How to play catch-up on your mini marathon training

Mary Jennings: Start slow, take walk breaks and rebuild your confidence

In my inbox this week are messages from women in a panic. It’s just under nine weeks until the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon (on Sunday, June 2nd in Dublin) and they have not yet started training. Despite great intentions of getting running this spring, time has flown by and they find themselves on the back foot. If you are in a similar situation, feel relieved that you are not alone. Many pairs of running shoes will be dusted down this week as the countdown to one of the country’s largest and liveliest 10k races begins.

Where should I start?

If you are one of those lucky people who can pop out the door and still run 5k after a long break, then you don’t really need the rest of this article. That baseline of fitness will allow you to slot into any standard 10k training plan and with two months of discipline and focus you will be start-line ready. Go for it.

But most women who return to running after a long break will take time to rebuild confidence, motivation and endurance. If you doubt your ability to bounce back to 10k in eight weeks, start by simply getting out the door. Once you complete that first run you will be back in the game. Start slow, take walk breaks and for the first week aim for no longer than 30 minutes on your feet.

You are not your younger self

The training for the event can be as memorable as the big day out if you see it as a privilege not a chore. Try to resist the urge to compare your training or fitness with that of previous years. Yes, it would be easier to run faster now if you started two months ago, but you didn’t, so try not to compare with friends or the runner you were a few years ago.

Set your goal to cross the start-line and finish-line with a smile. Taking the performance pressure of the race day when you are on a running comeback will help reframe the next two months as a stepping stone on your way to a great summer of running. The race deadline will keep you on track and you will improve every week, especially if you don’t consider walk breaks a failure.

They actually help you stay on your feet longer and build endurance.

What will make it easier?

If 10k sounds too daunting and you fear you might shy away from running at all, why not break it up into three more manageable distances. On race day there are three water stops along the route at approximately 3k, 6k and 8k. Doesn’t three mini-races sound more doable than one big 10k loop run?

By mentally breaking up the distance on race day, as well as in training, you can trick yourself into staying focused on the current kilometre and not spend your time worrying about how you might feel towards the end. At each water station, aim to reset, catch your breath, have a sip, walk it out and then start fresh again for the next mini race. You can practice this in training too.

Sports psychology is not just for elite athletes, we all need the tricks of the trade to help focus the mind.

How can I enjoy it more?

While thousands of people running by your side on race day will carry you around the route, it is much harder to keep going when training solo, so why not join forces with friends or neighbours who also have signed up. You will keep each other accountable, entertained and motivated as you share conversations on local footpaths. Even if you all run at different paces, making the commitment to warm-up together will help build enjoyment, momentum and routine.

Together, the training sessions will feel easier and more fun, especially if you focus on camaraderie instead of competition. Try new routes as the days get warmer and explore your neighbourhood. I will repeat what I said above that you should never be afraid to take walk breaks. They are not cheating. Instead consider them a chance to refocus, release tension and reset for the next section.

What will keep me focused?

There is a lot to be said for sticking up a simple eight-week plan on the fridge where you see it every day. Tick off each training session as it is completed and the weeks won’t run away on you. Aim to train three times per week. Most runners will head out the door for two shorter runs midweek and at the weekend set out to complete a longer one which will gradually increase in distance week on week.

Beyond focusing on the running itself, knowing you have collected money for a charity is enough to keep many runners on the straight and narrow, as the run becomes more than just about ourselves.

Make the long runs shorter

A really enjoyable and motivating way to complete your long weekend runs is to combine them with a parkrun. Do the final 5k of your long run as your parkrun and the extra minutes before the parkrun starts. These bonus minutes count as a parkrun warm-up but you will also benefit from the crowd support for the last 5k of your training run. You get the race day buzz and a lesson in pacing every week.

If you don’t have a parkrun near you, why not arrange to meet a friend for the second half of your long run and let them do the talking and bring some water for you.

Why eight weeks is the perfect timeline

While I never recommend cramming for a race, or setting a crazy goal that might lead to injury, I do believe we can all complete the mini marathon on the June bank holiday at our own pace. It all comes down to setting realistic expectations. If this is not your year for breaking any speed records and you are launching into a running comeback, consider these next eight to nine weeks as an experiment, a gentle nudge in the right direction and an excellent deadline to get yourself back on track. When you cross that finish-line arms raised high with a smile on your face you be delighted you made the effort to start now.

There is always next year to smash your personal best if you really want to. But lets focus on this summer of running first.

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  • Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. She is also the creator of our Get Running online coaching programmes which are FREE and available here.
  • Read: Six steps to build to 10km

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