The Mystery of the Challenging Drop Back Week Run…

This is marathon training season cycle #8. One of the mysteries of training is why drop back weeks suck so much. Seriously. 

What’s a drop back week, you ask? In traditional full or half marathon training plans, the goal is to ramp up in miles for 1-2 weeks for your weekend long run, then return to a shorter mileage long run the following week for a bit of maintenance/recovery. For example, we may run 7 miles, next week 8 miles, and then fall back to 6 miles. Now in fall marathon training season, we are to the point where we will alternate a 12 mile drop back run with a ramp up run 2 miles longer than the last longer run. Next weekend, my team will run 16 miles. 

This means this past Sunday, we ran “only 12 miles.” Yup. Only 12. It’s kind of fun to say that to your friends who don’t train for marathons. They’re like, “What? Only 12! Y’all are crazy.” Yeah. That pretty much sums it up. 

So let’s get back to the point I’m contemplating today. Why, for the love of running, do drop back weeks seem particularly challenging? My hypothesis is that in our minds, we are mentally prepared for an “easy” run. So when our course creators do really fun things like add several flights of stairs to our route at mile 8, make mile 10 mostly uphill, and finish the last couple of miles on a major road that is largely unshaded on a day that happens to be one where mother nature is planning her last fire laden breath of summer, you just have to laugh. (Despite the challenges of our route Sunday, we still love our head coach who works so diligently on our routes each week!)

We climbed a few flights of stairs to emerge on the Manchester Bridge, which has a protected sidewalk in the middle and this stunning view of the Richmond skyline!

For my team, if you thought Sunday’s run was difficult, you are in good company. Even your coaches were surprised by how tough those miles were. When our minds are prepared for an easy run, while simultaneously psyching ourselves up for that next jump in mileage, we may neglect the very real challenge that simply running 12 miles creates. 

Don’t fret if you had a bad run. It happens to everyone. Less than ideal runs are teachers. We can assess what we could have done better to prepare for the run, strategize better, and reframe our mental approach. Maybe it was a nutrition or hydration issue. Maybe you started the run too fast. Or maybe it really was just the weather! A bad run is better than no run, right? And bad runs make you appreciate great ones so much more!

Here’s to cooler weather and better runs ahead, because fall is officially here! I’m crossing my fingers…


Are you training for a fall half or full marathon? Do you find that some of your most challenging runs are the drop back week long runs? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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