To Run or Not to Run? The Spring Marathon Dilemma

I'm thinking Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop are not regretting their decisions to run a spring marathon! image via bangordailynews.com

If you have followed me through the years on my personal blog you may have picked up that I have had my bouts of “prolific” marathoning. I raced lots of my own and spent a couple of years pacing several others. But even in the past few years, though I have cut down on pacing I have still raced a fall and spring marathon each year. This year I am sort of wishing I hadn’t. And here’s why.

My original intent for Boston this year was for it to be a fun run, I only signed up because a high school friend qualified for the first time. Given the injury and slow come back after Philly I really thought I wouldn’t even be in shape to race well. Unfortunately for me my speed came back quickly and I knew I had the fitness to race hard and it isn’t in my nature to run for fun when I know I can race competitively.

Though Boston provided me with some great opportunities this year and I am ecstatic with the outcome, it wasn’t really in line with my long term goals to go and run a hot spring marathon.ย  I want to get my marathon time much much faster and racing a course that is known for beating me up in the heat certainly isn’t a step towards any near term smoking fast PRs.

Leading into Boston my training was just getting back to its highest level. Had I opted out of Boston I could possibly be raving about my killer workouts right now and notching some short distance PRs which have been hard for me to come by since 2010! Instead I am struggling to recover and I am having to patiently sit out the recovery period where my workouts are slower and I am not race ready.

As with all things marathon there are many variables at play but I do think there are some major risks taken when training for a spring marathon in the midwest. This year we were spoiled with a mild winter but most years you train through the elements and sacrifice indoor races and shorter distance spring races in pursuit of a solid spring marathon. I’ve come up with a brief list of pro’s and cons to consider when debating whether to run a spring marathon.ย  But I think next year I am going to try sitting the spring marathon out and focusing on some fast track races and seeing if that can propel me into a fabulous summer and an even better fall marathon!

Boston was surely a lot of fun this year and a truly amazing experience, but I can't help wondering if it was worth the sacrifices I am now making for my decision to race it.

Pros:

1) Motivation to train through the winter

2) Spring weather is, usually, conducive to marathon racing

3) If done well the training provides a great base for summer racing

4) This one is personal, but the sting of a poor spring marathon usually leads to a kick ass fall marathon for me (I almost always achieve my marathon goals in the fall, in fact I am pretty sure I have never hit a goal time in the spring, unless it was a pacing job)

Cons:

1) Recovery process can take away from shorter spring racing (For me it is easier to swallow not racing in November than it is in May)

2) Injury during training is higher in winter with ice outside and indoor workouts (tight turns)

3) Post marathon blues – unlike the fall marathon which is followed up with the holiday season I find that the post marathon blues in spring aren’t as easily warded off

4) As with any marathon there is an interruption in the training process, you just can’t recover from a marathon as quickly as you can from a 5k

What are your thoughts on the Fall/Spring marathon combo Salty Readers? Do you have a preference for which season you race a marathon in? Do you prefer to get in one, two, or more marathons each year? Do you ever feel that perhaps your goal marathon isn’t in line with your other running goals?

A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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19 comments

  1. I really struggle with this topic, think about it all the time… nice post! My current thought (and this will probably change 100 times during my lifetime!) is that 2 marathons a year is perfect. I also think Fall is the perfect season to hit a PR. Spring seems like a great way to stay in shape through winter and see where fitness is, plus builds a good base for summer PRs in shorter distances.

    1. I think long term I will go back to the spring/fall combo. I just think it might not have been smart for me the past two years given my goals ๐Ÿ™‚ But fall is definitely the time for PRs! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I usually do a spring and fall marathon as well and completely agree with your pros and cons list. Interestingly, I usually always do better in my fall marathons as well. For me though, the pros outweigh the cons for a spring marathon because I like having the training motivation (nearly) year-round. Also, while there is certainly a recovery period, that training provides you with solid fitness you may not have if you aren’t marathon training. I know I can’t bring myself to train as hard for shorter distances. You may be different.

    1. Pepper can thank the editor for choosing that photo of the millions she had to sift through on Pepper’s facebook page! I agree! She looks smokin’!

    2. Ha. Thanks! If I can’t get back to regular training here those abs are going to be more like donuts ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. This thought is on my mind these days, since I’m doing two marathons closer than I ever have. I’m running Ann Arbor Marathon in June and then New York in November. I am holding back a bit for the first event, but the training is still there and I’m wondering how lingering the effects will be for the second time around. I’ve heard that, like childbirth, you have to forget the pain before you move on to the next one, well, this will feel like twins.

    1. I think it really is dependent how the race and training go whether the double goes well. If you can get in consistent training and get through the marathon injury free you most certainly can bounce back and race well even as short at 6 weeks later, but I definitely don’t think it’s ideal ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck at Ann Arbor and New York!

  4. I actually just commented on Salty’s CLE post from yesterday with something similar. I think I am hanging up my spring marathon shoes for now. I get so tempted to sign up for one, especially when my friends are doing one, but for a number of reasons, I think that fall marathons agree with me so much more! I’m going to really try to hold off on a Spring 2013 full and instead shoot for lowering my half marathon PR.

  5. This will be my first time doing back to back to back marathons. I am running the Akron marathon in September and will then run Boston in the spring of next year. I had a pretty positive experience with Cleveland this past weekend that I cannot wait to jump into fall marathon training (after my recovery break, of course). I am confident, if the weather cooperates, that I can achieve the time I wanted at Cleveland, in Akron. This will be a new adventure for me. I ran one marathon 11 years ago and swore I would never run one again. After Cleveland, I have completely caught the “marathon bug”.

    I have one side question for you Pepper. How long do you think it takes one to be “fully” recovered after a marathon? Two weeks? A month? Longer?

    1. Michelle I am no true expert but I think if you ran hard you can start real training again in 2-3 weeks (paces will be slower!) but you won’t be “fully” back for about 6 weeks. That’s just been my previous experience and seems to be what is going on for me with Boston this time around too.

      You can definitely race well at all three marathons girl! I’ve done it in the past, I just think for me right now it may not have been the wisest choice given my current goals! Note even though I have never met a spring marathon goal, I have almost always gotten better (barring the past few years at Boston) so the spring/fall combo can definitely work!

    2. Michelle – I know your question was directed at Pepper, but I want to chime in here. My PR is at Akron! Despite the hills, it is a FANTASTIC course with amazing volunteers, spectators and crowd support. Especially with the base you have from Cleveland and what you were able to do there in spite of the conditions, I think you’re so well-positioned to have great races at both Akron and Boston. Just remember to take that full recovery (it gets rough at the end when you’re itching to go), and avoid the urge to do too much too fast out of excitement. I have such confidence in you!

      1. Clove – that is so great to hear!! As crazy as it sounds, I am really looking forward to Akron. I am confident that if the conditions are right, I can PR there by at least 5 or more minutes. I felt really strong at Cleveland this weekend and primarily fell apart at the end from the heat. I am not planning on running at all until this Sunday, which is a full week after my marathon. I only plan to run an easy 3-4 miles. Do you think this is a good plan? I have a 5k scheduled for a week from this Saturday. Do any of you think that is too soon? Should I scrap it, try it, or just run it for fun (which for me, will be extremely hard to do)?

        1. I usually take a full week off post ‘thon and it seems needed! It still takes me a few weeks to get back up to steam after the race even with the week off so be easy on yourself for a while. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to run the 5k. I would just play it by ear. Don’t expect to PR or have an amazing race (although you might!) I’ve raced a short race a couple of weeks post marathon and it wasn’t bad. Mine was always a 5 mile xc race so it’s hard to say whether I ran it around what I’d expect to run before the marathon. I really think even at Akron a 3:25 or faster would be more than reasonable for you given good weather. See how summer training goes and make your goal within a few weeks of the race. You never know!

  6. I guess I fail to see the cons you point out, but then again I generally maintain a lighter training schedule anyway. In my view, spring marathon training sets up nicely for some good May or (if you run a May marathon) June season of shorter racing, and still gives the opportunity to do some good things pre-marathon. Here in Cleveland there are several good events in March (St. Malachi) and April (Cleveland 10-Miler), and I’m sure that’s the case in most cities.I get a bit nervous if the spring marathon is too close to the fall marathon (i.e., even the Cleveland / Akron combo is a bit tight, as I’d like a full 5 week recovery from Cleveland before ramping an 18 week program for Akron).
    I say this even though I’ve missed the last two spring marathons due to injuries, one of the cons you list above. But last year’s fall outcome was OK despite that, and I’m hoping for the same this year.

  7. Love how thorough this post is – and the smokin’ abs shot! I don’t struggle with the marathon dilemma now, but I feel like I just recently hit my stride in timing my 100-milers. For me, doing one in early February and one in the summer feels like the perfect fit: it keeps me in shape and motivated through the holidays, gives me something to focus on other than “post-holiday blues,” but then gives me a nice break during bleak and cold February and early March. Spring rolls around and I’m raring to go for my summer one. For me, fall is taken up by traveling and pacing, and I just focus on maintaining a base from August through November.

    That’s what works for me – we all find what works best for us. Can’t wait to see how it turns out, you’ve got so much talent left in you!!!

  8. Pepper,

    GREAT blog and appreciate your dedication to the sport of running, feel free to stop by sometime.

    Keep it up!