My marathon journey (vague justification for having ideas to share)

In April 2019 I’ll line up for the 5th time at the start of London Marathon. I’ve been very grateful to be able to qualify based on my marathon time for the “good for age” start, but due to the ravages of parenthood I need to set another fresh qualifying time if I want to line up at London in the future.

Through the winter I’ll be helping with a running group at Stroud Athletics Club with the aim of mastering the marathon distance in the Spring of 2019. I’m using this space to capture notes for a group discussion planned for the start of the training phase.

Slides used on the night are here


First up, I think it’s important to say I’m not a qualified coach (yet) but I have run a few marathons and experimented along the way

Most of us start running marathons after running some 10Ks and halfs first. we then race the first half at a steady pace we “think” we’ve trained to hold for 26.2 miles. but we slow down, sometimes massively in the second half, it took me years to run even splits.

  • 2011 Lochaber 4:08 (1:45 to halfway !) 2:23 ouch!
  • 2012 Worcester 3:43 (1:49 / 1:54)
  • 2012 Liverpool 3:18 (1:37 / 1:41) I’m learning now
  • 2013 Blackpool 3:01 1:30:16 / 1:31:32 3:05 was target, expected to slow down more than I did
  • 2014 London 2:55 1:27:03 / 1:28:12 (40-50 mile weeks. max 55)
  • 2015 London 2:53 1:24:31 / 1:28:36 (40-50 mile weeks, max 62)
  • 2015 Abingdon 2:54 1:26:40 / 1:27:35 a new training approach…
  • 2016 London 2:48 1:23:39 / 1:25:06 (40-50 mile weeks. max 70)
  • 2017 Seville 2:56 1:28:40 / 1:28:10 (30-40 mile weeks. max 50)
  • 2018 London 4:01
  • 2019 London 2:xx ????


Your marathon experience and ambitions

I’d like us to share our marathon experience and aims, we’re each on our road and doing this for different reasons!

  • Take a posit and write your name, number of marathons you n it.
  • Next posit write your name and 5k, 10k, HM, marathon PBs.
    • line up in order!
  • current PBs (marathon / half / 10K / 5k)
    • line up in order for 5K
    • now how does the order change if we go for 1/2 marathon
    • Now how does the order change for marathon?
    • So why does the order change? is it genetics? not likely at our level!
    • potential, based on Daniels tables “if you’ve done the right training”
    • Personally….
    • Volunteer…..
    • Hopefully we’ll see that most of us have room for improvement at marathons without even improving at other shorter distances. Why? because we haven’t done the specific training a marathon asks for.
  • Call out: Current weekly mileage and runs per week (or what you typically do when you have a goal
  • mileages run by marathon runners (strava data analysis)
    • Do those running higher mileage / been running for longer have a closer correlation between their marathon and 5k?


  • Who has a marathon entered?
    • Training goals should always allow you to do the training you want to do, you need an achievable goal.
    • Specific goal time comes as a result of the training and should be tweaked as you approach race day so you are on the start line knowing you’re able to achieve steady paced race.
    • First ever marathon? Aim to complete it.

What does a marathon need?

  • This is a summary of my learnings from magazines, forums and some expert coaches, not limited to:
  • There’s tons of information out there, I’ve tried to condense this into an hours talk to get things started.
  • ITS NOT COMPLICATED. run lots, outside what your body is used to, eat well, rest, sleep look after strength and balance and you will improve.
  • There is not one perfect, best training plan to train for a marathon. But there are founding principles that all these coaches agree on. The plans then build on these and you need to find one that suits you – one that will challenge you but not break you totally. Then stick with it for that season. Don’t be afraid to change plans from one year to a the next – “keep doing what you’ve always done, keep getting the same results”.
  • its not a 5K or 10K so don’t train for it the same way (400 reps and 8 mile long runs at a hard effort wont cut it).
  • A marathon is 98% aerobic. A 5K is 90% aerobic. Yes to run a faster marathon you need “speed” but running for 3 or more hours is very different from running for 20, 25 minutes. You need speed endurance. You need to sustain an efficient high aerobic effort.
  • Those who run more in training, complete faster marathons. They finish those marathons faster too.
  • 3 key components: Long runs / tempo / hill work or intervals
  • Strength training / pilates
    • Who can do a one leg squat?!
  • Consistency
    • look at these 4 weekly mileages from 2 runners on the same training plan
    • 40 45 50 35
    • 40 36 22 35
    • Who do you think is running better at the end of the month
  • self management – injury / rest / diet
    • don’t fixate on a plan you have not failed if you miss a 10 mile training run on a dark winter night when you have a really tight glute and decide to stretch it out, do a gentle swim or cycle. You fail because you did the run anyway, end up injured and need 2 weeks out and have a £90 physio bill.
    • Listen to your body, adapt the training plan.
    • Maximise what you can do, don’t worry about what you can not.
  • The lactate curve


  1. HR on bottom axis
  2. Explain how below and above LT feels. Getting lab tests not necessary. Below I could go for 4 more miles. Above, if they keep at this pace I’m getting dropped soon. Only 20s per mile difference.
  3. Aerobic training means faster running for same HR, at the lower end.
  4. LT training (tempo and intervals) move LT point right. This typically works great on top of a great aerobic base build. You can’t get the same gains from only doing this.
  • Create a body that can handle the training (over years)
    • it’s a journey of many years studies show 7 years of exercise can get a professional endurance athlete into peak condition. As amateurs I’d suggest we can easily take a lot longer than this.
    • Some people expect too much too soon. “I should be able to train for one winter and get such a time”. Especially if they can keep up with or beat people running these marathon times at a track session or a parkrun. Remember endurance costs miles and miles, put those miles in the bank.
  • Create a body that that can stay in the marathon zone for 30 miles not 20!
    • A big mistake a lot of runners make is to pick a goal pace (Say 6:52 miles for a 3 hour marathon) and then train at that pace, even running up to 20 miles at that pace in training to “prove” to themselves they can do it in the marathon.
    • They’ll often fade in the marathon itself, sometimes quite dramatically. The human body can’t run on glycogen for 26.2 miles. At best 20-21 and for those that are lest trained the trouble starts at mile 15.
    • You need to be efficient at burning fat as a fuel. This comes from slow running in training and adapting your physiology. Then your glycogen lasts longer and you don’t “hit the wall”. This can take months. It’s why we do base training. What you’re aiming to develop or improve on is a body efficient at using BOTH body fat, muscle glycogen and glucose/fructose you take onboard before and during the event, it’s never one fuel source only.
    • Bottom line “to race fast I need to train fast” is wrong. “to race fast in need to train slow and then add in some fast training later on”

Training Periods

  1. Macro cycle – November to April Marathon focus
  2. Meso cycles
    1. Nov: build a habit, aerobic & strength
    2. Dec: mileage build
    3. Jan: start speedwork (marathon speedwork is a bit different)
    4. Feb: progression, increase the load, start tune up races
    5. March: Progression part two, race a half marathon, pace yourself round a 20 miler
    6. April: taper, race then recover
    7. May: use that form!
  3. Micro cycles – weekly
    1. 7 days is an arbitrary number, some athletes will work to 8, 10, 14 or other patterns. For most club runners with work / family a 7 day cycle fits well around other commitments – BUT don’t be tied to it
    2. 3 or 4 hard weeks then a recovery week is a typical pattern.
    3. Hard days hard, easy days easy. If you want to run a 55 miles week a monotonous 8 miles at reasonable effort a day will improve you. but Hard/easy will improve you more and has lower injury risk.
    4. Needs to be out of your comfort zone, so your body reacts with physiological and physical adaptations. But not too far out that you cant do the next session or need to take an easy week. Self managing this aspect during a sessions is critical, don’t get into racing others.
    5. How will you feel? Sluggish, like you’re getting slower at short distances, like the winter will never end, like you’re permanently washing running kit, like you deserve better shower gel. Then suddenly, unexpectedly on a rainy night when you’re feeling tired there’ll be a real noticeable improvement you’ll fly along. Cherish this, we don’t want you’re body feeling like that for too long, it’s missing out on training load.

First time marathoners – would be well advised to aim to complete the distance, and worry about time goals the next time out. Focus on building mileage very gradually (10% rule).

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