Improving marathon time

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14/08/2012 at 09:49



I'm looking for advice regarding improving my marathon time.  I ran the london marathon this year in 5.19, I was very unhappy with the time but sort of expected it as my training had a few blips, i didnt do enough long runs and struggled mentally.  I am hoping to do it again next year, this will be my third time, and I want to do a sub 5 hour.  I know i'm capable and motivated and I know what i have to do.  What I  would like advice on is when and how to start, I am taking up swimming and biking to try and increase my strength. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thanks

14/08/2012 at 15:17

I would keep up running between now and xmas  doing a long run varying between 8 and 10m once a week and then try improving speed on 2 shorter runs with fartlek and pushes. Also keep up the biking and swimming for variety. Then at xmas you should be in great shape for a 16 week programme.

14/08/2012 at 15:48

In short the more you run the faster you get. Its fine doing other things but if you want to get good at running to have to practise it. 

Suggest running slowly and often. If you can run up to 2 hrs once a fortnight amongst your other runs then you will will be well placed for your training plan.

There are no short cuts. practise running and practice running long. 



15/08/2012 at 09:12

Thank you both for replying and for the advice.  I have been running for 7 years and i have had a lot of practice but still feel that without the speed sessions just podding along for 2 hours which i can do easily is getting me nowhere with regard to pace. No disrespect, but I don't agree that the more you run the faster you get, unless you consciousky want to ncrease your speed.  I have lots of stamina and can run for a long time but it is my pace I want to increase.

15/08/2012 at 12:24

I think AGF is suggesting the training plan, which I have forgotten the name, where you do a few months of very slow runs just basically building on the time, this builds up the capillaries in the legs. Then when you start faster training your legs are fine tuned for the distance. I tried it on a couple of runs and found it hard work as it was so slow. However, starting this early for the London, it could well be a good plan.

15/08/2012 at 12:38

Thats Fine kestrel. You asked for advice and I gave it. Its up to you if you listen or agree to it.

I did exactly what I suggested and have moved 10K time from 50+ ,mins to 43 Mins. Half marathon from 1:50 to 1:35.

Also note that Mo farah spend time running 120 Miles a week. Most of these are slow miles. I doubt that any more than 10-20% of those miles are "fast" ones.  its all Relative.

The training advice that Happy refers to is "hadd". There is a thread on it in the forum !!

Good luck.

15/08/2012 at 12:42

Out of interest - how many miles are you running each week kestrel? Not your standard week - but your average week? Eg how many miles have you run this year ( devide that number by 32 ( roughly).

Ideally if you want to improve your Marathon Time then I suggest that number should be north of 30 Miles ( with peak weeks higher ).

just my view.....

15/08/2012 at 12:59

If running is your main objective I would drop the swimming and biking and run more, as you probably not putting in enough miles.

15/08/2012 at 16:38

Thank you all for your advice it is very helpful.  I am continuing with the biking and swimming once a week, as I enjoy it a lot and cross training is good to do on the days I am not running. 

17/08/2012 at 16:16

Hi Kestral,

I agree that, once you have  that overall stamina base, more miles at the same slow pace won't make you any faster - your body will become very good and atuned to running that speed.  You need to stress the body to produce adaptations and that involves running faster for shorter distances. Mo might run 120 miles a week but you can be sure many of his sessions will be fast, shorter, high intensity ones.

Most HM and M schedules would include weekly interval sessions and tempo runs exactly for this purpose. Many people find these difficult and running with a club might help here. Another thing to try is adding in short races like 5 and 10Ks into the mix from now until xmas. Concentrate on working at short distance speed since you know you have the stamina in the bag.

Best Wishes




17/08/2012 at 21:49

From Sheffield Owl to Birmingham Owl

Thanks for your reply and advice - and I agree with what you say - I do run with a club but am very motivated if I know what I have to do - I just needed advice on how and when to start.  Thanks again, been very helpful.

Thanks to everyone else for their advice too, I obviously wasnt clear on getting my point across.

17/08/2012 at 22:00
The point about running long slow runs to make you quicker is correct. Up to a point. Adding hill work and tempo runs is something to try once you have a strong base.

What is your half marathon time?

I run 13-15 miles every Sunday. Not slowly, but slightly slower than marathon pace.

I run a tempo run mid week - this consists of 1 mile warm up 3 miles at half-marathon pace then 1 mile warm down. Then I run a 10mile at somewhere between half and full marathon pace.

It's important to know how slow a 'slow' run should be and what pace 'tempo' should be.

I don't do interval training as I don't have access to a track etc.

Targeting half-marathons and learning how you perform over those distances in a race will give you some good pointers.

Also aim to do 3-5 20 milers on VHS lead up to your marathon. I'm guessing this is where your preparation will have fallen down. These runs are where you teach your body to run for long periods off your fat stores.
Edited: 17/08/2012 at 22:04
17/08/2012 at 22:47
Kestrel, you say you struggled mentally - can you expand. Where did the training fall apart last time.

I would build a decent aerobic base between now and starting a 16 week plan. Lots of easy miles. Start building your long run distance now. Do some easy midweek runs, incorporating a few 100m strides on some of them to get you legs turning over faster.

I develop my speed through lots of miles, and one tempo run per week. Once you have a base, add in the Tempo run. Mine is something like 2 miles warm up, 5 to 7 miles at tempo pace, 2 mile warm down. Tempo miles are a little quicker than my half marthon pace. To get started just do 2 or 3 miles. These are hard workouts, allow recovery time to reap the benefits. Long intervals is another option - doesn't suit me.

Run some of your long run miles at your target marathon pace occassionally.

Don't run all of your sessions at the same pace.

With the right balance of sessions, putting in the miles and hardwork, I am sure you will improve. Swimming and biking can be useful on recovery days.
17/08/2012 at 23:03

I struggle like hell to run more than 4 miles at little faster than my HM pace in tempo runs. I'm not sure whether its the physical effort or the mental concentration.

Blisters    pirate
17/08/2012 at 23:21

Gaz, it's normal to find HM or even Mara race pace difficult to maintain.
That's because of periodicity. You build up your fitness with a target race in mind (or an A target race), then you'll taper for a couple of weeks. The result is that the race is an absolute flyer, helped by the fact that you are being paced by everyone else around you.

I've never managed to get any marathon paced miles into my long runs. The best I get is mara pace plus 1min/mile. On a daily 6 miler I can occasionally get a great day when I hit mara pace, but the next day's training is definitely recovery pace.

Miles make champions, and the more running you do the quicker you get. The weight will also come off and that has got to be good (I don't know your BMI) but I think that weight loss translates to a square of speed improvement. Half a stone makes a HUGE difference for me. Your weekly mileage will also be a key figure to incorporate into your training plan.

Hi there TmR, long time no see.


17/08/2012 at 23:33

Cheers Blisters. I do the miles, usually 60-70 a week, in marathon training but for the next race I was considering dropping down to 50 miles a week and really trying to nail the tempo runs with (hopefully) fresher legs. The "problem" is doing 70 miles a week as got me down fom 3:53 to 3:16 in 6 months so I'm loathe to change too much but I get the feeling I'm going to get stuck around 3:15 unless I change something.

I was thinking of doing my mid week run of 12-15 miles with 4-8 miles at MP in the middle, like you I struggle to put any more MP miles than that in a long run.

Edited: 17/08/2012 at 23:34
17/08/2012 at 23:38

Sorry for butting in Kestrel but seemed pointless making another thread asking pretty much the same question as you have!

Blisters    pirate
17/08/2012 at 23:47

Gaz. That's a pretty impressive improvement in just 6m. I'd say that it was working just fine. My best marathon times came after 12 months of consistent training.
I'd do a long one at the weekend, and a fast one mid week. If possible the fast one would be a short club race. The long runs alternated between 21 miles and 13.

I promise that you won't get stuck at 3:15 if you're doing 70mpw. Have you an Autumn race planned?

18/08/2012 at 00:02

I'm doing Chester in October but I hadn't really recovered from Manchester marathon in April when I started training so the first month or so was very hit and miss with niggles.

Given those issues and things like summer holidays and weekends away I'll be happy with around 3:15 at Chester as long as I was confident of pushing on from there for next Springs marathon. I've not been running long but getting the miles in seems a lot easier in the winter than it does in the summer!

I'm 43 and I think maybe 2 full on 18 week training programmes a year might be too much for me to give my best in. I'm seriously considering of using Autumns 2013 marathon as a "ticking over" race and just having a real shot at the Spring one.


Sorry for the long post but I've been mulling this stuff over for a few weeks now. Its good to get it off my chest! 

Edited: 18/08/2012 at 00:03
cougie    pirate
18/08/2012 at 07:57
Kestrel if you keep doing the same things then you will get the same results.
I doubt cycling or swimming will help you improve your time - which is what you want to do.
Tell us what your training was ?

How many miles a week on average say in the 13 weeks before the marathon.
How many long runs (20 miles or more) did you do ?
How much speed work ?

Without this - its a pointless discussion really.
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