Marathon webchat with coach Sam Murphy

Catch up with the highlights of our recent marathon Q&A with coach Sam Murphy



Q10. I'm doing Halstead And Essex marathon in may and Bournemouth in October. I've done 2 marathons before at 4:38 and 4:33. When I started my training for Halstead, I had in mind a time of 4:15 to 4:20. My training has been going really well and I'm finding all my training paces are naturally getting faster. This makes me question whether I should aim for a faster race. I'm doing a half marathon this weekend that I plan to race- how much should I use that result to adjust my goals for the marathon? – Angela Isherwood 2

A10. Glad to hear it's all going so well. And you have a well-placed half to help you re-assess your goal pace. One thing to consider is how similar the half mara course is to your marathon. If one is flat and fast and the other hilly and off road then obviously the prediction it gives will be less useful. But even if the 2 courses are similar, I'd still try to factor in a range of recent times, over different distances to get a realistic picture. If you found, for example, that your recent 5km 10k and half mara all predict you should run under 4.15 then that's a lot more 'solid' than just having one race result to go on. My other advice would be to reassess quite modestly. So for eg. if your original goal was 4.15-4.20 and your half says you can run, say, 3.35, I'd still only revise goal pace to around 3.50. I'd then use that pace up to around 20 miles in the race, and if still have something left in the tank, speed up from there. It's a cautious approach but better than blowing up half way round because you've set the bar too high, I reckon!

Q11. I've run a Marathon once before and I've completed my training plan almost 100% in full.  My question is, if on my long runs I've done say, 14miles easy (8.15ish m/m), then 6 miles at a target race pace (7.20ish m/m), is those 6 miles enough to suggest I could hit that for the full race, or am I likely to blow out if I try?

I'm mid taper now, so no time to try long runs with more of it at target race pace.

Hope you can help, because I'm tying myself in knots worrying about which pace to run at. – Martin King 8

A11. There's quite a big difference between your long run pace of 8.15 and your goal race pace of 7.20. Ideally, I'd like you to have run the bulk of the long run a bit quicker in order to give you a resounding 'you'll be fine!'

I think you need to bring in a few other factors. Where does your goal pace come from? What is it based on? Presumably on 'evidence' from recent races? If they have predicted a finish time that is in line with this goal pace, that should give you confidence that you have selected an appropriate pace.

The other thing to bear I mind is how you've felt during the long runs with the final 6 at goal pace. Tired? Fine? As if you could carry on for longer? How you felt over that last 6 helps give you an indication of whether it's a sustainable pace for the race.

I hope I have not just confused you further. Let me know if you need more guidance!

Q12. I am running Brighton Marathon in mid April and doing a half this weekend in my plan I need to do one more 20+ mile run but starting to get a cold. Will I still be able to run the half marathon on a cold and just worried about not achieving my goal millage in the plan. - jimmyp

A12. There's an 'above/below the neck' rule with colds. If you have a head cold - ie. stuffy or runny nose, headache, sore throat, then running is usually fine - although I wouldn't really suggest going all-out in a race.

If your symptoms are below the neck - ie. fever, chesty cough, achey joints then it is dangerous to run - it puts extra strain on the heart.

Marathon success is never about what you achieve in one run (even a 20 miler!), or one week - it's an accumulative thing. So missing a few training sessions, or failing to meet your plan's recommended mileage isn't a disaster. 

The important thing is to recover fully before training again. With Brighton on the 17th April, you don't want to be doing a 20 miler beyond March 24th in my opinion. But if you have to miss it because you're not better, then so be it. That, on its own, isn't going to stop you getting round the marathon.

Q13. I'm running London Marathon next month, and:

- I did a 20 mile long run two weeks ago (9 min pace)

- I did a half marathon in 1hr 44 last week

- I'm running three times a week (too little?)

Question: is a 3:45 target do-able? And what tips do you have for training from here on? – Dominic Weaver

A13. Not sure I can give you a definitive answer based on this. Your half marathon time suggests that a sub 3.45 marathon is doable for you - but that would be a constant pace of 8.35 per mile. Your 20 miler was at 9 minute pace - so you need to consider how you felt running at that pace/distance and whether it seems viable to up the pace by 25 secs per mile and run an extra 6 miles!

I do think 3 times a week is absolute bare minimum - I try to get people to alternate 3 sessions a week and 4 sessions a week at the least, to give more 'space' for a variety of training sessions. What I suggest you do is start incorporating some miles at 8.35 pace, perhaps twos the end of your next long runs, to get a feel for it and get your body accustomed to maintaining race pace on tired legs. Good luck!

Q14. This is my first marathon but I have done quite a few half's and 10k races. I find that on race days I can't seem to stop focusing on the race and how I am feeling. Generally I feel uncomfortable and cant get away from this for the whole race-which I think will be particularly hard for an entire marathon.

I think my best training runs are the ones where I can stay on pace but allow my mind to focus on other things.  I can even make this work in some of my training above race pace, but can't seem to do so on race day.  

I plan to use some positive mantras and prepare some topics to think about on race day but would be grateful for any tips or tricks to improve my mental race day experience, prior to the marathon. – Sara Leach

A14. Have you thought about running with one of the Pace Groups? That would give you a distraction (chatting, people around you etc) but wouldn't allow you to stray off pace. There's bound to be one that fits in with your finish goal as there are loads of categories this year (find out more at the expo).

The other thing to do would be to familiarise yourself with the course, so that you can have it in your mind's eye as you run. You can set yourself in-race targets to reach, so that you are breaking the distance down into manageable chunks, rather than seeing it in its entirety. You can reward yourself (either with words, or fuel, or a quick stretch/shake out) when you reach each target.

Finally, keep your head up as you run. It's not only good for your running posture, it allows you to make eye contact with other runners, spectators - which means you'll smile more. And smiling sends relaxing signals to your brain! 

My favourite mantras are 'easy light smooth' and the slightly more wordy 'I am running fast and strong' Good luck!

Q15. I'm running the London Marathon this year - it's my first time, though I put in almost all the training last year too, but deferred due to a knee injury. This year the training has been well below the plan due to knee pain, chest colds and this week a stomach bug. I've done a number of 13-milers and planning 15 tomorrow and I've entered a 16 mile race next weekend.

My training volume is well under what I'd planned and below the general advice, however I'm quite fit and train with a triathlon club, so I've kept up my swimming and cycling while the knee has been a problem running. I did Cambridge Half last weekend and with a very cautious starting pace, my run was pain free and I got significantly faster in the 2nd half.

Should I be worried about my chances of finishing on the day? I've been told training 4+ times a week and up to 20+ mile distances isn't 100% necessary and worried my anxieties are the main thing holding me back! - Abby endorphin

A15. In a word, I'd say no, you shouldn't be worried about your chances of finishing. But it will depend somewhat on what your finish goal is. If it's just a matter of getting round comfortably, then you can adopt a cautious not too ambitious race plan and you'll be fine. The issue is more if you've got a specific time goal in mind which means you're going to have to push all the way. Then I'd be a bit concerned about the lack of runs more than 13 miles in length up to now.

That said, I had only run about 16 or so in training before I did my first marathon and I survived it fine! So I do agree that doing a certain number - or even one - 20+mile runs is not essential for success.

It sounds like you've got back on track, despite your traumas, so just continue to bank your mileage over the remaining two weeks before your taper - don't try to up it or change anything now. The swim/cycle training will have contributed to your stamina too. 

Q16. I'm running my second London marathon this April - going for a sub 4 hours this time, I hope!

Training has been going really well (17 done fairly easily) and i'm on target, but had a bad training run last weekend - should have run 18 miles, but I only managed 12. I think, due to overtraining the week before (half marathon plus 3 other shorter runs) and general exhaustion.

My question is, should I add in another longer run (say 19 miles) to make up for the fact that I missed my long run last weekend? Or, carry on as planned with 19 this weekend, followed by 12 (i'd potentially do the 19 here instead) and then 20 as my final long run, 3 weeks before. – Claire cochrane

A16. As I just said to daisy, I prefer to do the peak long run 4 weeks before, not 3 weeks before. But I'm not sure you can now juggle your remaining sessions to achieve this. I definitely DON'T recommend doing an additional 19 next weekend as you'd then be doing 19, 19 and 20 in the 3 final weeks of training, which will leave you exhausted! I'd stick to your plan - so 19, then 12 and then 20. Perhaps with the 12, you could focus on trying to go a bit quicker, or speeding up over the second half, to make it a higher quality session, despite the lower mileage. These long runs really take their toll - I think most people do too many for one thing - and also, it's important to get the recovery right afterwards - rest, stretching, icing if necessary, refueling etc. 


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