Hard Training Q&As: Marathoning

From the forum: former London Marathon winner Mike Gratton on dedicated training


Posted: 23 June 2004

Hard Training Q&As

TRAINING GENERAL
Do I need to take an "easy week" when my average mileage isn’t that high?
Should you try and break through ‘the wall’ in training?
Is it just the cold weather, or am I getting fitter?
How do I overcome sluggishness at the beginning of my long runs?
What exactly causes a reduction in resting heart rate?
Do I need a rest?
Is this tiredness a result of working hard, or over-doing it?
How hard does hard training need to be?
Routines and periodisation
Why train twice a day?
Is it better to train twice a day or run further once a day?
I take ages to recover - how can I improve?
How can I get faster with minimal speedwork?
What time of day should I run/twice-a-day runs?
Multiple runs and time management
Can I train for a 10K in summer then run a fast marathon?
Form/running style
How do you run over 100 miles a week?

TRAINING COMPONENTS
Should I skip the "easy week" if I’m still feeling strong after a hard block of training?
I can’t get my legs to go fast enough in speed work
Should I squeeze in some more speed work?
How long should my longest run be?
Threshold runs - how fast?
Pyramids/mixed-distance speedwork
How often would you include a 'long run' in your training?
Hills
Cross-training

MARATHONING
What pre-marathon races should I do?
When to move on from base training in a marathon build-up?
How Janice Moorekite jumped from 3:10 to 2:48
I've run 3:12 - how long should I wait to run sub-3?
How often to race in marathon training?
I missed 2:45 in spring. how can I hit it in autumn?
Female, high-mileage: advice on getting from 3:26 to sub-3:15 marathon

NUTRITION
What do elites drink in a marathon?
Nutrition: carbo-depletion/carbo-loading

MISC
Should I race a 5K and a half in the same week?
Can low expectations lead to a better performance on race day?
Should I try to change my running style?
Elite hard training and the will to succeed
Hard training, the old days, and full-time work
'Whatever happened to...'
On hindsight

What pre-marathon races should I do?

Karen Hancock I am doing a half-marathon seven weeks before FLM as it's another club championship race (and I have to confess to having entered the Bramley 20 which is nine weeks before the marathon, but am going to try to run that at marathon pace only). Should I be looking for another half closer in as well, or perhaps a 10K? It's possible I may get picked for the club for the SEAA road relays too (which I think of as useful speedwork).

Mike Gratton Karen, I would go for a couple of 10Ks (or possibly a 10-miler & a 10K) maybe four or five before, and a week or two before, plus the relay leg - too many long races will grind you down and you may end up burnt out before FLM comes around.

When to move on from base training in a marathon build-up?

Pantman At what point prior to the marathon did you start to come off base training?

I was planning to run a half mid August and do most of the peaking after that - is that too late? (Race is mid-October)

Mike Gratton You probably want to inject some fartlek and hills in June, then change this to intervals about 10 weeks out so you get an eight-week build up and two weeks taper.

How Janice Moorekite jumped from 3:10 to 2:48

Dipsy Mike, do you know in any more detail what training Janice Moorekite was doing to get her marathon time down from 3:10 to 2:48. ie, how many days a week, was she running twice a day, what milage was she doing and what did she increase it to, how much speedwork did she do, etc?

It sounds as if she was at a similar standard to mine currently, and I'm quite encouraged to hear that she made such an improvement from running twice a day.

Also, how quickly should you start adding extra morning runs (I have done three weeks of one-day training twice). Also, which do you think would be better, adding an extra day of training twice or getting rid of weekly rest day?

Mike Gratton Janice started running as a result of watching the London Marathon on tv in the 1980s. She came on a training camp I organised in Switzerland and lagged a fair bit behind in most runs. Because we both lived in Kent, she came down to my club Invicta and asked for help. She has an immense ability to absorb training and the problem with her was always holding her back.

I never wanted to hear that she had taken 20 minutes off her 20-mile training loop when she should have been running steady, but she was improving so fast... a bit like Tracey Morris I guess.

The amount of training you can absorb and the speed you can improve is personal to the individual. Janice could run through brick walls and probably trained harder than me. The secret to successfully increasing your training is the ability to know yourself. Janice ran twice a day at least 5 days per week, ran her long runs very quickly relative to her racing speed, but did less interval work than I did. She also raced very frequently, ran 2:48 in London one year, was unhappy because we thought she was in shape to run 2:42 based on improvements over 10 miles, so decided to run Harrow a few weeks later and won it in 2:48 again, so she had a great capacity to recover. She's now a Level 4 coach and higher qualified than me!!

Finally, I think standards reflect people's expectations. Most people could do better if they set their targets higher (but realistically achievable), then adjust them as they go along, either because of improved training form or improving PBs.

I started out with a 2:21 marathon and improved in stages over four years to 2:19, 2:18, 2:16, 2:12 and then 2:09. When I was at 2:21 I don't think I set myself the target of 2:09; I did that once I had made the jump to 2:12. 2:09 was good enough to win in the early 80's - it would be interesting, but I will never know, if I would have targeted a faster time if I was running now.

I've run 3:12 - how long should I wait to run sub-3?

Luke77 I am a relatively new runner and would love to achieve sub 3 hours.

I have run two marathons, one in Berlin seven months ago and the London Marathon very recently. My target for Berlin was 3:30 and I achieved 3:13. I didn't really have a target for London but ran 3:12.

I have never even considered 3 hours possible and so have never really put in that extra bit to get me there (although I have been running 40-45 miles pw for both marathons).

One thing I have never really gone for is interval training, and I have a feeling that I have fallen into the 'miles miles miles' training rather than the quality of miles.

What major improvements will I need to make to get down to 3 hours and how long do you think I should leave? I was considering running 10Ks and half-marathons over the next 12-15 months and coming back for Berlin in Sept 2005.

Also I have only been running seriously for about 11 months (only having run a few 10Ks before that). Do you think it would be wise to adopt an 18-month plan or should I go for that 3 hours sooner?

Mike Gratton I wouldn't consider that you're doing a lot of mileage, and your marathon times are very good considering the time you have been training. An 18-month plan is spot on. Plan to build up the base miles gradually over that period, but also look at short-term aims and put in speedwork to come to peaks for target races along the way.

Do as much of your speedwork at 10K and 5K pace as you can - one session a week would be sufficient at this stage. Concentrate on doing a reasonably high number of intervals per set, with short recoveries. On a track, that could be 15 x 400m at 10K pace with 100m walk (60sec) recoveries, improving to 5K pace with 100m jog recoveries (30-40 sec). Or as fartlek, 15 x 60-90sec with 30- to 60-sec jog recoveries.

How often to race in marathon training?

Hilly How many races should a runner do during marathon training?

Mike Gratton I think the UK's general change to racing on a Sunday from Saturdays makes it more difficult to race as frequently as we did in the 80s, and still get the long runs in.

I raced most weekends, and often mid-week in the summer - relays and track races. Saturdays would be mostly cross-country, which are still mostly Saturday events in the winter, and track in the summer.

However, most of these races were run tired and really counted as quality training - I never won a county cross-country title, for example. I certainly wouldn't need to rest after them, and would do a 20-mile run next day without fail.

In the build-up for the 1982 Commonwealth Games I raced a 10K road race Oxford (2nd to Bernie Ford, an Olympic 10km finalist in 1984), won the AAA 10 miles in Reading, ran 8:08 for 3000m on the track, won a 5-mile road race in Kent and finally ran 29:09 for 10km on the track in a 3-week period before travelling to Brisbane... but there were no more racing opportunities for four weeks up to the marathon.

I know quite a few of my elite peers raced as regularly. Steve Jones would race maybe twice a week taking in club and RAF races. Steve Brace was famous for running every weekend and would add a long cool-down to a half-marathon race to make it up to 20 miles. He once beat me at the Hastings Half and then proceeded to drop me on the extended warm down...

Whether frequent racing will suit others depends on the individual. If you're the sort of person who puts it all on the line every race, I would say no, but if you don't mind sub-PB results and running tired then it can help bring you to a peak. It's one of those 'try it and see' situations, I'm afraid.

I missed 2:45 in spring. how can I hit it in autumn?

Urban Road Runner I was on target for a 2:45 spring marathon, but I failed because of hot weather. Very likely, I will run another marathon in late autumn and will run shorter distances during the next months (mainly 10Ks).
  • a) What kind of sessions should I be doing between now and the next marathon preparation?
  • b) For the next marathon should I change the training and aim for a faster time? Or should I first try to break 2:50/45/40 and move on from there?
  • c) What kind of training should I been doing to make the next step forward? [This year, my times 17:05 (5k), 36:21 (10k during marathon), 58 (10m), 1:17 (1/2m) 1:36 (16m)]

Mike Gratton I would use the period going into the summer to do a lot more interval work and try to improve your 10K times, since this will be key to achieving a faster marathon time.

However, try to maintain your long runs, which can be done as time on feet at this stage rather than at a particular pace. The long runs won't affect your ability to do interval sessions and hopefully faster 10Ks (look how Paula Radcliffe improved at 5/10K when she started doing long runs as marathon prep.)

Come mid-July into August, switch to more specific marathon training, increase the pace of long runs, introduce long reps (5 x 1 mile at 10K pace), threshold runs, and a midweek longish run - 1 to 1.5 hrs.

This combines the best use of your spring marathon training, with the best weather for speed sessions and 10K races, and a second endurance peak later in the year.

Keep an open mind about targets and be prepared to adjust the target as you get feedback from other results. Your half-marathon time doesn't point to a faster marathon than 2:45 at the moment, but an improved speed over 10K may result in improved times at half-marathon as well, which should lead to higher potential at the marathon (providing you keep the endurance base going).

Female, high-mileage: advice on getting from 3:26 to sub-3:15 marathon

Hilly I need advice on getting from 3:26 to a sub-3:15 marathon.

For my last marathon I ran six times a week, with a midweek run of 12-15 miles and a long run of 20+ miles at the weekend. My mileage peaked at about 56 miles during training.

For my marathon in October I plan on trying to reach about 70-80 miles a week including two quality sessions. I'm going to follow a schedule that has four phases over 18 weeks (out of the Competitive Runner's Handbook)

My running will be done on all terrains including some treadmill running. Is there anything else I should do and is it possible for me to get sub 3:15 when all my other race times only predict a marathon time of 3.18?

Mike Gratton You don't mention what speedwork you intend to do. At the speed you want to race, this becomes a vital ingredient.

Hilly I did the following speedwork for my last marathon:

Twice a week: 5xmile reps at between 5K-10K pace 6:30-6:35 m/m with 90secs recovery. I also did 10x800m in 3.08-3.16 with the same length recovery or 10xshort hills of 30 secs with jog back down recovery.

I feel I was in shape to run sub 3:20, but ran 3:26 due to going off a little too fast and the heat on that day.

At the moment the only speedwork I've been doing is 400's in 84-86 secs x 10 with 90 secs recovery. I'm trying to get my 5K and 10K down over the next couple of months from 20:40 and 42:06, which will be while marathon training. Am I trying to target too many things at once?

Mike Gratton Hilly, the speedwork sounds okay. I would increase the number of reps in your short interval session, maybe break it down into sets of five, increase to three sets, then to four sets. Take a four-minute recovery between the sets, but maybe reduce the recovery between the efforts to 60 secs. Do them at 5K speed.

In the last six weeks before the marathon, reduce the number back to 10x , double the recovery and run at 1-mile speed.

I think if you want to run a good marathon you have to concentrate on what is needed for that and maybe compromise a bit on other events. You can target a few shorter races, but the best results should come in the six weeks before your marathon when you're coming to a peak. Typically though, most people improve their shorter races once they have moved the mileage up and got used to it. The increase in mileage you propose will make the biggest difference to your marathon performance.

Hilly Thanks for that Mike. How often should I do the short reps session and increase the number of sets? I have planned a 5-mile race the Sunday before the marathon - should I race it? I've not done a race that close to the marathon before.

Mike Gratton Once per week is enough. Increase the sets every other week and try to vary it so you don't do the same every week. The efforts can be anything in the range of 200m to 600m (adjust the number of reps downwards for longer efforts). Mixed-pace/distance sessions are also useful - eg a pyramid session - 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 with pace ranging from mile to 10km speed.

You should be okay to do a 5-miler the week before the marathon. You'll have a week of reduced training to recover from it and it should tome up the legs nicely.

See Mike coaching Hilly here, day by day


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