Ben Fish asks if runners are jumping into the marathon too early? The Blackburn Harrier also has an update on his racing and training so far this year.

In recent years uptake in those running in marathons has boomed. There are more marathons to choose from than ever before, or at least since the last boom in the 1980’s.

I do wonder though, whether there is a danger that people are jumping into the marathon too soon. The amount of people competing in 5ks has soared thanks to parkrun and it’s great to see more people being active. But what is a little concerning is the huge jump some make in throwing themselves into a marathon only months later.

The challenge of the marathon

Does the media downplay the challenge of the marathon? I often see slogans and stories claiming how anyone can do it and I agree that’s true, ‘but’, only with adequate preparation and by taking it at least a little seriously.

There is a risk with people picking up injuries when the body hasn’t been able to adapt to the sudden increase in training, or even worse, cause health problems if the demand is too much, too soon.

I would recommend people move up to 10k in the first year of running, then half marathon in the next six months, followed by the marathon after another six months.

In total, that’s still only two years, but at least the runner will have had enough experience to have mastered the distances to their best capabilities, as well as learning about dealing with niggles, resting, tapering, as well as nutrition and hydration.

Also, once you’ve run a couple of half marathons, it will give you a good idea of how to pace a marathon. A simple formula is to double your half marathon time and add the time you’d run 1 ½ miles. This would be quite a safe gauge to ensure you didn’t start too fast.

I also think some personal trainers and magazines that advise runners to go out running two to three times per week in the lead up to the marathon, aren’t helping matters either.

Five times per week should be the bare minimum, otherwise, the training is far too unbalanced; a long run would end up accounting for more than 50% of the rest of the weeks training, leaving the body struggling to recover from that effort, rather than adapting properly.

Like anything, a marathon takes preparation, time and dedication. If you’re studying a degree, I doubt a lecturer would give you an assignment and recommend cramming it into the last two days to get a good grade.

Shouldn’t we respect the marathon a bit more and aim to prepare properly and do it well? By saying ‘well’, I’m not talking about times or standards, merely getting the best out of yourself, after all, is that what running is about? Enjoy yourselves, take your time, there’s no need to rush.

Training and racing update

2017 turned out to be a very good year for me, especially in light of how my running had gone between 2014-2016. In that period I was left wondering if I’d ever get back to my best form.

Going back to basics and taking a year away from the marathon certainly did the trick and I surpassed my own expectations. I enjoyed racing more on the track and may even have bagged myself a couple of PBs if it wasn’t for missing the key part of the season.

I now feel that I’m ready to take on the marathon again with renewed enthusiasm, so this spring and I will be targeting London marathon in April.

2018 has already got off to a great start and I’m excited to be blogging for Fast Running as part of the ‘class of 2018’. I’m also thrilled to be an ambassador for On Running; a Swiss brand that do some fantastic lightweight ranges of shoes, which I’ve been running in quite a lot over the past six months.

Heading into the London Marathon, I’ll now be part of a small team of On runners. It’s all a big step forward compared to where I was at with my running 12-18 months ago!

Races so far this year

The first race of the year was the Lancashire Cross Country Championships on home turf at Witton Park, Blackburn. I was confident I could improve on my dreary ninth place from 2016 and I was aiming for a top-five finish – at least. I started off quite steadily languishing in the top 10, as Stuart Robinson forged an early lead.

As we came down from the big hill (the saucer) at the end of the first lap, I managed to sneak into the lead and from there it became a three-way battle between myself, Daniel Bebbington and Gary Priestley. It must have been quite a good race to watch, Priestley was strong on the climbs, I was forcing it on the descents and Bebbington was always re-taking the lead on the flat sections.

It boiled down to a close finish in the end, Priestley and I couldn’t shake off Bebbington on the hill. He out-sprinted me in the final half-kilometre to win by 7 seconds from myself, with Priestley just a few seconds further back.

Clubmate Rob Warner ran superbly with a strong finish to snatch fourth place and probably ran faster than any of us on that last lap. It was a solid result for the team, but we were disappointed to lose out to Salford.

Next up was the Four Villages Half Marathon at Helsby on the 21st January. It looked like we’d avoided the worst of the weather when the snow came and went in the middle of the week, but it proved to be very nasty conditions indeed on Sunday.

I stayed over in Chester the evening prior to the race and it looked like it would be quite pleasant and I was hoping to run a solid time, maybe even dip under 66 minutes.

However, within about an hour of the race, it started sleeting and the wind also picked up – leaving it feeling even colder. The race got underway at 10:30 am and Mo Abu-Rezeq forced the pace, with myself and Tom Charles giving chase. I was able to keep fairly close to Mo in the first three miles, which was reached in a modest 15:25. This wasn’t helped by the hailstone and the roads getting a bit slushy. Mo got away shortly after that and I was working hard to keep the gap from growing beyond 100 metres.

The conditions didn’t improve and from five-eight miles, we mostly ran into a headwind. By this stage, the roads were very slippery so I was trying to run on the edge where water was running down from the grass verges to get the best grip.

I managed to catch Mo briefly at around the eighth mile when he responded with another surge, but with three miles to go, we were neck and neck. I had a double take when I saw the clock at the 10-mile mark; 53:20, how could we be working so hard yet going so slow!?

It looked like it was going to be a tense finish, until I broke away at 12 miles, going on to win in 69:09. When speaking to Mo afterwards I found out he’d had some real difficulty with the cold seizing up his muscles and causing him to have trouble breathing properly, to the extent that he needed assistance at the finish. It’s probably the only time he hasn’t broken 70 minutes, but all credit to him for digging in during those last few miles.

I fared a little better in the conditions, but even so, I was a shivering mess afterwards and I could barely move once I crossed the finish line, my legs just completely seized up! It’s probably the worst conditions I’ve done a road race in.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll probably do one or two low key races and mainly focus on putting in quality training in the lead up to Bath Half Marathon, where hopefully I can improve my PB that I set there last year.

Training has been going well and I’ve been around the 80-90 miles per week for the past couple of months, but I want to be taking that up to 110-120 in February. So we’ll see how that goes.

Ben Fish is part of the ‘fast runners: class of 2018’ and will share his running journey every month throughout 2018. More information can be found here.