“Listen to everyone, follow no one”

The title ‘Runner’ is both a nice thing and a nuisance for people who have it. Once someone describes another person as a runner, or even when someone introduces somebody as a runner, certain expectations follow. Runners are perceived as a group of annoying, over-achieving, energetic, positive thinkers who want nothing more than to recruit you to join their cult – they’re all the same…….. But more realistically they are just a group of people for whom portaloos are not only a necessity but at times are the most beautiful site in the world.  They love to bask in their soreness and they are happy to tell you about it because it proves that they actually worked hard; delayed onset muscle soreness is like a badge of honour. Most people dread early mornings and can’t deal with getting out of their comfy beds. But runners, on the other hand, don’t bother hitting snooze, they love the mornings! There’s nothing better than a nice morning run. It’s empty, it’s quiet, and the only sound is feet on the pavement.

Once runners complete their first race people start to ask if and when they’ll run a marathon “But have you run a marathon?” Completing a 26.2 mile race is used as the measuring stick of an amateur fun runner. The Dublin Marathon is 13 weeks away and thousands are embarking on marathon training programmes and for a group that is so homogeneous in nature and shares so many common characteristics, the way each individual runner trains and prepares for a marathon is so different and unique. But how does a hopeful runner pick a marathon training plan? There are so many training plans available, it can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? How do you tailor a plan and which plan is even best for you?

The marathon is long and arduous – and the training takes hundreds of hours over several months. It takes extraordinary levels of self-sacrifice, dedication, and time management.

“we are all unique”

‘Everyone is different’ and different runners complete a marathon in different ways and times and for different reasons. These differences are really important when it comes to choosing an appropriate plan because these distinctions may affect training, injury and ultimately performance. All training plans encourage runners to improve their fitness by increasing the training load through escalating the frequency, duration, and intensity of their training runs. These increases in training load that increases the runners’ risk of injury. In particular rapid increases in training loads expose an athlete to an even greater risk of injury (Drew & Finch, 2016).  The effort and dedicated hours to training can all be lost so easily due to injury. The yearly incidence rates for injury in those training for marathons can be as high as 90% (Fredericson & Misra, 2007). The heart is the engine of the body, it responds to training and grows stronger, but it does so at a much quicker rate than structural and muscular changes occur in the body (Houston et al., 1979; Thompson, 2007). The engine outpaces the musculoskeletal system and this is a recognized cause of injuries in runners of all levels. The heart (the body’s engine) gains the ability to run a hard effort long before the body (muscle) is ready for it (Houston et al., 1979). If the legs are struggling to match the pace set by the cardiovascular system it may be a sign of a dangerous imbalance that may lead to injury and time off. But being patient and allowing the body time to develop and become stronger is vital for runners in order to keep pace with the cardio respiratory strength, injury can be avoided  and times may even get quicker

I have realised that training for a marathon if you have a family is not an individual effort, everyone has to sacrifice.  Not only does the effort push the body to the edge of breakdown, it takes its toll on families and significant others. So any marathon plan has to work within family, work and social life. If my wife didn’t pick up the slack and give me the time to go training and racing, my marathon attempts wouldn’t be possible. The effort to avoid injury and the maintenance of a serene home life do share similarities.  In both, it is so important to be honest, as I found out on a “romantic” weekend away with Michelle.  Sneaking out of the hotel room at 7.30am on the Sunday morning to squeeze in a long run didn’t go down well, she didn’t even know I had my running gear! To the same extent I can’t fool my body if I’m sore, tired or carrying a niggle during training. I’ve found it pays to be truthful and either change the aims of the days training, slow it down or sacrifice it – in the hope of running in good health the next day. It is important to remember that any training plan is only a guide and needs to be flexible

It is easier for my body and my wife to work around routine and consistency. Both my body and Michelle are now accustomed to the fact that Sunday morning is the time for my long run, Tuesday is my tempo run and so on. I’ve learned that my wife and body mutually crave adequate periods of recovery between training sessions. It’s become clear that it’s much easier to be nice to my body and my wife during the training period for a marathon. This can be difficult because with 50-60 miles a week comes tiredness. I rarely want to foam roll, and I am contrary sometimes because training is arduous. As with arguments, it’s so important to recognise and address small niggles early, and don’t allow them to fester and cause missed training and remember when deciding which marathon plan to chose “listen to everyone, follow no one” (Dean Karnazes, utramarathoner)


Drew MK & Finch CF. (2016). The Relationship Between Training Load and Injury, Illness and Soreness: A Systematic and Literature Review. Sports Med 46, 861-883.


Fredericson M & Misra AK. (2007). Epidemiology and aetiology of marathon running injuries. Sports Med 37, 437-439.


Houston ME, Bentzen H & Larsen H. (1979). Interrelationships between skeletal muscle adaptations and performance as studied by detraining and retraining. Acta Physiol Scand 105, 163-170.


Thompson PD. (2007). Cardiovascular adaptations to marathon running : the marathoner’s heart. Sports Med 37, 444-447.


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