I don’t think I want to do a marathon. Can I just stick to shorter races?”

And, of course the answer to this is, HELL YES!

You make your own rules, chase your own goals and do what excites you when it comes to running. There’s no rule that says you have to do a marathon, or even that you have to race at all. And yet, there is a pressure on runners to go longer and a sense that the only way to show your dedication and progression is to keep going further.

This is, of course, nonsense.

Pro American runner Lauren Fleshman who specialised in 5k races told a story once (read it here) about being on a plane home and sitting next to a runner. He had running shoes on, it was clear he ran so she started chatting to him about his running. He was an amateur marathon runner and he asked her if she’d done a marathon. She replied that she preferred 5K races.

“Keep going, you’ll get there eventually” he said.

It’s funny how pervasive this notion is that running a marathon is the pinnacle of our running achievement. When you watch the Olympics, you don’t see the sprinters as less impressive than the distance runners or think that an 800m gold medal is less important than a 10k gold. And yet we do it in our own running all the time.


I love running marathons. I’ve run a few of them, and I enjoy them. Over the past couple of years I’ve worked to get my marathon time down and run a BQ, but there are a lot of other things that I want to achieve in running that are unrelated to the 26.2 mile distance. Things that I think will be equally as challenging, things that scare me and motivate me.

Right now I’m training to run a half marathon in under 100 minutes (or sub 1:40 which has less of a ring to it). I’d love to get my 5k down to 20 minutes something and my 45 minute 10k PB needs some serious attention too.

Like fully committing and preparing for any race, marathon training is hard. It takes up a lot of time, and if your heart isn’t fully in it, you’re not going to enjoy it. And if you’re not going to enjoy it, then really, what’s the point?

Don’t run a marathon because all your friends are doing it. Don’t run a marathon because everyone you follow on Instagram is doing one. Don’t run a marathon because a magazine told you you should. If you want to run one for yourself that’s cool. But remember that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, run what you want.

There are a lot of other things I enjoy about running and about life generally that aren’t always compatible with marathon training and running. Improvement isn’t always about going further and marathons aren’t the only races where you can push yourself and find yourself a PB.

99 min half, Week 5: Flexibility

When I write training plans for runners, I ask them for the holidays, weekends away and busy weeks they’ve got in their personal life over the months ahead. Because if you’re gong to tick off all your runs, a bit of forward planning and a realistic approach to run-life balance is needed.

In the run up to Manchester in 2013, one week I did all my runs for the week by Friday morning so I could go away for my birthday for the weekend. I wouldn’t recommend this approach to training.


Post long run sweaty smugness

For the next couple of weeks I’m away for the weekend so fitting in a longer run will be a challenge. So, as last weekend’s race meant I’d effectively done my tempo effort on Saturday, it made sense to keep this structure to my running for the next few weeks.

This week I did my long run on Thursday and a tempo run on Sunday. Moving things about in this way takes some forward planning. You can’t get to Sunday morning and then move your long run back in time. And doing two long runs too close together can mean you’re overdoing it.

As most people find the main reason for missing a session is lack of time (and a big factor  in getting injured is doing too much on tired legs), a bit of forward planning really helps.

Next time you sit down to plan your training cycle for a race, pull out your calendar, be realistic about what impact the fun things in life will have on training and be creative when you try to make it all work together.

This week’s miles

Start/finish of my 350m efforts

Start/finish of my 350m efforts

Tuesday – 12x350m – the session I cut short with a bad back last week. 350m instead of 400m because there’s a loop by my flat that size.

Thursday – paced long run, 12 miles at 8:18/mile

Saturday – 3 mile easy run

Sunday – tempo run, 8 miles with 2×2 miles @7:15

Total: 33 miles

Catch up

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

Episode 17: What’s your problem?

A couple of weeks ago I asked you to submit a problem for me and my friend Liz to try and help you with.

Thank you so much for your responses. We got more than we were able to answer in one podcast, but we picked three that we hope will resonate most with other people. I hope you find them useful.

We tackle mother guilt during marathon training, missing motivation and returning to training after illness.

We plan to do this all again, so if you have something you’d like our help with, drop us a line on email or leave it in the comments below.

Liz Goodchild is a life coach and you can find out more about her work on her website.

Listen to podcast

Download it | Listen online | Get it via iTunes

Podcast archive

99min half training, Week 4: I love running!

I love running. Training hasn’t been ace this week but my enjoyment of running this week has been sky-high this weekend.

On Saturday I was doing the Pride 10k with some of my runners. Five of them were running it as their first ever 10K having started in my beginners group 19 weeks ago and progressed from running for 1 minute at a time to running 5k.

For the past 9 weeks they’ve been coming to my Improvers group, doing some hill sessions and interval training. I’ve been really impressed with their attitude to getting runs done and racing. But mostly that they’ve banded together and support each other. It really does help to have friends who run.


I’d been planning to run the Pride 10k a bit faster than I did. My 10k PB has sat at just over 45 mins for so long I think it might have gone rusty, so with my 5k, half and marathon times all telling me I can run faster at this distance, I wanted to give it a shot.

On Monday, though, I hurt my back at the gym. It’s an old niggle that was agrivated my not paying attention picking up a weight. I tried running on it on Tuesday and that wasn’t a good idea. By Thursday I was able to run slowly with just a dull ache and so my race was saved but I knew it might not be a time I wanted.

I was still very excited about the weekend – I’d get to cheer on my runners, hang out with friends and watch the Olympics. What’s not to love?


Saturday morning I headed to the race (it started at 11am on a Saturday which was kind of perfect – no early start and no work the next morning). I found my runners and my friend Cathy and we did a brief warm-up before the start. My back felt fine so I lined up with Cathy around the 45 mins marker.

We ran together for all of 30 seconds, in which time someone farted really loudly, we both laughed hysterically and then Cathy zoomed off ahead. The route was three flat laps of the park which ticked by quite quickly. I got to see Laura and Nick cheering three times and on my last lap I saw some of my runners.

As my watch beeped at the first mile marker I saw that my pace was around goal half pace rather than 10k PB pace and I just let that happen. Breathing and heart rate felt fine throughout the race and I didn’t get that sick feeling of pushing hard until the last 500m sprint for the line, but my legs just wouldn’t go any faster.

It would be easy to say ‘I was just here to run for fun’ or ‘I was just using it as a training run’ and save face, but I wasn’t and I’m really annoyed at myself that I didn’t run faster. I don’t know if I was mentally reluctant to push or just not fit enough on the day but as I came towards the finish to collect my medal there was no shiny PB to go with it. I finished in 46:46 – pretty much bang on half marathon pace, so at least I know what that feels like (for less than half the distance).

I headed to the pub for pizza and pints with Cathy, Laura and Josie after the race, then went home for an evening of baking and watching the Olympics with Cathy. We woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo run his 10K a little quicker than mine, I was still awake to watch Jess finish the Heptathlon at 3am, and then we got up early to do a few miles before breakfast.


The early miles were a warm-up for the Olympic marathon that I had a group of marathon running friends over to watch. A perfect Sunday afternoon.


And that’s why, despite being injured, despite training not going to plan and despite not getting the race time I wanted, last week was a brilliant week running wise.

Week in miles

Tuesday – 4 miles, a 12x400m session cut short

Thursday -7.5 miles through Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park

Saturday – Pride 10k

Sunday – 6 easy miles with Cathy pre marathon

Total: 29 miles (inc coaching miles)

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