Step-back Weeks Explained

It’s a step-back week for those training for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon on the Running Room 18 week marathon training program.

I often describe marathon training as “climbing the ladder”. Each Sunday you typically run either the same milage or a few kilometres more than the week before as you make your way up to 32km (sometimes even a bit more). Step-back weeks are weeks in the training program where you take a step back down the ladder and run a shorter Sunday run than the week before.

This week is a nice one – the schedule calls for 19km this weekend, on the heels of last week’s 26km long Sunday run.

Why the step back?


You can see the step-back weeks clearly in this weekly mileage chart from the Running Room training program.

Why do we have these step-back weeks in the schedule? The short answer is that the step back provides both physical and mental rest.

Pulling back on the miles every once in a while aids in physical recovery and helps prevent injury by giving the legs and body a bit of an easier week. You still do the same weekday runs including tempo runs and the dreaded hills, but the total mileage for the week will be a bit less than the week before.

A step-back also provides for a mental break from the grind of training. Piling on more and longer runs week after week can get overwhelming. Taking a breather and having a shorter week to look forward to is good for the mind and gets you ready for the next push.

Take the break!

You might be tempted to skip the step-back and run another 26km or even a 29km run this week thinking more miles will help on race day. Resist that temptation! Just as rest days are an important part of your weekly training schedule, step-back weeks are key to ensuring that you get to the start line healthy and ready to race.

Enjoy the 19km run on Sunday as the next seven long runs after that are at least 23km! Take it easy, run conversational pace and make sure you continue to try out different pre-run food options to see what works best for you.

The big runs to come

This is the second last step-back weekend before race day. After this weekend’s 19km run, there’s a 29km run (or 30km for those racing Around the Bay in Hamilton) and then another 29km run before a 32km Sunday that will be one of the longest you do in training.

The next step-back is 23km which will seem short to you, despite the fact that it’s nearly 2km longer than a half marathon. From there it’s just a few more big runs before the taper (more on that in a future post).

Onwards! Just nine weeks to go!