Marathons are hard but fun, I have said it a couple of times and will continue to do so. However, the reason for this blog is not to comment on my experience doing a marathon. Instead, I would like to discuss how doing a running race, at the end of the early season, can fit in the overall year plan of a triathlete, something that many athletes seem to do but that can have severe repercussions if done improperly.
First, let's examine what race should an athlete do. Personally, I think that only a particular type of athlete, with concrete goals, like an Ironman, should venture on a marathon journey as an "off-season" race.
Marathons are extremely demanding, perhaps more demanding than a half-Ironman, and if an athlete decides to do one off the back of a few weeks of training, it becomes very beneficial if the athlete has a robust training and volume background that will complement the limited preparation. In my case, I was lucky to have almost 5 years of training, and two and a half of them of very focused and high-quality work, one of the reasons why Jason and I considered feasible to do 26.2 miles, as well as the fact that I will potentially venture into the Ironman distance soon, so it fits nicely in the preparation. Nevertheless, as I said before, not all athletes should do a marathon.
Half-marathons, 10ks, and 5ks can be as challenging as a goal as a marathon, without the physical demands and the lengthy recovery post race, making them the perfect fit for an "off-season" goal that can help build a base, keep you motivated to get back into training, and help you work on weak areas of your running, if that is the case. However, even in these shorter distances an overarching rule should apply, set a realistic goal.
If you decide to begin your competitive year with a running race, and this can also apply to other events like a very early season triathlon or bike race, try to set a goal that is consequent to the amount of training that you would have had come race day. A goal that can challenge you and motivate you, but that can help you build off that race effort as you would do with a hard workout. Obviously, the chance of a PR or a podium are always enticing, and if we get them in the process, great, but this should not be the motivating factor for that early season effort. Do not let this single event jeopardize the integrity of your entire season.
Instead, if you are about to line up in that mid-March, early April race or you are analyzing what happened in your January, February event, and want to improve heading into next year, try to focus on aligning those events with becoming stronger as an athlete physically and mentally. Take the opportunity to discover yourself as an athlete and gather data and mental notes that will help you succeed later in the year.
Photo credit No Sleep Media