Ask the Experts: Taper and Race Week with Sam Murphy

Catch the highlights from Friday's lunchtime debate, when ASICS Target 26.2 coach Sam Murphy answered your questions about the final stage of marathon training live in the forums

Q. Normally I attend a club session each Wednesday which involves some form of intervals.

Would you recommend on the final week before the marathon to still do the intervals but to treat them as a tempo run, or ignore them all together and just opt for an easy run?

I'm looking for a time of 2:55 and I don't want to ruin my chances, especially as last Sunday I ran a half marathon in 1:24, so I’m feeling confident and right on track.

Also, do my times appear to be on course? Steven McMahon

A. I think the wisest course of action would be to give the intervals a miss -  instead opt for an easy run followed by a few strides. The trouble with a group/club session where you normally train hard, is that you might be tempted (or even unwittingly) to go a bit faster than you meant to. And as I said to Susie, I wouldn't do anything faster than tempo beyond the final Tuesday before a Sunday marathon.

In terms of your times, my charts predict that a 1:24 half marathon is spot on for a 2:55. It sounds like you've got the training right and it isn't worth jeopardising your target for the sake of hitting the track. Best of luck!

Q. Unfortunately, I have been suffering with a tender achilles and I haven't been able to run for the last three weeks. Prior to my achilles flaring up, my training had been going okay and I had completed a couple of 20-mile training runs, which had gone to plan. 

My achilles has started to settle and I hope to be able to run again next week. I planned to try a 20-miler next Sunday, two weeks before the VLM. My concern is that I may have lost crucial strength and fitness. I have been able to cross train with spin classes and mountain biking but my lack of running is a concern. Do you have any advice? Robert Smith 27

A. My most important piece of advice is to not do a 20-mile run two weeks out from race day. There is simply not enough time to recover from the demands of this in time for the race. I know it's tough when you've 'lost' training, but you can't make up for lost time like this. See how the shorter runs go next week and if all seems okay, I would use the Sunday run as a 'test' to see whether you are realistically going to be able to run without the achilles flaring up - 10-12 miles is a good aim.

You've probably held on to a lot of your fitness with the spin and mountain biking. I'd recommend keeping that up rather than suddenly plunging back into running 4-5 times a week to help increase your chances of the Achilles staying settled. Best of luck.

Q. I did my longest run at the weekend and I’m now going to taper my runs. I was in some pain (as I usually am after a long run) after the weekend around my feet and lower legs (I have weak knees and I suspect my shoelaces were too tight). I was considering doing only a very low amount of running over the next 2-3 weeks, so as to rest my legs and not aggravate the pain before my marathon. What would be the negative impact of doing this? What else would you recommend? Preets

A. Well, the positive thing is that you've learned not to tie your shoelaces too tight on the big day.

If the lower leg and foot soreness persists, try dunking them in a bucket of cold water (a few ice cubes is good) after a run - I find this really helps alleviate post long-run soreness.

But on the more pressing matter of your taper, there are very few negative impacts of reducing your running right down over the next 2-3 weeks. In fact, you probably have more to gain than to lose.

I would advise the following:

Run 2-3 times a week (two times in the final week) on non-consecutive days. Stick to softer surfaces mostly, if possible.

If you choose to run only two days a week, add in one or two cross-training sessions - either bike, swim or use the cross trainer at the gym to maintain cardio fitness.

Maintain some intensity. For example, if the scheduled session says 6 x 800m, then try to do three or four of these. (If you don't keep some higher-intensity stuff in during the taper, you'll lose speed)

Don't run through pain. If the lower leg/foot pain persists, go and see a physio/osteopath for advice. Good luck!

Q. I’m running the Brighton Marathon in less than three weeks, but I have had some niggling shin pain in the last few weeks.

I think it’s partly because I’ve had to change my running shoes in January due to the "old" model I was comfortable with nom longer being available and the updated model of the same shoe didn't feel right for me when I tried it.

I have just found a much more comfortable pair to run in (same brand as previous favourites) but am wondering if it’s too close to the marathon to change. I should still get 50+ miles in them before the marathon if I make a wholesale change. Any thoughts?

PS. I really enjoyed your co-authored book with Sarah Connors ‘Running Well’, and I found it very useful when I got back into running after a seven and a half year enforced lay-off. Thanks! Juggler234: Red 4387

A. It’s not too late to change your shoes - you've still got a couple of shorter long runs in which to try them out and make sure they feel okay. Try to wear them for at least one run of double figures to check they don't rub or make your feet hurt.

I'd also recommend getting a bit of treatment on your shins - sports massage, deep tissue massage or the like. I know you said it's just a niggle but now that you're entering a lower training phase, you could take advantage of getting them to heal a bit more before the race. Best of luck.

And thanks for kind words about the book. Check out the page on shin splints - Sarah's wisdom!

Q. I'm running my first marathon and I’m experiencing some knee pain after the 20-mile run I did last Sunday. What would be your advice for the taper? Should I miss some runs? Pippa Longstein

A. At this late stage in the game, my advice to anyone with any kind of pain or niggle is to go and see someone for a bit of treatment. You may only need to go just the once and it will help set your mind at rest, as well as helping to alleviate the problem.

There's a listing of sports medicine practitioners (physios, osteos etc) at back of RW mag, and also a link on the VLM website.

Are you also trying to settle the knee through icing, stretching and anti-inflammatories?

That aside, I'd say that if it's painful to run, try to find an alternative pain-free activity to maintain fitness through the taper. Biking or the cross-trainer would be good, as they are the same 'plane' of movement as running and predominantly use lower leg musculature, but swimming is also fine. You can still 'replicate' your running sessions through cross training (e.g. do some speed work on the bike, or a tempo effort swim...) I hope it settles very soon.

Q. I have a question about pace on the race day, and what final time to target.

I did a half-marathon last year with minimal training that indicates a marathon time of 4:15.

Since then I’ve jogged along at 15 miles/week for a few months then started the ‘ideal world level 2’ programme from your Start to Finish. It’s going really well, I feel really fit (my pulse is 47) and I can easily do six or more 8 min/miles in my midweek runs. I’ve got no injuries, no stiffness and I’m feeling great.

A part of a lot of me wants to try to break four hours but the quality of my previous long runs really worries me. I ran 20 miles last Sunday and 20 miles the Sunday before, both at 10min/mile pace and felt that was all I had. It was quite hard going. although  I was completely recovered and had no stiffness the next day.

So I’m a bit confused, am I just not a long distance runner? I don't use gels or special drinks as I don't like them. I drink water and eat chocolate. Have I over trained? Will the taper enable me to run sub-4:00? Can you advice on a goal to aim for and a pacing strategy please? Christian Lewcock

A. Welcome to the forum! Glad to hear you're feeling fit and that training has gone so well. I can see you're in a dilemma about what goal to go for - should you play it safe and go for around 4:15 or take a risk and aim for sub-4:00? My opinion for first timers is that you should play it safe, as getting the pacing wrong in your first marathon is a painful experience you won't want to repeat.

Don't worry about feeling wiped by the 2 x 20 milers. Not surprising, when you do two big runs like that on consecutive weeks. Your body will now be absorbing the effects of these runs, so you don't need to repeat this distance. It's all about recovering now.

However, your water and chocolate strategy just won't cut it! Chocolate is a low GI food, which means the carbs it contains will not enter the blood stream fast enough to be of any use. Have you tried jelly babies? They would be a much better option. Water is fine, but you really do need to get some carbs on board during the race to help you maintain pace in the second half of the race.

As for a pacing strategy, I would set off at 4:15 pace (so, 9:45 per mile) and stick to that up to half way. If you're feeling okay, you could then try to up the pace a little bit (just a few secs per mile) and then if you feel good by 20ish, try to up to sub-4:00 pace.

That won't bring you in at sub-4:00 of course, but it would mean running 9:05min/mile pace the whole way round, which is a minute faster than your long run pace and faster than your half-marathon time predicts. I hope that helps a bit!

Q. Can you see anything wrong with my taper plan following tomorrow's 20 mile LSR? My highest mileage per week peaked at 70.

Resting today then…

20 mile LSR

4 miles recovery


14 miles including MP

Double 5.5 miles easy

6 miles including 1/2 mile intervals


15 miles including Parkrun

5 miles easy


6 miles MP

5 miles easy

6 miles with 3 x 1 mile intervals


12 miles easy

5 miles easy with 6 x strides


6 miles including 2 x MP

5 miles easy

4 miles easy with gentle strides

2 miles on treadmill

Rest (travel)

London Marathon

Thanks for any advice! Badbark

A. Badbark

Thanks for the taper plan - the only thing I'd flag up is the coming week:

20 mile LSR

4 miles recovery


14 miles including MP

Double 5.5 miles easy

6 miles including 1/2 mile intervals


15 miles including Parkrun

See, you have a 20 miler, a 14 miler and a 15 miler all within the space of 8 days. That's a bit much in my opinion, especially as you are meant to be winding down. The rest of the reduction in volume looks good, but I'd say you need to reduce that 14 miler quite significantly or you'll be pretty fatigued during the first week of taper, which doesn't set you up very well for race day recovery.

Q. Have you got a favourite race plan for your marathons that you stick to? Dr Victor Thompson made a good point about breaking the race down into smaller chunks, but is there anything else you can think of that would help from a mental strength point of view? knight rider

A. My favourite race plan is to break the race down into 2 x 10 milers and a 10K. I'll adjust my pace (upwards) throughout each bout. To really make this work, I always make sure I include 10-mile races in my training build up, so that I have a good sense of the distance/pace. So I'd run the first 10 miler a bit slower than the second one and then think, “hey, I’ve only got a 10k to run now”, which psychologically feels good and also puts you in the mindset of running speedily!

The other ways of breaking the race down is to have spectators at different points of the course (as long as they are reliable enough to actually be there - otherwise that can be a mental blow when you're feeling tired and low) or using landmarks on a course you know well.

Q. If you have an A, B and C target for the race, how would you advise running it? Set out at A goal target (PB sub-3:12) then slow down if it feels too hard, or start at B (3:12-14) goal target then speed up at say half way if I’m feeling strong?

The C target for me (3:15min) is only for if it goes horribly wrong on the day! sal f

A. It depends on how you've set your targets I think. There's been discussion on the forum about having a gold, silver and bronze target - but the point is that the bronze is still a medal, a podium place, so you're still happy with it. Sounds to me as if you wouldn't be at all pleased with your C target, so is it really a goal at all?

I think you need to reflect on what is realistic, based on your training for this marathon. What do your build-up races (and/or training paces) predict? And if they predict that your 3:12 time is achievable, then go for it, aiming to run a steady pace.

There is a minimal difference in your pacing to run a 3:12 or a 3:13 anyway - it's literally about 2 seconds per mile, so the likelihood of being able to consistently adjust your pace by such a small amount is very low. I think you need to use the evidence from training in conjunction with what you desire to achieve to set the right goal. Good luck!

Get involved!

Watch Sam Murphy's vodcast on how to run your first marathon or listen to Sam's podcast on how to tackle the second half of marathon training.

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Discuss this article

Hi, I'm taking part in an endurance walking event 3 weeks prior to my first marathon. It's the baggies monster challenge, basically cycling 30 miles followed by a 42 mile hike. What advice do you have for the 3 weeks I between? Thanks
Posted: 04/04/2012 at 12:31


I am having a problem with a heel injury (Planatar)  and am hoping to run in the M.K. Marathon at the end of the month--can you suggest a speedy cure- I haven't run or trained for the past six weeks....


Posted: 04/04/2012 at 19:29

Hi I'm having a niggle with my knee. It crackles when I bend and bit achey.

I can run on it and it feels better when I've run about 2 miles.

But I can feel it even when I'm walking.

Any suggestions? 

Posted: 06/04/2012 at 09:10

Hi Danny, Michael and supermouse,

I suggest you get in touch with Sam (and physio Sarah if need be) on the ASICS Target 26.2 forum threads - you can find them here:


Posted: 10/04/2012 at 16:51

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