Is training ever wasted, or worse still....detrimental

Been having a bit of a think lately regarding my training and how things have been going. I havn’t been struggling to train (far from it), and am currently training for either London or York Marathon, though I think we all know they aren’t going to happen so.

My current Marathon PB is 2:37 (Berlin 2019) and having run a solo 16:16 5k recently, im probably in the best shape i’ve even been in, and although im far from certain I can crack 2:30 for the marathon, id certainly be intending to go through 20 mile in 1:54 and see how spectacular a blow up I can have if I had have raced in October.

Im training using the Jack Daniels Method, running 60-75 miles per week, 2 hard long sessions and everything else easy each week. I train because I have the logic of if by some miracle it goes ahead im ready, and when it get cancelled I can bank the fitness and build again in future, but I have two conflicting scenarios in my head as to what the outcome of ‘banking’ the fitness is. I should also say I enjoy the training, I VERY rarely regret doing a session once its done (I cant remember the last time I did) and I don’t have any signs im on the way to an injury currently.

However, theres a bit of an old adage in running that it takes 7 marathons to really get it right (though Berlin was my 9th; but my 7th road, two went up Snowdon’s Pyg Track) and I think its predicated on the notion that eventually the central governor starts to get sick of training hard and you eventually reach a point where mentally you cant push yourself as hard as you have on previous training cycles, even if part of you wants to.

The alternative scenario for me is that until I reach an age where that starts to degrade my ability to improve, I should continue to improve with each training cycle as I am building from a stronger physiological base each time, and by training for a marathon that never happens, I get all the training benefits and then start the next cycle from a strongest position yet.

I guess my question is, is there any actual evidence or research as to how I might come out of it. By doing a training cycle am I effectively ‘burning a match’ and using up a finite amount of training cycle, or am I having a great base build cycle, and ill go in to training for London 2021 in a shape like never before. Maybe its neither, and ultimately, the fitness I gain before I go in to a rest period before starting the next cycle will actually have negligible effect and where I start the next cycle will pretty much be the same position as whether I carried on this cycle, finished it and had a base period with a bit of maintenance vs just switching back to maintenance now?

Any thoughts or interesting papers?

My own thoughts (I’m not even close to being an expert) are that consistent training year in, year out training will net you the gains along the way. Well at least until age creeps in. Therefore a training cycle with no race will net fitness, however the mental load of a marathon training cycle is not to be underestimated and with no race to validate against you could end up mentally fatigued. Only you will be able to predict how that will go.

I agree. From personal experience rather than technical papers, but I find following a demanding training plan becomes mentally draining before it becomes physically damaging. It becomes hard to raise the effort for the tough sessions and there is not enough polarisation in a polarised schedule. The down time at the end of a tough training block is mostly about a mental recharge, exercise for fun rather than training.

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No. Although often compared to machines, we dont wear out like mechanical parts because we are organic and cells get replaced. Basically we are the apocryphal broom rhat has had both the handle and head replaced several times, but still the same broom. Iirc near the end of your career there are some components, (cartilege?) that dont get replaced but again iirc theres been new thinking on knees and running in recent years.

As long as you have an offseason, appropriate recovery and nutrition and so on, youll be better off for next season than if you surfed the sofa.


I’d prefer to do less training than the “textbooks” say you should, with more easier weeks and easier days and rest days built in, to be able to maintain training consistently. This seems to give me the best results. I’ll always have a proper “holiday” from training in the off-season for a few weeks. I can’t train intensely year-round. Make the easy days easy so that the hard days can be of benefit and can be recovered from…
I used to be able to train like crazy when I was younger but not any more…!


The Ship of Theseus argument.
But Heraclitus throws that to ruins:
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man

Change is the only constant, nothing is ever the same.


I posted about this some time ago. There are lots of opinions, and scare stories, however, the answer is pretty clear, and it is mainly related to diet.

If you are training constantly and also on a highly restrictive diet like Paleo or Keto, you are probably doing long term damage to your arteries and are a significant risk of heart disease. However, if you are doing lots of training, with low amounts of saturated fats and generally well balanced, then the research shows overwhelmingly that you will live a longer healthier life.

There are some proponants of a U shape link between health and exercise, with a sweet spot where you maximise health, and exercise beyond that level is detrimental, however, there is more reseach that discredits that. It is almost certainly true that exercise beyond a certain level has no additional health benefits, it seems that it also had no negative consequences

Lots of people sight Micah True to justify their belief that extreme athletes are at risk of death, however, people like this are the exception and not the rule


that is pretty much all you need to know…keep doing it until you no longer enjoy it, but you can add some variety to push that day back…

he might have dies 20 years earlier without the exercise…

we are very inefficient machines though and parts will become less effective as you age…it’s all in the genes…

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I assumed @itom150 was referring to detrimental in a performance sense worried that peaking with no event etc. Would have thought the main situation that’s relevant would be over-training (or under-recovering as should be called) leading to physical +/- mental burnout. If you carry forwards 10% of your season fatigue into the next year and keep trying to build year on year then pretty soon you’re going to be starting a year with the same deep residual fatigue you had mid-late season years earlier.
I’ve heard the idea of most professionals peak marathon being one of their earliest, you’ve said 7 I’ve heard it even earlier. Not looked more into it, random thought now that it may be confounded by the age most elites transfer to marathon after track seasons and the toll that takes on them.

@Matthew_Spooner is right that additional health benefits do hugely taper off after a minimal amount of exercise, and why it’s so important as public that we encourage basic things like taking stairs instead of escalators to get that minimum background exercise in.
Whether additional exercise leads to a flat mortality J-line or does truly increase it in a U-curve is lot more uncertain. There are some specific examples where vigorous exercise is absolutely clearly harmful but they’re usually the cases of underlying structural cardiac disease, eg Fabrice Muamba/James Taylor.

The more nuanced health argument would be something like atrial fibrillation, which is being shown to increase in endurance athletes, but may not have any mortality impact if someone is on anti-coagulants. Or ideas that elite cyclists are far more likely to have osteoporosis even compared to non-exercising public who spent their extra time sitting watching tv not weight-bearing either. If that predisposes someone to breaking their hip at 65 instead of at 80 it’s easy to see how it can shorten lifespan.

Been ~5 years since I last read anything on it but seemed there was no consensus whether those effects add up to outweigh the health benefits at higher exercise levels. Nor do I suspect there’ll ever be a clear definite answer given the effect is likely small and too many confounding factors with lifestyle to know what is having an effect.


My thoughts, the proviso that I’m not a coach and haven’t spent any time at all looking at research … so my own observations & experience.

  1. How many intense cycles you can push through is much more mental than physical. There was a thread on the old forum, no idea if it is still accessible, started by Hywel (ttowel was his user name I think?) about 7/10 training; how easy it is for hard training to be not hard enough and for easy training to be too hard so everything ends up being grey rather than black & white. There was a lot more to it than that but the jist was you have to be prepared to go into the red to improve and that red zone develops so you need to keep pushing.
    Which leads to …

  2. As I got older I worked out that for “big” races, twice was the optimal number for me. I like exploring more than I like bettering a previous time on the same course and I like natural beauty so found it harder and harder to justify training hard for flat loops. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was capable of, for example, a 3hr marathon (3:20 was my best) but I always had something I would rather do instead. I felt guilty / weak at the time (insert suitable word that suits your own personality) but with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that my goals & what I gained satisfaction from in life were just different to what I thought I wanted (or wanted to believe I wanted) when I was younger.
    Hope that makes some sense. I ran with a guy once whose ideal run was down a featureless, flat, straight road … my idea of hell.

  3. My running improved through doing hard sessions on the bike and I think from cross-training in general.

  4. Your approach seems to go against what many said back when I spent time thinking about stuff like this; that long runs should be easy and hard runs should be short

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It’s a hobby (I assume), if you are enjoying yourself and not injured, carry on. If you would rather be doing something else…

I never quite get this.

What if your hobby is ‘to be your absolute best’.
Such that if you can’t get any better you don’t want to do it any more. Then it does matter whether your performance is getting better or worse.

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some really good replies here guys. thank you for taking the time to reply. Like EJC has said, providing you’re enjoying it doesn’t seem to be a large body of evidence that this will negatively affect future performance.

You’re right it is a hobby, and if I never break 2:30, I won’t feel like my life has been wasted. Conversely, its still my desire to break this very arbitrary barrier so I’d hate to think that I got myself in that shape but was never able to demonstrate it in a proper race and then not able to achieve that level again. I know I could in theory go out and attempt it but even if I did achieve it for me, I like that fact that it’s on a certified course and the fact that it goes down in the results book has merit to me. I like the thought of my time being logged on thepowerof10 website and thats a motivating factor to me:)


Then its not being treated as a hobby.

My intention was not to be dismissive, although a bad day and a few beers probably didn’t help with the tone :grimacing:

It’s good to have a target, but the impact of some additional training which may not result in a race will have negligible negative impact, even if you subscribe to the limited number of matches theory. Especially when considering the myriad of other distractions/set backs you have to deal with in a typical training campaign.

Great reply @Chriswim

Some additional random thoughts:

When looking at subsequent health outcomes from elite athetes, the elephant in the room is always “what were they taking”, for example, steroids can cause osteoporosis, athletes now in their 50’s and 60’s suffering from atrial fibrillation, could this be a result of past use of PEDs?

I seem to recall that back in the early days of the London Marathon, most marathon winners were stepping up from a track 10K career, they ran 2 or 3 top marathons and then petered out. Almost as if their 10K background gave them the speed to be successful but once they got a few years into pure marathon training the speed went or the extra distance took it’s toll.

But now that top marathon runners are marathon first and many don’t even have a track career they seem to have a much longer marathon span. Maybe because they are starting earlier, or maybe because they never tried to run a fast 400 at the end of a 10K track race.

Exactly what I was goiing to write. An exercise physiology lecturer I had at Uni said he left his post doctoral work with a Belgian cycling team as too many young men, extremely fit and healthy young men, were dying due to blood doping. It all gets masked as an undiagnosed heart defect but they all knew what was going on. (This as the early days of EPO). While their care while doping has improved, I’m sure, I suspect it still happens.

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