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

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 joined us as our ASICS Super Six coach and has mentored our racing contenders for the Paris Marathon on April 10.

Read the whole forum debate


Q. With five weeks to go to the Virgin London Marathon, my training was on track for close to a 3:15 race. However, I picked up a knee injury and have only managed a couple of runs since. I've been cross-training in the meantime, seeing a physio weekly and I hope to be almost pain-free by race day. How much should I adjust my target time and my starting pace? Pingu1874

A. It's difficult to quantify, as it will affect runners differently depending on how many years they have run, training volume at the time and the effectiveness of their cross-training.

My guess is that you would be best adjusting the pace by around 30 seconds a mile, and aiming for a sub 3:30 or 3:35 if you feel okay. You won't notice much difference during the first half, but it will have affected your ability to sustain the pace, as you missed the important long runs.

Q. What's the most common pacing mistake made by first time marathon runners? Squeakz

A. New runners aim for too quick a time. You should enjoy your first marathon and see how you cope with the distance, rather than getting too wrapped up with time targets. Another mistake that's often made is once you're feeling great, with the rush of adrenaline and the freshness of the taper, you disregard race plans and get carried along too fast.

Anyone can feel great at 10 miles, but the key to running a successful marathon is to still feel vaguely okay at 23-25 miles. Other errors are drinking too little or too much, not cutting toe nails or not applying Vaseline to potentially chafing areas.

Q. Do you have any advice for a coeliac on the carb-loading issue? Even if I eat potatoes and rice to carb-load it can cause issues. This is the one thing I've been dreading more than anything else.

Also, I was feeling weary yesterday, so I rested instead of doing the four-mile easy run, as I thought that would be more beneficial. Should I run five miles instead of four on Saturday, and ten instead of eight on Sunday? My legs felt fine, I was just tired. Princess Fiona

A. You might be best asking ASICS PRO Team dietician Ruth McKean on one of the Super Six forum threads for more expert diet advice. I would think you would be best increasing your intake of simple sugars found in honey and fruits. Is there a special bread that doesn't cause problems?

In answer to your question about tiredness, there's no point increasing your runs on Saturday and Sunday and getting more tired. I would suggest just running three miles or resting again on Saturday and running ten miles on Sunday, as it's a more important session. An easy ten miles shouldn't be much of a problem.

Q. How do you determine what marathon pace will be? Do you look at race times during training, paces during long runs, or miles run at a predicted marathon pace?  Do you take into account previous marathons, which have given confidence in the distance?

I have put the miles in since January (almost 600) and I have run one 21-miler, three 20-mlilers and two 18-milers. My long run pace is around 8:40, or just under. I have run up to 14 miles at marathon pace during a long run and my pace per mile was between 7:40-7:50.  I ran a comfortable half-marathon in 1:36 a few weeks ago, and I'm running a 10K tomorrow which I hope will be between 43-44 minutes. This will be my eighth marathon, all except one have been under 3:45. My PB is 3:31 and I ran 3:36 last November after no structured training.

Looking at the evidence above, what would you suggest for my marathon pace on the day? Minni

A. You have to take a lot of factors into account. Recent half-marathon times give a clue, but past records and long run performances are also very important. Based on your training and your half-marathon time, I would certainly suggest you set off at 7:45-7:50 pace, which should feel really easy up to the 18 mile point - you might even be able to pick up the pace from then. Nothing is certain in running marathons, other than it hurts, but you have given yourself every chance of a huge marathon PB. Good luck!

Q. My training has gone well to date and I'm on track for a 4:30 marathon, but I'm really worried about what to do about pacing and race nutrition if it's hot. I've done two marathons in hot conditions in 2007 and 2009 and I hit the wall at mile 17.  Do you have any advice on what I should do? runbird

A. The impact caused by heat doesn't just depend on the temperature but also on the context. So if it were really warm every day until he Virgin London Marathon, then 21 degrees wouldn't be such a problem. You'd notice the heat more if it was really cold until race day, and then it shot up to 18-20 degrees.

Unfortunately, some runners will be more affected than others. I estimate if it is 20 degrees, rather than the usual 13 or 14, then most runners will be five minutes slower. Some will only be one or two minutes slower, others 15-20 minutes.

You may have to adjust pace targets to be more conservative and you will need to up liquid intake pre-marathon and during. Try to keep cooler: dousing your cap or hat in cold water, use more sponges and wear the minimum of clothing.

In the last few weeks of training, some runners like to wear more clothing in training runs to get used to running in an uncomfortably warm state. However, that could just make you sweat more and make you more dehydrated before the big day.

However, it is easy to psyche yourself out with warm temperatures. It may make your marathon slightly harder but it won't be impossible. The start time is unlikely to be warm and if you can keep your pace to a steady level, stay well hydrated and as cool as you can, then when it does warm up, you may be fit enough to hold the pace together and only lose a few minutes.

According to netweather.tv, the maximum temperature the day before the Virgin London Marathon this year is only 12 degrees, with a three mph wind and 55 per cent risk of rain. If the weather's the same the next day, it should be perfect.

Q. Can you advise on tapering? As a percentage of normal miles, what do you think is optimum for the last two weeks before a marathon?

How long should your last two long runs be, compared to your previous maximum distance? Running elmo

A. As a guideline, this is the last four weeks of the Garmin 3:30 schedule. There are weeks of 48, 41, 29 and 13 miles, plus the race. Ideally your last long will be three weeks before, with the long runs winding down from 20 to 15 to 10 miles. I like quick repetitions in the last week, but the focus is on saving your legs for the big marathon effort.

WEEK THIRTEEN (March 21-27): approx 48M
Mon Rest

Tue 1M jog, 5 x 1M (or 7:00) fast, with 400m (or 2-min) jog recoveries, then 1M jog

Wed 9M easy (approx 81 mins)

Thu 1M jog, then 4M at half-marathon pace (approx 30 mins), then 1M jog

Fri Rest

Sat 4M (approx 36 mins)

Sun 20M in approx 2:50 hrs (First 10M easy in 90 mins, last 10M at marathon pace in 80 mins)


WEEK FOURTEEN (March 28-April 3): approx 41M

Mon Rest

Tue 1M jog, then 6 x 1000m at 10K speed (or 4:30) with 200m (or 1-min) jog recoveries, then 1M jog

Wed 8M steady (approx 68 mins)

Thu 1M easy, then middle 4M at marathon pace (approx 32 mins), then 1M easy

Fri Rest

Sat Parkrun 5km or 40 mins fartlek (approx 5M)

Sun 15M steady(approx 2hrs 7)


WEEK FIFTEEN (April 4-10): approx 29M

Mon Rest

Tue 1M jog, then 10 x 400m hill at mile/5K speed (or 95 secs) with 100m (or 1-min) jog recoveries, then 1M jog

Wed 6M easy (approx 54 mins)

Thu 1M jog, then 3M at half-marathon pace (approx 22 mins), then 1M jog

Fri Rest

Sat 3M easy (approx 27 mins)

Sun 10M steady (approx 85 mins)


WEEK SIXTEEN (April 11-18): 13M plus race

Mon Rest

Tue 1M jog, then 12 x 200m at mile/5K speed (or 45 secs) with 200m (or 1-min) jog recoveries, then 1M jog

Wed 4M easy (approx 36 mins) with 5 marathon pace 100m strides

Thu 3M easy (approx 27 mins) with 4 marathon pace 100m strides

Fri Rest

Sat 2M easy (approx 18 mins), in racing kit with 3 marathon pace 100m strides

Sun The race

Q. If you have got all long runs in and feel comfortable, would a half-marathon time from five weeks prior to the marathon be good to use for a race predictor? Seren nos

A. Yes, 4-5 weeks is probably the best time, though three weeks before should be okay but it's more risky due to recovery issues. If you are fit enough to run 26 miles at a fast pace, then 13 miles slightly faster shouldn't be a problem 3-4 weeks before. If you do it more than six weeks before, then all the good marathon training may not have kicked in yet.

Q. What distance should I run on Sunday with two weeks to go until marathon? I did 18.5 miles last week at 8:24 pace and I'm aiming for a 3:30 target.

Also, would you advise doing a 4K race tomorrow and a long run on Sunday, or is it best just to stick with the Sunday run? Michael Clark 3

A. As in my answer to running elmo using the 3:30 schedule, I think a long run of 13-15 miles is ideal two weeks out, providing it's at a slow relaxed pace. I don't see a problem doing a reasonably hard 4K or parkrun the day before, if it's an easy Sunday run. However, I would try to aim for your marathon pace in first kilometre, then build up the pace gradually.

Q. What's the best marathon race strategy? Is it a steady 26 miles, a negative split or perhaps splitting the race into thirds? If it's either of the latter, what should be the differences in pace from your experience? Rob Cope

A. Ideally, I like to hit my goal pace as soon as possible. Then I try to run as evenly and relaxed as I can, for as long as I can, and get to 20 miles feeling there is more there.

I don't agree with getting time in hand on the first half, but I do think if you aiming for sub-3:00, halfway should be 1:28:30; 3:15 should be 1:36:30; 3:30 should be 1:43:30 and sub-4:00 should be 1:58.

The breaking into thirds seems an excellent strategy though. The first third allows you to settle down; on the second third focus on pace and assess how you are and the final third is where all the training will help get you through the last eight or nine miles. The final third is where invariably, if you have paced it properly, your target success will be determined.

On the next page: Steve reveals how to make up time after heavy congestion at the start of a race.


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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?.

regards

Paul


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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