Marathon Training – Can less be more

Check out this guest piece of blogging from one of my clients – Katherine Davis. Katherine decided to take on the challenge of the 2012 London Marathon and this piece explains how she got here and gives a great insight into how less really can be more…..

Seven years ago I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I hadn’t run since school so I was a complete beginner and I didn’t have a clue what my body could (or couldn’t) do, so I chose one of the recommended training guides for beginners and followed it religiously. I joined a gym and trained four or five times a week. The schedule included runs of varying lengths and speeds, cross-training sessions and a gradually increasing weekly long run. My body coped surprisingly well, only eventually giving in to an overuse injury three weeks before the marathon date, unfortunately forcing me to pull out.

Seven years on and I’ve got another marathon place, only this time it’s different. I know my body, I know what I’m capable of and I have the knowledge and experience gained all those years ago. In short, I learnt my lesson. When I found out I’d got a ballot place in October I decided I’d make up my own bespoke training schedule. My fitness levels were pretty average and I could only run continuously for 15 minutes so I felt like I was starting from scratch again. I was very aware just how much work there was to be done to make me a marathon runner, but I didn’t want to risk injury again by overtraining. I also wanted my training to fit into my lifestyle, so as well as the fitness sessions I included holistic massages, sports massages and random yoga workouts for flexibility and core strength. I also included a ‘treat week’ every month where I could eat all the chocolate I wanted to, because above all else I didn’t want my training to feel like punishment, I wanted to enjoy it! I came up with a schedule based on a simple four week rota:

Week 1 = 1x 40min session

Weeks 2 and 3 = 2x 60 min sessions each week

Week 4 = 1x 30min session and 1x long run (increasing by 30minutes each time)

Two of the 60 minute sessions were a marathon-pace run, but the other sessions were open for me to do whatever I felt like on the day. Sometimes that was still a marathon-pace run, other times it was dancing, swimming or interval training. For me it was important to have this variation and flexibility within the schedule so it wasn’t the same monotonous training each week. The variety also meant that I worked different muscles and didn’t repeatedly stress the same parts of my body, allowing my ‘running’ muscles and joints time to recover and reducing the risk of injury.

With marathon training there’s a certain amount of pressure to be fit enough for the big day and many people worry that by taking rest days they are losing training time, however rest is a necessary part of any training schedule. Once my monthly long run was up to two hours I changed Week 1 to a ‘no running’ recovery week, which often meant I went a week and a half without any training sessions at all. In this time I didn’t completely lose the ability to run, I didn’t find my next long run any harder and I hadn’t lost any of my muscle strength, lung capacity or stamina. When it comes to training it’s easy to forget that rest and recovery are just as important as running and that sometimes less really is more.

When I trained seven years ago I blindly followed the suggested schedule because I didn’t know any better. I thought that if I didn’t do as much training as they recommended I wouldn’t be capable of running a marathon. It sounds stupid now, but at the time I didn’t consider that I knew my body better than a generalised training programme. I know if I’m getting too tired from early morning runs before work, I know if I need more time to recover after a long run, I know if I need another rest day. A non-specific training schedule obviously doesn’t take any of this into account because it’s not based on me and my needs.

‘Less is more’ training worked for me. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but I think it’s important for beginners to know that it is an option. By definition, when you’re a beginner in anything you have no experience of what you’re doing and so you learn by example; if everyone around you is following schedules which have them running a minimum of four times a week then you think that’s what you should be doing too. Without having the knowledge and the confidence to trust that you know what will work best for you it’s easy to end up blindly following a generic training guide instead of listening to your body and doing what’s right for you.

On 22nd April I’ll be running the London Marathon to raise money for Mind. All donations are very much appreciated and if you’d like to sponsor me you can do so online at


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2 Responses to Marathon Training – Can less be more

  1. admin says:

    What a great post Katherine, thanks for donating! Bearing in mind that I have seen so many injured runners that have followed these generic training plans, I think it’s really refreshing to see somebody try something different and something that has clearly worked for you. It takes courage to step outside of the box and do this and I wish you the best of luck! Lee

  2. Natalie says:

    This is a really inspirational read – it’s great to see such a proactive approach to finding training that suits you. I think all too often when training, you can feel guilty for skipping a practice or a run, even if you’re training every other night. This is really realistic and all about what suits you best – including serious sessions and space to fit in other exercise you also enjoy.

    Would love to know how you got in the London Marathon this year Katheryn!

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