Marathon in 5 weeks- very little training. Is it possible?

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

There's a marathon in just over 5 weeks that I would really like to attempt. I entered it back in the summer, anticipating that I would train properly, but that hasn't happened. Until recently, I had ruled out attempting it since I'm extremely unprepared, but the idea of trying it is becoming tempting. This probably sounds crazy, but hopefully the information below will explain it a bit better.

As a bit of backstory, I'm not new to running, but have more or less had to start from scratch again within the last few months. For the past 5 years, I ran quite regularly. Nothing serious, and nothing fast, but I ran several times a week and have done some races, including 6 marathons (1-2 per year). I trained for the previous ones. I hadn't stuck rigidly to a plan but was fairly sensible about it and made sure to fit in weekly long runs for the couple of months leading up to it. The last one was last June.

After last July, I stopped running completely until around January and unsurprisingly, lost a lot of fitness over that period. It was due to pretty bad mental health trouble- I completely lost motivation to do anything, and also gained over a stone, partly due to medication and partly due to the lack of activity. Any time I tried to run, I just didn't have the motivation or willpower to even complete a mile.

At the start of February, I started going back to my running club and thankfully have been able to stick at it since. It was tough at the start and progress was slow, but it's been going a bit better recently. I'm comfortably able to run a few times a week again. I haven't attempted any runs longer than about 10 miles, admittedly.

I know the obvious answer would not be to jump straight into a marathon. My reasons for wanting to do this particular one are sentimental and probably sound silly to anyone else. Might as well try to explain it though. For me, running has always been more mental than physical. Since so much of a long run is about mental resilience, I feel like it would really help, mentally, to be able to finish it- sort of a symbol of being able to put what happened over the last year behind me. I've done this particular marathon each year for the last 4 years, so it would be really nice to be able to do it again. I have some important exams coming up in a couple of months, which I wasn't able to sit last year due to the mental health problems. It might sound weird, but in a way, I think if I could do the marathon and sort of prove to myself that I'm not as weak as I often think, I might have more confidence going into the exams. There are also a lot of people I know taking part as well, and we're all planning to raise money for the same charity.

I would really appreciate any advice on whether or not this is crazy or if it would potentially be doable.

I would be prepared to work hard over the next month, and would of course also be prepared to get a slow time. My previous times have all been 4.15-4.30ish, so I was never fast anyway, but I realise it would likely take over 5hrs. Though if it was likely that I'd have to walk the majority of it, it would probably end up doing the opposite of what I'd intended and lead to a drop in confidence instead, so I'm willing to take on any advice about whether or not it's worth attempting.

One major advantage of this race is that there's also a team relay, so there will be four changeover points along the route where I could drop out if need be. I know the route well since it's my home city so I wouldn't be travelling far to the race or anything. At the moment, my plan is to just run as far as I can on the day, and drop out when/if I need to, but it would be good to have an idea of what to expect.

Thanks very much for reading, and apologies for writing so much.


  • Nose NowtNose Nowt ✭✭✭

    With that motivation - and the cathartic feeling you'd get by succeeding - coupled with your history of running, I think your 5hr goal is realistic.

    If I were you, I would aim to work almost exclusively on your base aerobic fitness.  I would do maybe a couple of runs a little bit  faster than Marathon Pace - but the pacy section should be limited to no more than 20 minutes - and this would be primarily for confidence and sanity rather than for physiological adaptations.. Working hard on lactate threshold (or even faster) wouldn't be efficient in a 5 week programme. I'd look at a 2 week taper maximum.... the last of which should be really relaxed and easy.

    Weekly long runs starting this weekend = 13, 15, 17, 18, 8, 26.2

    Midweek stuff - you're experienced enough to work out for yourself, but as I said, personally focus on easy pace.. Anything faster than MP should not be much faster.

    Go for it... and if it doesn't work out, then don't be hard on yourself. Be proud you gave it a go.  Good luck

  • It's a big jump up as you know..and ramping the mileage up so quickly brings a high chance of injury and may force you out of running for a few would you feel coping with exams etc without the release of going running.

    I would also consider how you would feel if you have to walk large chunks and take 5:30 hours or more which is a strong possibility....would you see that as a success or failure.

    And if for some reasons you have to drop out of the marathon part way and dnq on the would that have an effect on your mental state..

    If after weighing up the potential positives and negatives you still want to go ahead then I would consider some run walking plans and practice as this will make the marathon little less painful..( there will be pain ..there always is)..

    I really think that finding an autumn marathan and training and focusing positively for that would be best......but if you really feel this is best for you...good luck and I hope all goes well..

  • Nose NowtNose Nowt ✭✭✭

    You certainly got both sides of the argument there!  I'll stick with my view, but fully respect seren's approach.

    Good luck.

  • Thanks very much to both of you for your thoughtful replies. I really appreciate the advice.

    There are definitely some points there that I'll have to have a good think about. Thankfully, I'm pretty lucky when it comes to injuries- I got injured for a few weeks a couple of years ago, but that's been the only time so far. I'll try and take it carefully though just incase. The training approach you suggested seems sensible, Nose Nowt.

    I suppose it'll come down to whether or not I'll have the willpower to complete weekly long runs over the next month. That probably sounds silly. It certainly seems like a world away from when I used to look forward to doing long runs, and never really contemplated not completing them. No point dwelling on the change in mental state too much though, I suppose.

    Thanks again for taking the time to reply. You've both made good points so I'll give them more thought over the next week or two. Have a good Easter!

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