How to Salvage a Marathon Training Plan (I Hope)

So you missed part of your training plan. Think your marathon goal is kaput?
If you miss training runs, should you kiss your marathon goal goodbye?

Say somewhere during the heaviest part of the training cycle, you missed runs for marathon training.  Maybe things got busy, maybe you got sick, maybe there was an injury threat…no matter what the cause, is there a way to recover from missing workouts?

I think so.  I hope so, or I have totally screwed up my Boston-qualifying marathon goal.

When I decided on a race and created my training plan, just like any of us would, I anticipated a perfect training cycle:  no injuries or unexpected travel. I generally expect to exceed my planned mileage since I view a training plan as the minimum miles required, but in mid-cycle I had a big setback that left me barely training at all.  Been there?  Maybe you’re there right now?

Don’t worry, there’s hope for us yet!

The Problem:

Obviously I didn’t expect smooth sailing to get in the miles, intervals, tempo runs, and hills I thought I needed to qualify for Boston at Windermere, but it was an idealized plan.  The reality has varied from that…a lot, in fact. You can see that from my training log’s Plan vs Actual Chart.Windermere Training Plan - Recap

As you can see, there’s a dip in my training plan at Weeks 10 and 11, showing a mid-training plan break and the resultant “crud” that sidelined me for almost two weeks.  That means that I hardly ran at all and then spent another 2-3 weeks regaining the fitness I lost.  What the chart doesn’t show is that, although the mileage was there in the weeks following the unplanned break, the intensity was not.  I simply wasn’t ready or fit enough to run fast. Enter panic mode.

With a 4-week downer I was worried this would be a huge disappointment. Finally during my slow 20 miler on Week 13, I felt like I wanted to run and run fast again. I realized that I’d need to make some changes to the remaining weeks of my plan: I needed to run outside, shorten my taper, and increase the intensity of my remaining runs.

So I did something crazy.

The Fix:

I registered for two marathons and a half marathon before the goal race.

But why, Cilantro!? That’s insane!  How can racing before the goal race help me run faster?

  • First, if you’re a treadmill runner like I am, races will force you to run outside.  Those race fees are great motivators when the comfort of your waiting treadmill tells you to go back to sleep for a few hours.
  • Second, races give you great external motivation to run.  There is no training run, outdoors or in, that feels as great as running a marathon!
  • Third, that nothing-like-it-race-feeling helps you run those training runs at a higher intensity than you normally would.  I actually PR’ed at my half-marathon!
  • Bonus, you get a tune-up race to help you practice for the big day!
After finishing last week's Provo City Marathon!
After finishing last week’s Provo City Marathon!

So the downlow is that I ran one marathon 5 weeks out from my goal race, one half-marathon 4 weeks out from my goal race, and one marathon two weeks out from my goal race.  I’ve incorporated a ton of recovery, but I’m not going to lie to you – I am tired!

If you’re a little closer to your goal race than I was, you could try the full marathon two weeks out and the half (faster) three or four weeks out and that’s it.  Do what seems right.

Get crazy! But not too crazy.


If you try this strategy, be very careful, and I can only recommend it the way I did it – with weekly sports massage, lots of stretching and at-home recovery and careful attention to diet. Put a huge emphasis on recovery.

I’ve never needed a taper so much in my life.

The Result

I did my last Yasso 800’s last Thursday, and averaged 3:31 (minutes & seconds), which is reputed to correlate to a 3:31 marathon time (hours & minutes).  So…maybe I can do this!

I’m having a lot of doubts though.  I’m not convinced that I’ll be able to run that and qualify for Boston.  I think I’m ready to PR, but not to qualify…I’m concerned the month+ break from training hurt me enough that I won’t be able to run a BQ this time.  I still want to, of course, but I think it’s time to be realistic.

Nonetheless I’m not going to sabotage.  I’ll stick to my taper and pre-race nutrition this week.  A PR will be just as good, and probably more realistic than cutting 12 minutes off of my 3:47 marathon PR.  Although…maybe I can do this?

And maybe a little self-doubt is normal and even healthy.  Either way, I won’t know for sure until Sunday!

Have you ever recovered from a mid-training-plan slump?  Would you use a marathon to train for a marathon like I did?  Think I’m ready for a BQ?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Collegiate Trail Loop FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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    1. I thought a taper was supposed to make us feel energized. I’m on my second day of no running and the stairs make my quads tired! What’s up!

      See you Saturday! Can’t wait!

  1. I have so many thoughts on this…..

    First, I think you are too hard on yourself. To me it doesn’t look like you fell too far off track in weeks 10 and 11. I understand we strive to hit every workout, but I don’t think we need to make dramatic changes or alter our goals unless we really undershoot our training. We all run into different bumps along the road during training that we should allow ourselves to be okay with and stay on track without looking back.

    Second, next training season, I would consider following a training plan that you consider to be right for you as opposed to something minimal. That way you won’t constantly feel behind if you aren’t consistently exceeding your targets. Some weeks you were 20 miles per week above your schedule – if you are going to vary that widely, why even follow a schedule? I recommend picking a higher mileage training program (rather than hoping to exceed a lower mileage plan) and then stick to it – it will give you more confidence throughout the season.

    Third, I think it was a good idea to get off the treadmill – your race isn’t on a treadmill, so you need plenty of quality time on the roads if you can get it.

    Finally, I definitely do not generally recommend running 2 marathons and racing a half all within 5 weeks of your goal race – regardless of how the rest of your training season went. While you may be super resilient to that type of wear and tear, the vast majority of runners would get too worn down by participating in those races right at the time they should be peaking for their goal race.

    That said, I am glad to hear you feel confident after taking this path. You sound ready to go. The hay is in the barn. Go grab that BQ and prove me wrong. 😉 I am also going to put it out there that if you can withstand that level of training/racing just before your goal race and still nail it, you should be doing much higher mileage than the 40-55 mpw your plan dictated. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I also don’t think I’m in BQ shape (but I hope I’m wrong too), but I don’t want to go into the race on Sunday with a negative attitude. I’m taking this taper seriously despite all of the taper madness and I’m going to feel things out in my next two runs (tomorrow and Saturday)before deciding how I want to approach things on Sunday. I’m hoping that I’m in PR shape, but regardless will learn from this training cycle for my fall race.

      1. I contemplated NOT commenting because I did not want to plant any negative seeds in your brain just before your race. But I wanted to speak up because I don’t think it is a good general purpose way to salvage a training season gone awry.

        I encourage you to go into your race with faith in your training. You will not learn anything in your next 2 runs about your fitness (trust me). So don’t over-analyze it or worry too much. What I would recommend is going into the race with your original goal (BQ)! If you are clearly working too hard during those early miles, scale it back a little. But don’t give up due to any comments here or concerns about your training. You’ve put in a lot of hard work and it is possible. Rest, get your head in the game, and go run a strong race. I’ll be cheering for you from Wisconsin. 🙂

  2. First, thank you for this post. Your determination and dedication to running are really impressive, but in between the lines I feel like something else might be going on that maybe isn’t 100% healthy. Here’s why.

    I am so with Mint here. Everything was fine until I came to this statement and then I started to become concerned: “I generally expect to exceed my planned mileage since I view a training plan as the minimum miles required.” What?!

    More isn’t always better. A GOOD well-balanced plan and sticking to the plan (within reason) is better. It teaches you hard work, discipline and patience. To be your best you need to learn when to push yourself and when you need to restrain yourself. If you want to peak at 80 mpw, then follow a plan, either your own or someone else’s that does that rather than jam in 20+ extra miles in a week because you can. I don’t get having a plan that tops at 58 or whatever and then running 80. That’s a HUGE difference and as Mint said, I wonder why you even have a plan to begin with?

    And then this idea that you “failed” your plan by only running 30 or so miles in one week. Again. Don’t get it. You had a week in your original plan where you were supposed to only run 25 miles. Where’s this big failure?

    I feel like your goal is to run AS MUCH AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN without breaking at any given point. The walk breaks, the cross-training, the cramming in extra miles and using races to run super long runs. I have to ask: are you training to race your fastest marathon or to be able to run more miles without getting injured? There’s a huge difference between these two purposes. I can’t help but harken back to your “Running for weight loss vs running for performance” post a while back. Are you still struggling?

    As Mint said, I am pulling for your BQ and I KNOW you have it in you. But I have to agree that if it doesn’t happen this race, I don’t think it’s because you didn’t train hard enough.

    1. I actually completely agree with both of you – this wasn’t the best idea and my approach to training wasn’t ideal, at least not if my goal was a BQ. I think I’ll always have the calories burned at the back of my mind, but it’s truly about running now. I think my next training plan will reflect that with appropriate distances. My only goal now is to salvage what I’ve already done to make the best of this race. Maybe the message in the post came across differently.

      However, I know that the walk breaks and etc that I’ve done have helped to get to where I am as a runner. They were a useful tool, and now I only use them when necessary. I think everyone’s path to health and successful running is different, and just because I’ve struggled to have a healthy relationship with food doesn’t mean that it is happening here (or always). Many runners of all levels struggle to have a healthy relationship with food and it’s good to be aware of it, without sounding judgemental or accusatory. It’s a hard line to walk.

      1. It is hard to ask the questions without sounding accusatory. I definitely meant the former and not the latter! I am so inspired by how far you have come with your running and overall health. I just want to check in and open up the discussion. Thank you again for putting your struggle out there to open the discussion and to inspire and help others!

        1. It’s a hard line to walk – but talking about healthy habits is so important when it comes to runners, especially women, but of all types. I think it’s always good, no matter how hard it is, to examine our own training and nutrition to ensure that it is healthy and I appreciate you bringing it up.

          Just because it burns more calories doesn’t mean that it’s better. I think that, in our society, is a hard thing to internalize.

  3. I’m also concerned with this post; I don’t think the takeaway message is what you were intending. While weeks 10-11 show a dip, 50 and 30 mpw is not what I would consider “hardly running at all” and your “plan” had you taking a dip around those weeks anyway. But then, I don’t understand why you exceeded your training plan by up to 40 miles/week. I do agree that running 1/2 marathons for tune-ups is a great idea, as is getting some quality runs outside instead of the treadmill. But running 2 marathons within 5 weeks of the goal race is a recipe for disaster for many runners.

    You seem like you are very fit and a BQ is within reach. I worry that you’re going to be too overtrained on race day.