How to know when to quit marathon training

by Ravi Ram

Deciding to withdraw from a marathon is never an easy decision for dedicated runners. Months of training and commitment can be derailed by injuries or other responsibilities. But sometimes, it’s necessary to prioritize one’s health and well-being over completing a race. In this article, we explore some key considerations for knowing when to call it quits.

One important factor to consider is persistent injuries. Running through an injury can be dangerous and potentially worsen the condition. Greg McMillan, founder and head coach of McMillan Running, advises runners to listen to their bodies and evaluate if their injuries are worsening or affecting their stride. If so, withdrawing from the marathon is the safer option.

Brooke Murphy, a runner from Frisco, Tex., shared her experience with a hip and iliotibial band injury. Initially, she hoped to complete her first marathon but had to switch to a half marathon due to her injury. She realized that preserving her health was more important than the race itself, stating, “You only have one body.”

Recognizing when long runs become too difficult is another important consideration. Whether a runner aims to finish the marathon or achieve a specific time goal, certain training markers can indicate their ability to complete the race. James McKirdy, owner and head coach of McKirdy Trained, suggests that runners aiming to finish should be able to run for at least one hour and 45 minutes. If running this long becomes a struggle, it may indicate a need for more time to develop their aerobic system and muscles.

For runners with time goals, McKirdy advises training at a pace and volume that matches their actual fitness level. Pushing oneself to train at an unsustainable pace can lead to injury. Online calculators such as VDOT O2 can help runners determine their training pace accurately.

The gradual buildup of mileage is crucial for marathon training. Ruth Atkinson, a running coach with McKirdy Trained, emphasizes that a runner’s ability to cover the marathon distance in a week is a significant milestone. It demonstrates their consistent progress and capacity to handle the demands of a marathon. If a runner cannot consistently hit 25 to 30 miles a week, it may be necessary to reconsider participating in the race.

Motivation and enjoyment are also important factors to consider. Feeling consistently unmotivated or finding running to be a chore may indicate the need for a reset. Taking a break or reassessing goals can help reignite the joy and passion for running.

Creating a pros and cons list can be a valuable tool when deliberating whether to proceed with a race. It allows runners to objectively weigh the benefits and downsides. Brooke Murphy found that having a “Did Not Finish” on her record was worse than not starting the race at all. Ultimately, everyone’s path as a runner is unique, and it’s perfectly okay to decide that the timing isn’t right to achieve a specific goal.

It’s important to note that withdrawing from a race doesn’t mean all progress is lost. Many races offer options for deferring one’s entry to the following year or transferring it to another runner. Runners can also consider participating in a shorter distance race or signing up for a different marathon.

In the end, the decision to withdraw from a marathon is a personal one. Prioritizing one’s health, considering training progress, and maintaining motivation are essential factors to take into account. Withdrawing from a race may be a difficult decision, but it can be the right one for long-term well-being and continued dedication to running.

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