‘Master the Marathon’ arrived to review just after I’d figured out with my physio that my hip really wasn’t designed for marathon running and that I should instead focus on getting faster at 5k and 10ks. I saw the book and sulked. I love the magic and power of a marathon (I’d guess I’ve run at least 20) and the distance has a special place in my heart. So why read a book on what I can’t do?

But I work with lots of marathon runners – particularly female runners who this book is aimed at – so I faced it. And I am so glad I did because it is far and away the best marathon training book I have read. Nolan has such a friendly approachable style it feels like you are being personally mentored through your preparation, build up, race and even those tricky day afterwards when the marathon blues kick in. Her style is honest and kind and funny.

Many running books fit in a psychology chapter – Nolan weaves psychology in throughout the entire book. There are specific sections like the chapter on ‘Training your Brain’ or ‘You are Tough Enough’ but what Nolan really gets is that marathon training and racing is done just as much with your brain as with your body and there is a seamless mix of physiological and psychological advice and techniques.

The book starts by looking at your motivation for running a marathon so that before you even get going you are clear on your why. Then, throughout the book we get so many brilliant mental skills to work on: Body checking, mantras, trusting yourself, imagery, breathing techniques, power words, goal setting, thought stopping, reframing. And she even has a downer on a word I also hate: the word ‘should’ which we so often use to beat ourselves up with. 

Once thing my running clients often say to me if that they would be absolutely fine if they could take their brain out. Their body is fine and their brain seems to want to cause chaos. Nolan really gets that. I loved the section where she tells us: “So many of us get lost in the data of our paces, splits and PRs. Setting a PR is exhilarating but it must be secondary to our true motivation for running. Those numbers don’t determine our self-worth. Only when we set aside the external will our egos be quiet and calm enough to let our bodies perform at their respective peaks.”

This absolutely sets the tone; it is caring, accepting and welcoming. It also has what most of us are looking for in a marathon training book though; training plans (for difference phases) and lots of strength and conditioning exercises. It explains how to set different paces for different types of training and she gets some great athletes and coaches to offer up their favourite sessions. She includes classic runner setbacks, not just physical injuries but others we deal with in psychology like overtraining, RED-S, training blues and the difficulties we have when tapering. I particularly love her list of ideas of things to do when you feel you are losing it in the taper.

I have already recommended Master the Marathon to clients and I will carry on doing so as it is an amazing resource. Now if my hip would just play along so I could just follow her advice and make it to a start line…

You can pick a place to buy it at Profile Book’s website