Ask The Experts: Marathon Week with Steve Smythe

Catch the highlights from Friday's lunchtime debate, when ASICS Super Six coach Steve Smythe answered your taper and marathon pacing questions live in the forums

Posted: 5 April 2011

Q. I've been following a sub-3:00 training plan and I had been managing to hit the targets set, except I'm still finding the faster runs quite hard work. My training has reduced with life getting in the way, and I'm only managing 3-5 sessions a week, instead of a steady six over the last four weeks. 

I'm still hitting the suggested times on my long runs (splitting them into an easy first half and a marathon pace second half). However, I'm wondering if I'm being naive in thinking I can run the marathon in 3:15?

There's still a good few weeks to go until the Edinburgh Marathon, so I'm hoping my training blip won't have done irrevocable damage to my preparation. What advice could you give me? HomeBrew

A. Hardly anyone does all the training in the schedule without a few blips. If you did the basics, you are still hitting your targets and you can do your long runs scheduled through April, you should be fine. It's worth doing a half-marathon to see if your speed endurance is okay though. If you were able to run it in 1:30-1:33, it would be morale boosting. If you had missed a lot of your training, it would have been a problem if the target was at the upper range of your limits, but it seems you should be okay.

Q. I'm planning to try to run approximately 8:30 m/m in the Brighton Marathon. I'm guessing I may get delayed a little in the first couple of miles until the congestion clears. Are there any guidelines about catching up the lost seconds/minutes? FerrousFerret

A. Looking at the start around Preston Park, the Brighton Marathon will be congested early on. As long as you are amongst people running the same sort of pace as you, then hopefully it will settle down after a few miles. The important thing to do if you lose time, is to make it up gradually and not to panic. Avoid speeding up, pushing your way forward or doing lots of Ryan Giggs-style swerves and weaves to get through the crowds.

There are 26 miles, and going too fast in miles three and four could have a big effect by the far more important miles 23 and 24. If you are two minutes down at mile two, make up five seconds over each of the next 24 miles. Don't try to make up a minute in the third and fourth miles

Q. Sorry if this is a daft question, as it's not specifically about training. Training has been fine, and I'm on for a 4:30-45 finish time I think. However, the one thing I worry about is blisters. I have been properly fitted for shoes and the twin layer socks, but every time I run more than 13 miles I get blisters and it really slows me down. Do you have any tips? Sascha Williams 3

A. It's not a daft question and many runners suffer from blisters. I've generally been okay in marathons in past years, but the last few races over the half-marathon distance have been a problem to me, and I don't want that discomfort for 26 miles.

It may be worth a visit to a chiropodist or foot care expert to cut away old skin that may cause friction. I tend to apply blister patches to areas that have been a problem in the past, and I also apply talc or Vaseline. Talc inside your shoes may also help. Some runners also like to wear their socks inside out.

Q. I've been following a sub-3:30 training programme for the Virgin London Marathon and I have completed most of the sessions well. I ran a PB 1:35 half-marathon back in early March.  My long runs add up to 100 miles.

After my 22-miler, 12 days ago I picked up a calf strain. I think I aggravated this injury by stretching before I had allowed it to heal properly.  I've seen a physio, who said that I'm touch and go to make it to the start line. It no longer hurts to walk and I have been noticing an improvement now. I haven't run for 12 days. I have two questions:

1.  If I make the start line, do you think I should be making big reductions to my target time? If so, roughly by how much, by 5/10 minutes or do you think more?

2.  I am conscious of the risk of running so soon after an injury. Do I risk permanent damage? How might you suggest I go about testing to what extent my injury has healed before race day?  I would prefer to put up with an extended DOMS period than defer my place. Tempo Tom

A. Based on the 1:35 half-marathon, then 3:30 was well within your capabilities, even 3:20.  I would suggest setting off at eight minute miles and seeing how you are.

Calf injuries are never easy to judge. I strained one a few weeks ago and it was fine a week later, other times I've had to take many weeks off.

 The fact it feels okay is a good sign. I would start off by running gently on grass or a treadmill. You may restrain it but with treatment it will almost certainly recover, and my experience is there should be no permanent damage. Good luck with the injury.

Q. Whilst training, we have been running negative splits. When marathon day comes, is it best to follow a similar plan? Should you start slowly and see where you are in the later stages, or run as even pace as you can from start to finish? Once the traffic jam at the start has cleared of course. CPJ48

A. I would aim for the targets as suggested above, very slightly inside the goal pace (especially for London, as the first half is easier). However, if your body is used to picking up the pace, maybe it will go faster too and you will be comfortably inside your target.

Some runners prefer to be outside their target initially, and then work their way through the field and their gears. The important thing is not to go too fast until the halfway point.

Q. I'm thinking about my pacing in the marathon. I should be fine for a 3:30 marathon, based on a 1:36 half-marathon and a reasonable amount of marathon pace work in my long runs. I will therefore set off at just under 8 min/miles.

Are there any milestones that I should look out for during the marathon itself to see if I should adjust my pace? If I am starting to feel the pace at the halfway point, should I slow down? Or if I am feeling good at 18 miles, should I pick up the pace?  What sort of pacing adjustment clues during the marathon can you advise me on? Ant P

A. You should be constantly reassessing how you feel during the race, but be prepared to have good and bad spells. At London I tend to find it hard from miles 14 to 18. I'm not sure whether I pick up because the gels are kicking in or whether it's just the knowledge at mile 18 that you seem to be on the way home. If you are feeling near your limits mid-race, then I think it wouldn't do any harm to slow 10-15 seconds a mile, and try to recover before trying to get back to goal pace again.

Q. I am following a 16 week schedule for sub-4:00 at the Brighton Marathon, but have had some injury setbacks in the last few weeks.

In terms of my long runs, on week 11 I ran 20 miles and week 12 I raced a half-marathon. The following week I started getting ITB and knee problems, so I had to miss the 20-miler on week 13. I went out for a 15-miler at week 14 but my knee started playing up again, so I had to stop and stretch.  My physio is now patching me up and I should make the start a week on Sunday. I am planning on running nine miles tomorrow. Since week 12, apart from the long runs I've mentioned, I've only got out once or twice for shorter runs in the week.

My question is, will having run my only 20-miler five weeks before Brighton, plus having to seriously curtail my mid-week runs, have a huge impact on my chance of going sub-4:00? Will I be getting round at all? Liam Baldwin

A. You have done far more than most marathoners in having done a 20-miler!

It may have reduced your chances, but it really depends on whether 3:59 was a vague possibility or a near cert, and whether you are really a sub 3:45 runner being cautious.

A half-marathon may have given a clue. For example, a sub-1:50 would show your basic speed is okay. Ultimately it's your endurance which determines how you will run from mile 20 and that will shape the time you run, rather than a 13 mile time.

Q. I have an 18 mile run scheduled this Sunday which is set at a slow pace (10 min/mile). I am aiming for sub-3:45 at London. Should I do the pace as suggested, or would I benefit from doing some of the run at marathon pace? Mr 2

A. Doing an 18 mile run at marathon pace may be too much two weeks before the race. I would either do 18 miles slowly, or run 16 miles, with the last three at marathon pace.

Q. My calf has been a bit sore over the past week. I trained Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as per the sub-3:15 schedule. I'm resting today and planning to do 15 miles on Sunday. Would I be better to rest tomorrow or do a couple of easy miles? Rob Cope

A. I would rest on Saturday, just to be safe.

Q. During taper time is it better to just run easy miles to keep the legs turning over, or should you be doing some speed work too? If so, what sort of repetitions? Shine on you crazy diamond

A. I like to do reps in the last two weeks, nothing to wear you out. So don't do 6 x 2K at 10K pace. Do reps of 200 or 400m, start at marathon pace and gradually build up the speed to 5K pace -  no flat out sprinting.

Q. If you start at a steady pace and feel comfortable, at what point should you consider increasing your pace? Around mile 13, 17, 20 or later? Seren nos

A. I would assess it at 13 miles, but don't make adjustments then, as it has been known for someone to kick in at 13 miles and then grind to a halt at 20.

I would try to maintain pace and then reassess at 20 miles. If you're still feeling good, then increase your pace gradually - no sprinting at the 20 mile mark.

Steve: Good luck to everyone. Remember you can only do your best, and the targets and aims should be guidelines and not take away from the enjoyment of running in some of the best marathons in the world. Whatever you do be proud of your performance, and don't beat yourself up just because you missed a target by a few minutes.

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Discuss this article

Is it possible to go from a none runner to running a marathon in just over a year? Thanks..
Posted: 08/04/2011 at 14:13

hi, i have done the first seven weeks of garmin schedule heading towards edinburgh marathon on 22nd may and i developed shin splints. i have laid off running for the last 2 weeks and been doing regular gym cross training sessions for 90 minutes each night. i feel fine to start running again, where should i start?  do i try and pick up where i left off?.



Posted: 08/04/2011 at 17:56

Hi I need some help please. I currently run my 1.5 mile run in 10.32 mins. Which is beating me up pritty badly. I need to get it to nine mins, in approximately 4 weeks. Can you please give me some advice. I am 22 years old, weigh 76kgs, 1.76m . This is for joining the army
Posted: 13/11/2011 at 23:32

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