Improving marathon time

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18/08/2012 at 11:27

Gaz, I agree with Cougie. I have done the London marathon 6 years out of the last 7 and have done 5 pbs. I have always done something different/more.

Only 3 things affect your improvement:

The number of miles you run.

The pace you run them at.

Your bodyweight.

I decided that 60+ miles/week was my limit so then I started to do my training miles faster. I also focussed on getting my weight down. Apparently every pound lost is worth two seconds/mile in a marathon - obviously within limits!

To give you an ideal, for London this year I maxed out at 61.33 miles/week at an average for the week of 7:12/mile and I weighed 9st7lbs. It was another pb and my second sub 3 hr marathon at the age of 56.

I would suggest you stick with the 60 plus miles and try to up your average training pace. My mileage also included one track session per week. Hope this helps.

18/08/2012 at 15:03

Cougie, and everyone else who has taken the time to repky really - First of all can I stress that I have been running for 7 years so I'm not a beginner or an inexperienced runner.  My fastest half marathon was 2:04 and my slowest 2:16.  Before I began the marathon training this year i was averaging 25 miles per week, during the training the most i did was 44 miles.  I followed a schedule with three long runs in weeks 10,11 and 12 of 18 miles, 20 miles and 18miles.  Unfortunately I was ill with stomach bug for two consecutive weekends so could only manage two 18 miles and a 16 and I know myself this wasnt enough.  By mile 9/10 of the actual marathon I felt terrible, I started to slow down i really believed I wouldnt be able to finish.  I wasnt in a good state mentally and it was only through sheer determination that I finished.  I didnt enjoy it and I was very disappointed with my performance.  I really want to do it again next year but I need to be much better prepared, hence the request for advice.  Its great that everyone's taking an interest and I really appreciate you taking your time to reply and give me advice but I'm confused again now, as there seems to be conflicting advice. I don't expect my biking and swimming to make me faster, i jst thought that i could use that for cross training and it would increase the strength in my legs slightly.  I know I have got a 4:30 marathon in me - HELP!!

18/08/2012 at 15:28


I will qualify my original Answer. 

IMHO, the best way to improve is to ensure that you have plenty of 20 Mile runs under your belt.  It sounds like you have some speed already.  The issue the last time is that you started to struggle ( and therefore slowed down) around 10 Miles. This means enduarance was the problem.... eg you were unable to keep up your speed as you got later into the race.

The way to avoid this is to do lots of long runs. I do not think 2x18 mile runs and a 20 Mile run is enough if you wish to keep your pace towards the end. Or to put it another way if you did 5 x 20 mile runs then you will fair far better.

The issue is that you cannot just start your training plan from a lower base and pile in 5X20 milers in 12-16 weeks if you are not used to it.  This is why I say get used to running long now before you getto your formal training plan.  Get used to running say 15 miles every other weekend.  Come race day you find it easy to run 15-20 miles as you will have done it so many times. With a good taper it will seem "easy" to run thsi distance. 

This in itself will mean you will run a faster time than you did last time as you will not slow down so much. 

The benefit of lots of "long Runs" is that it helps you be more efficient in your running. This also will help you in your shorter runs. Lots of folk improve their times in shorter races when they do marathon training for this reason. 

I agree with One gear as to the 3 things that will help you improve. My view is that more long runs is the most important for marathon training.  That said its also good to try and run some of your shorter runs faster. Things like intervals and tempo runs are good, however you do not want to tire yourself out too much so that you do not do your long training runs.  Whilst its not everyones cup of tea a regular parkrun done twice a month may help you get faster over shorter distances and this would complement your regular longer runs. 

To help back up some of my views heres some data of my own. 

I did my first marathon in 4:09. I ran 500 Miles in the 16 weeks before the marathon. I did a 16,17,18,19+20 miles for my long runs in advance but I really slowed in the last 3-4 miles. 

Then 7 Months later I ran 3:34. This time I ran 660 Miles in the 16 Miles before this marathon and did more long runs beween 20-23 Miles. This time I ran strong to the end with an even pace.

For both races I did not do a lot of faster shorter runs. I did semi regular parkruns. These helped.  For my next marathon I am doing some faster intervals etc. However I would have "broke" had I tried to increase my mileage and do lots of faster runs. 

So I think you will improve speed ( or rather not slow down and run faster as a result) if you increase mileage only.  There is more than one way to skin a cat - but be careful not trying to do everything too soon or you may end up with Injury and get a virus etc...

Good Luck...




Edited: 18/08/2012 at 15:31
18/08/2012 at 16:15


I did a total of 436 miles, your figures are very impressive and having digested this lnfo I have to take your advice.  I know I need to do more long runs during training, this was my major downfall but still not sure I would have made the sub 5 hour target, but i'll never know!   I occasionally do my local park run - did it this morning in fact just for a change - thank you again for your advice, it's been really helpful.  Good luck to you too..

18/08/2012 at 17:03
That's a bit more relevant info.

I was running 2hr halfs too. I suspect your illness may not have gone, and you definitely need those 20milers.

If you can run 2hr half then either you started way too fast, or you weren't fully recovered from your illness.

The sound advice of increasing the length of your shortest long run to 13-15 miles is a good start. I added a midweek 13 mile to my sessions. A 10mile on Friday and Sunday was 15-20 miles. So wasn't even doing 40miles a week and I managed a 4:40 off a 2hr half on undulating trail.

I've been doing lots of tempo work this year and knocked 6mins off my half this year and hope to go faster in my November marathon.
cougie    pirate
18/08/2012 at 17:40

I dont think theres too much conflicting advice now  - especially as you've clarified the problem.

Your best half times should give you a 4.30 full time. So this shows that you fade. 

You know you didnt do enough long runs. I aim to do at least 5 20m+ runs.  In your schedule you must allow some slack - you know that something will go wrong and you dont want to be behind - so build an extra 2 weeks into it.  If you plan to do 6 or so 20 milers then losing one isnt so bad. 

Theres no way you can run the marathon properly with a long run of 18 miles. Its just not enough and you will fade and lose a lot of time. Your splits probably show this. 

Swimming and cycling are just distractions - its mainly different leg muscles for cycling anyway - and look at the best runners - they're wimpy legged. Its not leg strength you need - its a good cardio system and legs that are used to running - lots. 

Speedwork needs to be in the mix as well - probably just the one session to begin with - maybe two tops if you can cope with it - but it depends on you.

If you write out a decent schedule with a taper, plenty of long runs, and some speedwork then theres absolutely no reason why you cant smash that marathon record of yours. 


18/08/2012 at 18:00
Well thank you all again, am getting the picture now and not meaning to be cheeky, but you all know so much more than I do about how to improve, could anyone of you write me a training plan for the actual marathon training, I've looked at so many lately,and just not sure which would suit me, my club nights are Tuesday and thursday and we usually run 6 miles, or would be grateful if someone could recommend one please. Thank you all again ....
18/08/2012 at 20:58

I have always used the Runners World schedules. So for the last few years this has been the sub 3hrs one. Pick the appropriate schedule for the time you want and you won't go far wrong. Personally, I stick to the overall mileage for the week and the long run but how I do the rest is up to me. Generally though I do my long runs faster than they advise and I have always done the full distance as a training run - which is something they definitely don't advise!!!

19/08/2012 at 06:48
One Gear

I'm interested that you do a full distance run in training for a marathon.

How far ahead of the actual race do you do that, and what kind of recovery do you need after it?

I'm currently tapering for my first marathon and my longest runs were two 21+ miles, both of which were done fairly slowly so as to be what I call "time on feet" runs - which means they took about the same amount of time that I hope to finish the marathon in (3hrs 20ish).

I've also done 3 other 20 milers, and several 18-19 mile runs.
19/08/2012 at 11:40

The general rule of thumb as far as I can read,    Each week do a LSR, a MSLR and either tempo and intervals.   Rest of the week run aerobically.

19/08/2012 at 12:12

Kestrel, you have until Christmas until you have to worry about your actual marathon Plan. Between now and then all you need to do is build a solid base. To do that, A Generis 3 Week cycle might look look this...

Weeks 1&2
M = 60 Mins aerobic, T = Club run+ extra ( MSLR) , W = Rest, T =Club run ( Tempo), F= 30-45 mins recovery, S= ( LSR), S= Rest......
( build total Mile from current to 45-50 Miles a week ) 

Week 3
M = 45-Mins Aerobic, T = Club run (tempo), W = Rest, T =Club run , F=  45- mins Aerobic , S= (Shorter Race - eg Parkrun/10K), S= Rest
( Cutback week - but with speed = 20-30 miles/week )  

 Its possible that there are better plans, but the above would get you used to doing regular long runs and give you some sessions for speed.  Also the step back week in week 3 will help you ensure that you do not burn out and do things with your life other than just run   Between now and christmas try and build the lenth of the long runs and/or the MSLR and the small races every 3 weeks should also see an improvement 

(disclaimer - I am not qualified to give proper training plans to folk ) 


Edited: 19/08/2012 at 12:13
19/08/2012 at 12:35
Kestrel I have always used the RW schedules, a simple plan based on the ones I ve seen would consist of
your long run, peaking at 22 miles 3 weeks before raceway. And then tapering down.
A midweek run around 70% of the distance of your weekend run.
A tempo run of 45 mins to 1 hour.
An interval/speed/hill session
a gym session.
Go easy on the longer runs, hard on the tempo and balls out on the intervals and hills.
Build in three week cycles and consolidate on the fourth week with a short race and a slight cutback.

I couldnt do more than that without risking injury, others would add in a recovery run and perhaps another easy run building from 4 to 8 or 9miles.

To get an idea of your capabilities look on the marathon Theeads on here and see what people do eg I look at the 3:15 thread occasionally and I know I cannot do those mileages and those paces, but I'm comfortable with 3:30 - 3:45.

Th I've always got more motivation and inspiration to train from like minded people on here than from a plan, if you know people are going out to do roily the same session as you, it's good to do it and then come back and compare notes as it were.
19/08/2012 at 21:37

Young Pup, I usually do it in early Feb with the London Marathon being in April. I don't have any recovery after it as it is just part of my training schedule. In fact in 2010 I did it on the Sunday and was at the track doing an efforts session on the Monday. This year it was just part of a 58 mile training week.

They say your longest 5 runs should add up to 100 miles so you seem fine on that score. I always find the taper to be very hard but it is important to stick to it. It is a common feeling as the miles drop off to think that you have forgotten how to run. You may also feel lethargic /out of sorts. Don't worry about this - I always feel like that. The taper is all about getting you ready on the day of the race. Hope this helps and hope you have a good race

21/08/2012 at 07:11
Thanks One Gear......
21/08/2012 at 08:19

GazOC: I too took several weeks to recover after Manchester - I think it was the cold? Anyway, I did manage to get going again and upping my mileage, and I've been training for ultras since then, hitting 83 mpw at peak before my 50M. so I suppose I'm disagreeing with the "two 18 week training programmes a year are too much" (and I'm about to turn 45) - I'm now aiming to keep fitness where I can run a marathon any time (althpugh not necessarily at PB pace). Will shortly be picking up my speed and hill training prior to Beachy Head.

Kestrel: Agreeing with everyone else about the long runs: do more of these, and longer. Don't wait until the start of your 16-week or 18-week programme - start doing some longer runs now. Another great way to build endurance, as I found by ultra-marathon training, is by "back to back" (B2B) long runs. So go for your long run, then go for another run the next day. So if you've reached 10-12 miles on your long run, start with say 10 + 6 , then 12 + 6, then 12 + 8, then 14 + 6, say every other week (go easier on the weeks in between). Top out the second run at say 10-12 miles (or do e.g. 15 + 15, once you've got to 20 for your long run). This is hard when you start, but (in my experience) it really helps. If you can start doing long runs and even B2Bs NOW, say every other week, then your endurance will be much better by the time you hit your 16-week training schedule. And parkruns are great for speed sessions!

28/08/2012 at 22:49

Thanks Debra, very helpful advice.

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