Beginner-based marathon advice with Mike Gratton

Former FLM winner has the answers for all your training and racing questions

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Daniel Benson.    pirate
07/12/2007 at 12:03
Running your first marathon next April? Nervous about what training you should be doing? Need to know all the possible pitfalls along the way to setting your marathon PB? Don't panic! We’re  excited to announce that 1983 London Marathon winner Mike Gratton will be available right here on this thread to give free beginner-based advice.

Whether you’re a complete novice or long-time runner who has finally taken the marathon plunge, Mike (and the RW staff as cover) are on hand.

And if you haven’t already signed up for our marathon newsletter you should do. Packed with schedules, advice, tips and the best questions from this thread, it’s the perfect marathon partner.

Be gentle with Mike - he's running this thread voluntarily, as he also has a day job running a company that organises training camps, overseas race trips and UK races (2:09 Events). He'll aim to give comments when he can, so please ask your questions in advance if you can.

Many thanks, Mike. Happy training, all.

Daniel, RW
09/12/2007 at 20:09


I'm running my first marathon in April and am a bit worried about the whole thing. I cycle a lot. As it is my transport to work ( and while I am at work) 3 days a week I would like your opinion on how best  to juggle cycling and running without burning myself out.



10/12/2007 at 09:03


I'm looking to run in under four hours based on four runs a week, I'm of pretty good fitness anyway, is it a realistic target for a first timer?

 Also, I've been doing three full body weights workouts for the past few months, up until I got my acceptance for the FLM, would I benefit from doing one of these a week until the FLM, to try and limit muscle loss that will be inevitable with all my training?  I don't want to lose too much mass but can't dedicate any more than one day a week to weights if I'm running four times, due to work and a young family.


10/12/2007 at 09:23


Mine is also a 'juggling it' type question. I ran a marathon and took part in another endurance type event last year and now have a place in the London Marathon. I am in two minds whether or not to defer as I have a five month old baby, so have been out of action but also have very limited time to train. I guess I'm wondering what is the minimum training I can do but still enjoy the marathon and not get bogged down with injury.

Is this a tall order?!



10/12/2007 at 11:12

I'm also interested in the juggling thing too - similar situation to AP (Hi AP!) - 4 month old baby + 2 other children and v. busy husband who is also training for FLM. 

I've done 1 marathon before and trained for it with 5 runs a week, but think that might not be possible this time - I'm managing 3-4 runs a week at the moment, although I might be able to add some miles with my son in a babyjogger after Christmas when he'll be big enough to go in it.  I would be interested to know what the key sessions would be to maximise my time. 

Thanks for your help,


10/12/2007 at 14:00


Cycling is good fitness training and will give you a good cardio vascular work out. However, there are significant differences in the way the muscles work in cycling and running which will mean that over time you will need to reduce the cycling and gradually replace it with running so that you train your muscles more specifically with the demands of running.

It needs to be a gradual process rather than stop one activity and switch 100% to the other as this will cause overuse injuries - if you step up the running gradually you will avoid this and will be able to cope with the running without burning out.

10/12/2007 at 14:10


Whether you can run 4hrs or not depends on a number of factors from your background to your natural ability - Steve Jones set a world record in his first marathon in Chicago in 1984 but he was an Olympic 10,000m finalist just before and was running 100mile weeks in training for that.

You need to look for indicators that will point to a realistic target time rather than pluck a target out of the air. If you have run 10kms or half marathons in the past you may be able to gauge a possible finishing time - there are numerous comparative tables around to help you do this.

As your training progresses and you do more races you will be able to adjust your marathon target accordingly.  

10/12/2007 at 14:17


The question of the weights work is interesting - it is important to maintain strength to help prevent injury but how much is difficult to guage.

One thing about fitness for sport is that it needs to be fairly specific. I watched Lance Armstrong in the New York Marathon the last two years and while he is undoubtably one of the fittest sportsmen who ever lived his fitness is very specific to bike riding and in comparative terms he is a pretty ordinary marathoner.

In general to become fit for running you have to do more running - the amount you can do will come down a bit to time available but also your running background.

If time is short you need to concentrate on the running as much as possible - if time is not a problem I would say 2 gym sessions a week would be enough then spend time slowly building up your running base.  

10/12/2007 at 14:27

AP & SB,

Juggling time is a problem a lot of people have to deal with and concentrating on key sessions is the way forward and then filling in with slow or steady runs when extra time permits.

The marathon is an endurance event and building endurance is the critical element of the training. Initially concentrate on building up the long run so that you become comfortable with the idea of running up to 2hrs each week - pace is not important, time on feet - whether as walk/jog or run all the way doesn't matter initially.

A second longish run up to 1hr midweek would be ideal if it is feasible, however, if it is not and you have less time available it is important to get as much out of the time available as possible. If you only have 30 mins or so available for a couple of midweek runs make one a tempo run at your marathon speed and the second a hill or interval type session.

The Tempo run can be as short as 10 mins initially then try to build it up over a number of months so that you can handle 30mins at marathon pace.

Hills give you good strength and are simple to do - all you need is a hill with a steady gradient (not too steep or it changes your running style) and run up it for 2 to 3mins - run back down and repeat for 5 or 6 times.

From Feb onwards change the hills to an interval session running at speeds faster than your marathon pace. For a quick and easy session try a 5 mins warm up jog followed by 20mins alternating fast and slow 1 min efforts - this will give you 10 x 1min sprints interspersed with 10 x 1min jog or walk recovery. This can be varied by changing the time units so that you run maybe 2mins fast followed 2mins slow, 3mins fast/3mins slow, etc. As you get fitter you may be able to reduce the recovery part so that you run say 2min fast with just 1min recovery.

10/12/2007 at 14:39
Thanks Mike, that's really helpful. You're quick!
10/12/2007 at 14:45

I will be running my first marathon next year. I am following one of the Garmin training schedules from this site. My long run each week is on Sunday, and is always scheduled to be at 10:50 average pace. Yesterday was 9 miles at 10:50, and the longest run I will do is 22 miles at 10:50 pace, about a month before the marathon.

The schedule suggests that I run the race at a much quicker pace (10:20 I think), but I don't feel confident running much quicker than all my long training runs. It would seem sensible to me to run at the pace that I have trained at, or I will never get to the end.

Should I really run faster than I am used to?

10/12/2007 at 15:01

Hi Robindobbin,

What you say looks obvious, but training is a question of balance and it is usual to do your long runs slower than marathon pace and some of your shorter runs faster than marathon pace.

The long runs are developing endurance, cardio-vascular efficiency (development of capillaries in the leg muscles and there for improved supply of oxygen and nutrients), and the ability to burn fatty acids as an energy source rather than the limited supply of glycogen that is stored in the muscles.

The long run has little to do with learning to run quickly. If you run all of your long runs at marathon pace the stress will be very high and you are likely to get injured.

Once you have a good long run base then you will see from the schdeules that as the marathon comes closer some of the runs get much quicker. This is where you teach your muscles to run fast. Some of these runs should be at marathon pace and some a little faster than marathon pace.

What you may want to do in some of your leter long runs - in the last 6 weeks before the marathon is to do what is known as a progressive run. Start the long run at normal pace but in the last 1/3 of the run speed up so that you finish at marathon pace.

This, along with the marathon pace runs, are good for what you can call muscle memory - once your muscles have learnt marathon pace then you will not find it difficult to slot into that in races even through you have't actually done an entire long run at that pace.

It is a matter of trust but it is a long established system that allows you to avoid overtraining by doing too much mileage at race pace.

10/12/2007 at 15:27

Hi Mike ,

I am running my first marathon in april and even though i'm really looking forward to it i'm worried that my times will be very slow..  At the moment I am running 3 times a week building up the duration slowly.  Yesterday i did 6.6 miles and it took about 1 hr 12 which considering the weather and how hilly the course was it wasn't too bad but i just want to know how to improve this? What kind of time should i be hoping for in the marathon? I seem to be suffering a bit from my piriformus being over worked and so am having alot of pain running hills at the moment! do you think that is something i can work through? 

10/12/2007 at 15:39


The priformis is telling you to take things steady - progress may seem slow but the longer you spend building up a fitness base and the more gradually you do it the better the results will be when you get down to the 'business' end of the training in a couple of months time.

Rush your training now in a haste to improve as quickly as possible then the most likely result is training interupted by injury.

If the piriformis isn't too bad you can probably train through it but you do need to see a specialist to get proper advice and treatment and to get exercises to sort out any long term problem or any weekness leading to the problem.

10/12/2007 at 15:44

Mike - thanks for the reply, it's really helpful, and I have found some of your other answers helpful too as you explain things so clearly.

AP - if you want a virtual training partner, let me know! It might be good to share our progress with each other.

10/12/2007 at 15:45
Thanks mike, i did see a physio this morning and she gave me quite a few exercises to keep me going, plus a recommendation to start pilates.  I am finding it hard not to rush but at the same stage am seeing the benefits of taking it steady!
10/12/2007 at 16:16

not strictly a first timer - ok to ask a question? My previous maras were 5.07 and then 4.34, on two or three runs a week, a weights session, and a spin class. I'm hoping to get nearer to 4 hours with a bit more training.....

I've just been ill with nasty flu which has meant four weeks of no running at all. I was hoping to do Seville marathon in 11 weeks time, and then London 7 weeks after that. Just before becoming ill, I did Dublin marathon in October, and a 30 mile ultra in Sept, so my basic fitness was ok.

Three questions, if I may - how much fitness am I likely to have lost after 4 weeks of being bed-ridden (but lots of coughing, so the abs are quite strong lol)?

What would be the best way of building back up and being able to run Seville in the eleven weeks, I'm still coughing a bit, so I guess will leave it a few more days before starting running again.

And thirdly, what would be the best strategy for the seven weeks between the two marathons? Should i try and get a LSR in that gap, or concentrate on another aspect?

10/12/2007 at 16:37


Lot's of difficult questions and I think all the answers depend on a touchy-feely approach - i.e. you will have to read your body and see how it is going before progressing.

You will have lost a fair bit of muscle tone from the lay-off but possibly not as much C-V fitness - the temptation then is to start to run too hard too soon since the breathing will not be a good indicator of how the legs are coping.

I would start out with a few short very easy runs which might clear the tubes a bit and then gradually build up by extending yourself a bit more every-other day but be prepared to step back a bit if shins start to complain.

Once you feel that a running rythym has returned you can start to build in pace. Given that you have some ultra background it probably isn't necessary to stick at base training too long and getting pace back between Xmas and Seville in Feb.

The time scale between Seville and FLM allows for a couple of weeks recovery and 4 weeks of training before tapering again. If you go for a balanced mix of 1 x long run/1 x tempo run/1 x interval session with further runs depending on how you feel I think you should get away with it.  

10/12/2007 at 16:50

Thanks Mike,  I'm heartened you haven't said not to do Seville! That's interesting about muscle tone going quicker than CV fitness, will keep an extra eye on the legs. Thanks for the advice, much appreciated, will start some short easy runs this week!

10/12/2007 at 17:46


There's no reason why people shouldn't do more marathons than they do - most elite runners will do 3 or 4 a year and there are plenty of runners out there doing marathons most weekends (although not advised if you want to run good times).

It's not advice for beginners, but experienced runners may find that they get better results by doing a few marathons per year rather than having all the pressure created by just one marathon a year.

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