Training Q+A: Steve Smythe

Have your marathon questions answered by experienced coach Steve Smythe

1 to 20 of 46 messages
05/02/2010 at 12:21

Hi everyone

Runner's World regular Steve Smythe will be online between 1pm and 2pm today to answer any queries you might have about your marathon training so far.

Steve has run more than 60 marathons, holds a PB of 2:29, and has also won a British marathon title in his age group. So, whether you're looking to run further or faster over the weeks ahead, make sure you pop your questions right here on this thread.

We're opening the discussion now so Steve will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm (rather than having to deal with too many questions all at once) - time to get posting!

05/02/2010 at 12:27

Oh go on then.

Due to a variety of circumstances I missed training for about a two month period prior to the new year.  I'm now back in the groove, but lacking aerobic capacity.  Should I abandon the speed and tempo sessions (and replace them by steady runs) until my LSR heart rate is back down to its normal level (usually 138, currently about 148) or is there still merit in keeping the faster sessions in?

Edited: 05/02/2010 at 12:37
05/02/2010 at 12:37
What does Steve think is the most important quality session of the week, for a 6 - 7 min/mile marathoner?...(not including the long run)
05/02/2010 at 12:42
Hi Steve,

I'm a first timer, plodding along on the pavements, but I'm starting to worry my base fitness is lacking and this is having a big impact on my running.

With the time left until London, is there anything else I can do other than running to increase my core fitness, and if so, what should I focus on and how often should I do so?

I'm concerned I may "burn out" by running 3/4 times a week and fitting gym work in too. Is there a recommended way I can balance it all out while still getting the most out of the time left?

Thank you!
05/02/2010 at 12:46

 Hi i'll do my best to answer everything. Last year this was harder than the marathon though but luckily was only a hour or so!

As further background, this is my 35th successive year of preparing for a marathon and the last 5 years i've been reasonably consistent at London (with 2:46, 2:43, 2:46, 2:43 (my quickest London in last 20 years), 2:47. Over the years I've estimated I've done around 2000 races - I have over 1200 logged on the power of ten website.


I would keep the sessions in but just rein the speed in a little and take them slightly easier. This way you should be able to improve your aerobic capacity and be able to accelerate the speeds gradually rather than do lots of slow running and then start from scratch with the faster runs. As long as you are doing the faster and tempo runs quicker than your long runs then it will be doing you good. They don't have to be at your pre break pace.


For me the most important session of the week is probably my weekly race, though I wouldn't encourage everyone to race as much as I do!

As regards to normal sessions, I think the most session is a hard speed session ie intervals of 400m, 800, mile etc. This I think leads to the biggest improvements in your speed endurance and causes a knock on effect at all distances from 5k to marathon. In my sessions I do like to get a range of paces though and even in the course of a session of mile reps, some part would be nearer marathon or half marathon pace, and some even at 10k pace, even if the majority is at 10k pace.

A marathon runner though does need to do some of his training at marathon pace and so you can't just relly on the fast speed sessions

05/02/2010 at 12:48


Why do you think there has been a decrease in numbers and standards in elite men's marathon running in the UK since the 1980's?

05/02/2010 at 12:49
Thanks for that Steve.
05/02/2010 at 12:52

Norwich Runner - as important as core stability is, the most important thing about a running schedule is the running and that must take priority but it would be a good idea to devote at least one day a week to going to the gym.

In about 30 minutes, I can usually fit in around 10 minutes of stretching (and some core exercises), 15 minutes of weights (using as many machines as possible) and 5 minutes of rowing. The latter is a great all round training tool - I used to do more but now content myself with a few 500m intervals with minute recovery and feel it is helping my all round fitness and strength.

If I have time I may then do some more stretches in the steamroom/sauna. Gym sessions for marathoners don't have to be long drawn out affairs lifting lots of weights an some dynamic stretches are great for keeping supple and warmed up.

05/02/2010 at 12:56
 Steve...Do you specifically Lactate threshold train, or do you consider your weekly race as your high threshold run for the week?
05/02/2010 at 12:58

Hi Steve,

Have had a bit of a long slow run epiphany (see Andy's sub-4) thread in that it is time on my feet that is preparing my endurance base for running a sub-4 mara.  However, if all my long run are around 10min/miling (upto 22miles) what is it that can make me run 9min miles on the day?!

05/02/2010 at 12:59

Matchstick man

Fundamentally people don't train as hard. Even UK club runners used to run 100 miles a week back in the 70s and 80s and now  even some of the UK internationals don't.

With improved shoes, scientific knowledge we should be faster but i think people have less time and work harder and have far more distractions. In terms of Uk runners a big factor is back in the 70s and 80s runners like Ian Stewart, Brendan Foster, Eamonn Martin could beat any runner in the world and were in touch of the world records - now the Ethiopians are running 26:20 for 10K and most Brits (Farah aside) know they have no chance of ever doing within a minute of that which is a big disincentive.

Of course we do have world beaters  amongst the women and Radcliffe's marathon world record could still be standing in 10 years and Radcliffe's success shows that GB women can mix it with the best.

05/02/2010 at 13:02

Hi Steve,

I've read a lot of people's opinions on fuel strategies for the marathon and I'm practising with SiS gels and sports drinks during my LSRs. I definitely find they give me a boost but don't want to over relay on them. What quantity of gels would you say is needed for the race and what timings/distances would you take them at? 


05/02/2010 at 13:06

Iron Rach

You need to do some work at or faster than marathon pace but only a small percentage.

On race day you will be tapered and rested and have the incentive and adrenalin of the big occasion.

Marathon pace for a full marathon takes an awful lot out of you - most runners can only manage two in a year so if you do too much in training then that actually takes away from your fitness rather than adds to it.

However, try and get some races and some faster speedwork in so your body isn't taen by surprise on marathon day.


Lactate threshold sessions are vital if you don't race regularly (and probably even if you do as in races you tend to sometimes go over the threshold.

In an ideal world, once every two weeks you should be  running a good 30-45 minutes at around half marathon pace. The key to a good marathon is to feel comfortable for as long as possible into the race and regular racing or threshold runs enable you to cruise at a slightly faster pace without getting tired too early and staying relaxed

05/02/2010 at 13:10

Hello Steve

Two questions:

- Most marathon training plans are based on past performance in that they give you a time based on a recent 1/2 mara or marathon. My take on it is that you should take this into account but train to improve a time. How can a mediocre 39-year old runner like me (1.10 ten mile pb, 3.19 in NY 2009 targetting 3.09 in VLM) work out what a realistic stretch target should be for their training?

- I always struggle with deciding on a goal pace for marathon day: what is the most important indicator in training performance or key session that a runner can take into account when deciding a target ?



05/02/2010 at 13:11

My question is I am attempting a 3:45 in Blackpool and my first mara was London last year where I ran 4:31, all pacing signs are good for 3:45 or just under this time.

I've just got my form for Abingdon in the Autumn - what should I aim for?? I'd like to do 3:15 but I'm not sure another 30 minutes off is do you set realistic but tough targets for yourself?

05/02/2010 at 13:11


There is a lot of good fuelling strategy advice on the Lucozade super six threads.

Personally I think my consistency and relative strong finishes in my last half dozen marathons are due to gels together with good pacing and training. I like 5 on the day. One in my porridge, one at the start, one around 10k, and then the two that I think give me the biggest boost (though its probably mentally) are the ones around 15 and 20 miles. 

Until I used gels I was hitting the wall far more regularly and shuffling the last few miles - in recent years I felt i've been racing and overtaking in the last 6 instead of hanging on.

remember this year Lucozade gels will be on the London marathon course so it's a good idea to try them on your long runs now - you  could do a mixture of the SIS and Lucozade ones.

05/02/2010 at 13:12
Have you found as you get older it is harder to maintain the same level of fitness? Have you had to change the way you train or diet to keep the same level of fitness. Do you think you could better your recent  brillaint time of 2.43 or do you feel you have reached a plateau (no disrespect by the way)? As a 40 year old man I am still improving but I am guessing I will eventually reach a point where it is harder to improve.
05/02/2010 at 13:15

What pace is your standard type of aerobic run Steve? MP + 60secs/mile?

I like to start alot of my aerobic runs easy, and then progress through the gears. Finishing at MP pace or even threshold pace. It's done on how I feel tho, and nothing is pre-determined. If the legs aren't there, I'll keep it all easy.

Any thoughts?

05/02/2010 at 13:17

Hi Steve,

You've covered some of this already, but I just have a question about which 3 harder sessions per week you would recommend. VLM 2010 will be my first marathon and I am targeting 3:15. Last year, I was doing one session of 800m or 1600m reps, one tempo run and a long run, plus a couple of easy/recovery runs per week. Do you think it would be a good idea to introduce a mid-week steady run, around MP for 10-12 miles for one session; make the second harder session either intervals or tempo (alternating each week), and obviously keep the long run as the third?

05/02/2010 at 13:19

Aching Calves

Your target should be a moving one. By training sessions and races over shorter distances you should get an idea of what is a realistic target. If you have run a marathon before then that gives you a good starting point.

Ideally if you start to see improvements in shorter races you can move your target forward oor if you get injured or have training setbacks or just can't train as hard as you were hoping, then you can move the targets back a bit.

It is good to have a challenging target but there is no point having an unrealistic one that you have no hope of reaching.

Therefore I suggest after each week review where you are and how realistic your original target is and put in a secondary target (either faster or slower) based on where you are.

By race day you shhoudl really know what sort of shape you are in and the time should be based on a mixture of your half marathon performances, your long run performances and your previous marathon record.

Curly 45 - first see how Blackpool goes before you make any decisions on Abingdon.

3:15 may be too ambitious but after Blackpool and a recovery  you may have gained fitness but the key is to be patient and realistic and use your other race times to guide you.

1 to 20 of 46 messages
Previously bookmarked threads are now visible in "Followed Threads". You can also manage notifications on these threads from the "Forum Settings" section of your profile settings page to prevent being sent an email when a reply is made.
Forum Jump  

RW competitions

RW Forums