Ask the Expert: Pacing with coach Martin Yelling

Catch up with the highlights from our pacing Q&A with coach Martin Yelling

Q14) Did 3:57 at Liverpool last year but talked most of the way round and never hit the wall. Set myself a goal of trying sub 3:45 this year. Finding some of the training paces difficult already (struggling to lose those xmas pounds). At what point should I reevaluate my goals and look at maybe a slower Spring goal and go for the sub 3:45 in Autumn. Don't want do demotivate myself but also don't want to quit too soon. - Stuart Wallace 5

A14) You should get your head down and crack on! At this stage the early miles you are running haven't yet kicked in. Given time to adapt this should shine through as you get fitter. You want to be pinging fit in April not now, so, suck it up and get on with it! (A little tough love at this point!). If you're still struggling and have progressed appropriately then reflect again in another 6 weeks.

Q15) This year I will be running my first ever marathon at Brighton and then the Milton Keynes Marathon 3 weeks later.ʉ۬Training is going well (Jantastic has certainly helped) and my target time is 4.5 hours each one. What advise would you give for the 3 week period between races in terms of nutrition, massages etc? CHRIS BLYTH 4

A15) It really depends which race is your A race! Lets assume it's Brighton as this is the first one. Your priority after this is to recover in time to allow you to achieve your secondary goal in MK. If you give Brighton everything then it's going to take time to recover.  There are a few things you can do to help the process - run / walk / swim at a low intensity in the week after the Brighton. Staying active helps recovery. Stretch and work out those tired muscles. A massage may help. Eat well, natural and non processed protein / carb based in the days post pace. Once your legs begin to recover start running again. There's no need for long runs but a few short effort might help maintain fitness between events.

Q16) I've been running for 3years now and because of knee problems in the past I have been for foot running. This has however been battering my calves. Is there any exercises I can do to try and alleviate this as I have singed up to a 20 mile race in march and need to up my mileage from 13. - ian schofield 2

A16) Forefoot running does play havoc with the calves! I imagine they've been feeling tighter! The key with any change in running style is to do it progressively. You simply can't rush it. A shift to a different foot strike (perhaps even in different footwear) may takes years to perfect. I wouldn't rush a leap to 20miles. Take your time and go for long term injury free running. Make sure you stretch your calves regularly and love the foam roller!

Q17) Around what pace to set off on, for the London Marathon in April. Although my last marathon time (2009) was 4:05 (I got severe calf cramp last 5 miles, which returned every time I went faster than a crawl). My half time is 1:40 & my 10k is 43:50, so all the calculators suggest I could potentially do a 3:30 marathon.

At 54 this may be my last marathon so I'm torn between setting off at 8mpm to try to achieve the best possible time, or a more conservative 8:30mpm (3:45 target) so as not to blow it again & maybe go over 4 hours again! Obviously if I set off at 8:30pace I'll never get near a 3:30 finish, even if I feel good & increase my pace later in the race. So difficult! Can I perhaps use my training times (I'm doing tempo, intervals & a long run at 8:30pace each week & the Silverstone Half in March) to judge the pace I should start at? Or is all that all irrelevant, as I failed to break 4 hours last time?

NB I read recently that negative splits aren't always the best way of achieving a PB, so I'm tempted to try 8mpm & see if I can hold on(?). Please advise a very confused runner. - Mike Scott 11

A17) Given your reservations I’d suggest you set off conservatively and allow your confidence to grow as you get into the race.  A 3:45 target you’d be happy with, right?  Anything quicker than that you'd be stoked!  It’s a combination of what your training is telling you nearer the time, predictions from your races as well as the risk-reward you are willing to take.  I’d say go for the 3:44 and be happy with anything inside that that you can make up in the second half!

Q18) I'm doing the vim and it's my first one. Training is going well, and I'm doing my longer runs at slower than my target pace. I do 10km in 56min and half marathon 2h15m. I've weight to lose and would love to do 4h30m. But this is a touch over 10min miles. Whereas my LSR are closer to 11mins but I speed up a bit towards end

My question is on race day, do I just abandon all my training practices and go for 10min miles at outset. Scared I will suffer later.

What's the best way to get comfort that 10min miles are sustainable for 26.2 miles - adam kinsley

A18) You definitely should not abandon all plans training practices on race day and go for it!  If you do you just might jeopardise finishing at all! It sounds like are on track to getting close to your sub 4hr 30min goal. As race day approaches get a bit more practice in over section of your long run at 4:29 pace. See how it feels when you run this pace at the end of a long run. (say the final 6 of an 18miler).  I’d say keep tweaking your goals and progressing your training and stay on course for that 4:29. Then make a clear goal evaluation as the race gets closer and decide on a pacing plan.

Q19) I read a lot of people talking about reverse splits in Marathons as the best strategy but less detail on how extreme to make the difference between the two halves. Let me give a (not so hypothetical) example.

I am running the Brighton Marathon in April 2013. A time under 3 hours 15 mins gets me a good for age place in the 2014 London Marathon. I have a 1:29 half marathon under my belt in the summer so 3 hours 4 minutes might be a reasonable target, which is scarily close to 3 hours. 

I would like to give myself a shot at under 3 hours but do not want to go off so quick and blow up in the second half - perhaps even ruining my good for age time for London.   So a reverse split would seem to be the way to go.  If I go for 1:32 in the first half does that give me too much to do in the second half?  Should I go even slower in the first half? - Hywel Thomas 3

A19) You are right ‘negative’ split is an ideal way to run a marathon (or other race for that matter). This basically means you run the second half of the race faster than the first.  The key with the marathon is consistent, even paced running and ideally you want the difference between the first and second half ‘splits’ to be minimal. So, even a 1minute negative split is significant because it means you were able to hold the pace during the second half of the race when the miles get tougher.  The sub 3 shot is a difficult question.  You’ll need to continue to monitor your training and lead in races to assess if you’re happy and feel in shape to give this a crack.  I always think that the risk when you are that close is worth it!  But you’ve got to be willing to accept not achieving it and be happy that you gave it your best shot.

Q20) Have 2 races planned in a 16 wk marathon schedule: 10k in wk 6, Half in wk 9.....

Can I go all out for PB's, putting in mini tapers and recovery for each race, or should I treat them as training runs? Ran 5 half marathons last year, but this is my first marathon and aiming for 4.30 (aspirational!)- anniesophie

 A20) Yes, definitely. With those timescales I’d certainly be looking at having a crack at your PBs. Just a couple of points. You are right to have mini tapers, although don't go into the half marathon tired.  It’s too close to the full marathon to go into it tired. You might risk coming off the race and struggling to recover. Secondly, do make sure your few days after each race are light. Give yourself time to get back into things before ploughing ahead with your marathon build up.

Q21) I'm currently fit and raring to go starting my marathon training for Edinburgh Mon 4th Feb, following the 16 week RW plan.  

My first marathon was New York in 2011 in 4:29, I enjoyed the whole experience, high fived the crowds, sang at every opportunity and sprinted the last mile or so.  Since then I've done a 49 min 10k and 1:51 half marathon.  I'm really hoping to go Sub 4 this time. 

My question is I know these training plans work and I'm excited at the prospect of structured training, however I've been training well in January and already at week 5 standard, do I keep increasing from here or do I follow it exactly? Dawn Addison 2

A21) Great news that training is going so well. Training plans are only meant to be a guide and it's okay to tweak them, change them, adapt them, even change plans as your fitness gets better (or gets worse!). That said, plans are designed to get you to a race day in peak condition and progress at the right times. If you leap ahead of the week structure you might hit race fitness before race day! Learn how to adapt the plan to stay on track with your personal goals.  With Edinburgh in May you seem ahead of the plan, so why not repeat a couple of weeks, or plan in a couple of extra ones to build strength but stay injury free.

Q22) Am running the VLM this year having never run any form of race before (ahhh) Training is going well but struggling to work out what pace to go at in different runs. Tried a few different paces but want to know how much slower than my race pace should the long Slow run be? Also I tried a gel a few days ago and made me feel very sick -is this normal or is it a case of trying different ones or should I just stick to water?? - Nicki COUZENS

A22) Welcome to the world of running!  Well done you! Glad training is going well.  You are right to think about different paces in your runs. Long runs (the best bit of your marathon build up!) should be done at an easy, controlled pace. Certainly to begin with.  In the region of 45sec to 60s slower per mile than your target marathon pace. As your confidence and fitness grows this might speed up and you may run the, quicker.  Long runs should feel easy! Especially at the start. You could try a practice race like the Human Race 'Race Your Pace' half at Dorney in your your build up. Re: your nutrition - you will need some fluids and energy on board particularly to keep you feeling strong as the race goes on. You will need to try a few things and find out what you prefer. 

Q23) I ran a 1/2 marathon last year in preparation for a spring marathon on marathon pace, although I got great race practice I felt I would have got a better result by racing it. This year I intend to do just that so I can get a good idea of my current form ready for the VLM. Do you think this is a good idea bearing in mind the recovering period (my mileage peaks at 90miles/week)? What tactics do you employ during an illness, such as a sore throat or cold? There is mixed information on the web but I've always wanted to know the view of an expert. - Steve Pennington

A23) Yes, I do think it’s a good idea to race a half marathon hard in a marathon build up.  That is assuming that it’s not taking place within 4 weeks of race day (3 weeks at a push).  You need to make sure that you peak for the marathon and not the half.  When you are running high miles you are always on the edge and illness is a real threat to consistency.  You are best to listen closely to your body and if you are in doubt about running then I use a 2 stage approach – 1. If you’re feeling below par but think you can run then drop the duration and intensity and just run easy for 3 days.  – 2. If it gets worse not better then stop running and take at least 1 (but probably 2 or 3) rest days.  You are better to train healthy and run strong than train ill and weak and takes ages to recover. 

Q24) Would you say there was a sliding scale of weekly mileage to marathon time? For example you'd have a better chance of cracking a sub 3 hour marathon on 60 - 70 miles a week than say 50 miles a week? Or is it more down to key sessions at key paces? Does there come a point where doing extra miles won't be of any more benefit? - Knight Rider

 A24) No not really. There is no sliding scale as more things than miles run impact on marathon performance, eg genetics, ability. That said though, there will be some correlation between miles run and marathon performance. It’s all about getting the balance right for a long period of time.  You are best to try and string together many weeks of 50miles than a few stop start week of 70miles.  There does come a point at which ‘junk miles’ simply are not benefitting performance.  This is different for everyone.  There’s little point in running miles for miles sake when the quality of the key workouts suffers.  Without doubt, you’ve got to run miles for a marathon, and within reason, the more the better – so long as more miles isn't to the detriment of the best miles you run.

Q25) I am 50, a middle of the pack runner . I have run 8 marathons over the last few years all but the first being between 3.45 and 4 hours. I am now going to do my first ultra the flat D33 ( 33 miles) . I like most people can struggle towards the end of a marathon so would like your advice re pacing  ( I was thinking to aim for a sub 10 min mile pace realizing I will manage quicker in the early stages but might struggle to keep this up from mile 20 , I would certainly go slower on any inclines to avoid lactate build up. – slim boy

 A25) with increasing distance beyond marathon pacing becomes increasingly important.  The principles are the same as for running your previous marathons – it should feel easy at the start!  If it doesn’t those final 7miles post marathon distance are going to hurt!  I’d be looking to aim at holding a consistent pace from the off that is slower than your marathon PB time by some 30-45sec per mile. An ultra is about the distance not the time! Enjoy.

Q26) What are your views on HR in training as an indication of pace? For my last few marathons I did a 2 hour run one week out at approx 85% of anaerobic threshold and found that has been a great indication of race pace and what I can hold. I dont use the HR monitor on the day because of the "adrenalin creep factor" and last year i did a marginal 20 second negative split and finished pretty much on empty for a 3,35. However you said once on MT that if a non-elite negative splits, they probably havent gone out hard enough? – Rob Moyse

A26) Heart rate can be a great indicator of pace assuming that you understand your own heart rate!  Obviously heart rates very for different people at different paces and all heart rates are relative.  I try and encourage runners to get a knowledge and understanding of what their hear rate is at different paces and for them to build a profile of how it feels.  You are right though, lots of other factors affect heart rate (illness, nerves etc) and so it’s really only a guide.

Q27) What do you think about using heart rate variability for measuring fatigue and helping to work out how intensively I should be train as part of my marathon preparation?  I have heard that quite a few top runners swear by it. Have you any experience of using the athlete app for this and would you recommend it? Tom Hayhoe

A27) I don't know enough about the use of heart rate variability to comment with any real authority on it's use to accurately measure fatigue.  I do like athletes to really understand from a holistic stand how they really feel in order to evaluate fatigue levels.  If the athlete helps them get a better of that through HRV than that must be good thing! 

Q28) I ran my first Marathon in Brighton last year. Did a lot of things wrong and after a good start, finished in 03:37. I was determined to learn from my mistakes, so did Chester later that year. Everything went right and I finshed in 03:16 with nice 2 minute negative split. This spring I'm running the Essex and Halstead Marathon. What's your top tip for moving up to a sub 3:00 finish? Charlie Keitch

A28) Great negative split and PB at Chester. Another chunk like that and you'll be well under the 3!  The trouble is, the faster you go the harder the big chunks are to take off. As you'll know the key to running a faster marathon lies with week after week of consistent miles. For those with specific target times you've also got to include practice at race pace and also build a strong portfolio of tough sessions.(Especially for a sub 3). Focused long runs, sustained tempo efforts, threshold runs and intervals need to form the basis of your plan for 16 weeks into race day. Them a lot of commitment, a little luck and who knows!

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A bit traumatised asking this question as everyone seems so fast...

i have only done one marathon the VLM in 5.42.... I did have to wait for the loo for 15 mins but my hips gave out at about mile 14 and I had to shuffle round . I had previously run 20 miles in 3..30 hours and so thought under 5 was a possibility. I have also done a number of halfs, all around the 2.30 mark and my 10k pb is a measly 1.06. I have had to cancel a number of races including the Brighton Marathon this year and all my spring halfs because of an operation on my knee but now that I am back to building up my running almost as a beginner so how do I build myself up so that I no longer run at snails pace?

I find that whether I am felling great or terrible as I go round I always end up with the same time and also I seem to be desperately slow. I do suffer from asthma and so whilst I CAN do a 10min mile I can't keep it up for much longer than 2 miles.......what can I do? Or do I just have to accept that I am slow...I was a sprinter at school and am coming up for 53 so I'm no spring chicken! 

Posted: 15/02/2013 at 11:29

Just realised that I misunderstood this and have missed the talkback and can't now delete!
Posted: 15/02/2013 at 11:31

If you factor up from your 10k then that predicts 5.04 anyway.

What about working on your 10k time to see if you can improve that ? You need to run faster if you want to beat 5 hours.

What is your training week - what do you do and what pace ? 53 is only young. You can't use that excuse !
Posted: 15/02/2013 at 23:54

that 20 mile race was a good time.......much faster than your half marathon times.......

when did you do that 20 miler.was it shortly before the marathon.......if it was near the end of the marathon raining that might be why you were slower than hoped for in your marathon as you must have raced your socks off for that and it would have taken quite a long time to recover from.......

Posted: 16/02/2013 at 08:01

Hi i am taking part in my first Marathon in Manchester on April 28 and have been  running regular and taking it more serious the past 5 years or so,entering 10k runs my personal best was 41 min. At the moment i am probably averaging about 25 miles per week with a couple of speed work sessions and am not sure this is enough the closer it gets to the Marathon itself.

All i think about is how far i can run when i am next out and want to push myself each time.


Can you give me some advice on how to prepare,how far i should be running each week etc???


Posted: 22/02/2013 at 11:43

i think you're a couple of weeks late for Martin's advice, Steven

Posted: 22/02/2013 at 13:38

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