Ask The Experts: Marathon Training with Steve Smythe

Catch the highlights from Friday's lunchtime debate, when the author of our new and improved marathon schedules - and ASICS Super Six mentor – Steve Smythe answered your marathon questions live in the forums


Posted: 7 February 2011

Steve has run more than 60 marathons (26 Londons) and as well as holding a PB of 2:29, he has also won a British marathon title in his age group. This spring, he joins us as one of our ASICS Super Six mentors, working with Peter, Alison and Alex as they look ahead to the Paris Marathon on April 10.

Read the whole forum debate


Q. What's the single biggest thing you wish you'd known about running a marathon before your first attempt? LIVERBIRD

A. Don't do a marathon too early. Only run a marathon when you have got years of endurance running behind you and enjoy the other events on offer - 5K, 10K, half-marathons and multi terrains - before you even think about doing a marathon.

Q. What is the best strategy for keeping a steady pace throughout the second split? icclesuez

A. The best strategy for a steady pace through the second half is to run it right in the first half - evenly and at a pace that your training and shorter races indicate is feasible. It's not easy maintaining pace when you are tired and you can only do it if you have good endurance and lots of long runs behind you. You can also only maintain pace if you keep well hydrated and you may need to top up your energy levels with gels.

Q. Do you think if someone's run a half-marathon they could probably run a full one - or is it a completely different kettle of fish? Angela Shepherd 3

A. It's commonly said that although the distance might be twice as long, a marathon is actually three times as hard. 

If you can run a half, then it is possible to get around a marathon but you won't necessarily run it to the same potential or even run the whole way. It depends whether you just want to get round or do it justice. Once you've run a half-marathon the next step should be a 20-mile run or race and not the 26.2 miles.

Q. I'm aiming for a 4:14-4:30 marathon. What training would you recommend I do the week before the race? seren nos

A. The last week should be about saving energy. Run for 60-90 minutes, not too fast, one week before; have a short, brisk run on the Tuesday and then just do a few looseners in last few days, for example four miles on Wednesday, then two or three miles Thursday or Friday. A bit of cross-training earlier in the week is fine but the key is to do enough to tick over, but nothing that's going to wear you out. You'll need every last bit of energy on the day, together with a good hydration and fuelling strategy, so there's a need to stay off your feet as much as possible.

Q. I want to swap my long run for cycling instead this week, as I have a niggle with my leg. If the run would take me two hours, would cycling for the same amount of time be sufficient? Tigger II

A. No, cycling should probably be at least one and a half times as long. So a two-hour run should be replaced by a three-hour ride - some would say even four hours. When you're cycling it's harder to get your heart rate raised - but at least it doesn't give the same wear and tear on the body.

Q. I'm including two days of light cross-training and light resistance training three times a week in my marathon training schedule. I feel fine at the moment, but will I struggle as the runs get longer? Sam MacIntosh

A. Undoubtedly the best training for running is running. While the other stuff may not be as good as getting you run-fit, it keeps some extra fitness there without the same injury risks. As long as your long runs go far enough and you are doing some tempo and speedwork, then you should be OK. Presumably you aren't trying to break 3:30 in your first marathon - if you were, you may need more running sessions in there.

Q. I think I've developed, or am starting to develop, shin splints. There is a lot of conflicting advice online as to the best way to tackle this. What do you recommend? Roey

A. I'd recommend getting treatment and advice from an expert, icing, staying off the road wherever possible, reducing the training volume and having more rest days. Perhaps also consider adjusting your targets. Good luck with it - many runners have done marathons with shin splints. It's painful but workable and not as bad as having achilles injuries or knee problems.

Q. On an undulating course is it better to slow down on the uphill and speed up going downhill, or to maintain a constant pace? Ian Goudie 2

A. I would usually go for equal effort, so your pace eases up the hill and you go down at a quicker pace. Any additional effort up a hill has consequences. Those who usually attack a hill can be overtaken later. Economy of effort is vital.

Q. I'm doing my first marathon in April but I have been unable to run for almost a month because of a chest infection. Having missed a month's training is my 3:30 target now unrealistic? Gllitsy

A. You now you need a clear run of training. It has probably not helped your overall fitness but there is plenty of time to get back on track, just ease back into training sensibly. Missing a month now is far better than missing a month in March. See how fit you are at the end of March and set your target then.

Q. How much and what should you drink in the weeks preceding your marathon? How important is it to get this right? Kittenkat

A. I'm sure websites and books will give varying recommendations but I think it depends what is right for the individual. Everyone is different and it's up to you to see what works for you in training. You need to very slightly increase hydration levels in the last few days, more so if it's warm and sunny. However, too much liquid is dangerous and you don't want to spend the last few days getting rid of excess fluid.

Personally, I prefer things like Lucozade Sport or SiS drinks so I'm getting energy into the system as well as liquid. Ideally beer and other alcohol should be saved for after the race although I know lots of marathoners who say they sleep better the night before with a beer. Unless you are sure it works, I would suggest staying clear of alcohol, especially on warm days.

During the race itself I like to sip water every other mile but I only drink less than half the bottle with the other half poured on my head. I also take on Lucozade and have four gels.

Q. Do you have any tips on how you should mentally focus in the race so you can keep going through any discomfort or pain? _ciaran

A. Before the race you need to think of all the things that made you want to run a marathon. Then when it gets tough remind yourself of your starting reasons, how much training you have done, how proud friends and family will be if you run a good time and to prove any doubters wrong.

Some find it helps to take each mile at a time and then maybe count from one to 300 to take your mind off the discomfort, then start again at the next mile. I find it helps say when I get to Mile 19 to tell myself, "It's just another seven mile run, I've done seven miles so many times before, it's easy". Then I do the same when there's six and five miles to go, almost trying to forget the previous miles already in the bag.

Q. Other than underestimating the challenge of a marathon, what do you think is the single biggest mistake people make? Squeakz

A. The biggest mistake other than underestimating the distance is misjudging the pacing. For example, some people think if they've run 1:55 for a half-marathon, they can run sub-4:00 in the marathon. The vast majority of runners aim too high, especially in their early marathons. This means they often start too fast, get slower and do a horrible walk/shuffle for the last six to nine miles.

The key to early marathons is to be sensible, don't aim too high and try to enjoy as much of it as you can. Running in events like the Virgin London Marathon should be one of the greatest highlights of your life, not a nightmare with hours of agony and disappointment.

Q. I've read that the protein window of absorption is open longer than the carbohydrate window. I've also read that whey protein can only be absorbed at 10g per hour. Should I focus on carbohydrate repletion straight after the run and have the protein shake later, sipping slowly over time? I'm a vegetarian. Keir

A. I'm a vegetarian too. After a quick drink of water, I would go for the protein replacement straight away as most have carbohydrates in there too, then follow that with carbohydrate drinks. Personally I find it hard to take on food straight away but protein replacement drinks don't seem to be a problem for me.

Q. If I switch my long run from Sunday to Monday, should I have a day's rest before beginning the next week's training plan? And if I skip a day's training, which one is the best one to miss? Rob Cope

A. I would avoid long runs and speedwork on successive days. Some runners prefer an extra day off, so opt for a long run on Saturday and speedwork on Tuesday. If you do a long run on Monday, I would move everything up. If you are to miss a session, miss the Saturday one.

Q. I do a lot of my running at night. Is there anything you would suggest to eat after a session to help aid recovery? Knight rider

A. Ideally you do need a post-run meal but if you've already eaten your dinner then I would go for a banana and cereal bar. Also try toast with raisins or grapes.

Q. I returned to running three years ago at the age of 42. My half-marathon PB was 1:12 in the early 1990s. I have now lost nearly four stone in weight and my race times are starting to get a lot faster - recently I ran a V40 PB for five miles in 30:20. I'm looking to run a half-marathon in the spring, what sort of time can I expect ? Andy Money

A. Your potential reduces with age but because you had eight years of rest your body is probably fresher than those who have been running non-stop. I think you'd be hard pressed to come within a few minutes of your PB. However, if you stay healthy and train almost as hard as you did in your peak, I don't see why you can't run well under 1:20 minutes, which very few M45s ever manage. An exact time is difficult to predict but if you get the five-mile below 28:00, then a 1:16 should be possible.

Q. Would you recommend a two or three week taper? A two-week taper would allow me to have an additional drop back week between two 20-milers. Dibbers

A. My best marathon came with an excessive two-week taper but I do think three weeks is best and safer. In this instance I think it may be better having a week between the 20s and going for the two-week taper.

Q. I'm training for a half-marathon, so how far should my long training runs be? Should I run the last two to three miles of my 10-mile at a slightly faster pace? Debs_B

A. For half-marathons I like to have 15 miles in the bag at a slow pace and  10 miles at a quick pace but you need to build up both gradually. It's a good plan to run a quicker last two or three miles.

Q. At the moment I'm squeezing in a five-a-side football match on my night off from marathon training - is this a good idea? Liam Baldwin

A. I don't think Paula Radcliffe would risk a five-a-side match but it's probably like a good fartlek session, as long as you do the kicks rather than get kicked. I used to find football would kill my legs because of the twists and turns but if you play regularly it's probably less of a problem.


Don't miss our next live forum debate - part of a series in our 2011 ASICS Super Six build up. On Friday February 11, we'll be welcoming Ruth McKean, dietician and former Scottish National 5,000m champion - and another ASICS Super Six mentor - onto the forums between 1pm and 2pm to answer more of your marathon training questions. Pop the date in your diary now!


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Discuss this article

Hi Steve,

My name is Umesh.K.S. & I have been running for two months now. It all started with the intention of losing weight (was overweight-96Kilos) initially. Later I developed liking for run & have been running daily.

My questions are

1. Is daily running (5km) good?

2. I have done 2 10K marathons both of which completed in 1hour

3. What kind of excersices do you suggest (before/after) running.

4. My goal is to run a full Marathon & want to really get trained for the same.

Please do provide any Suggestions/feedback.

Thanks & Regards,

Umesh


Posted: 23/02/2011 at 11:11

Hi Steve
I really feel as if I may have hit the wall during my long run last weekend which was far earlier than I hoped for or expected. Can you provide any advice with regards to avoiding the wall or minimising the impact of it.

Posted: 23/02/2011 at 13:23

Sorry to spoil the party, but it says at the top of the page....

Catch the highlights from Friday's lunchtime debate, when the author of our new and improved marathon schedules - and ASICS Super Six mentor – Steve Smythe answered your marathon questions live in the forums

In a nutshell, it happened last Friday.


Posted: 23/02/2011 at 13:39

Hi I am 17 at the moment and I am looking at doing London Marathonin 2012. I have done a few half's and felt fine.  Do you think I should go for it or wait a few more years? 

Cheers 


Posted: 09/03/2011 at 16:19

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