Marathon Q+A: Steve Smythe

Experienced coach - and Lucozade Sport Super Six mentor - Steve Smythe answers your frequently-asked marathon questions

Posted: 19 March 2009
by Steve Smythe


Q. What single aspect of training would help me run a faster marathon? Intervals, tempo sessions or more miles? Johnny Blaze

A. Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. Making improvements is all about the overall mixture - how you put long runs, speedwork, tempo sessions, rest and warm-up races together. The single most important session though is the long, slow steady run.

Q. I was hoping for a sub-4:00 marathon but have been setback by injury. My best run so far has been 13 miles in just under two hours. With just over five weeks to go, what would you recommend for getting used to the distance? Neil Sharma 2

A. Focus on building up your long runs every week - for example 15 miles, 17 miles and so on. Also, try to do some faster mid-week runs so things will feel easier when you reach halfway.

Q. I'm running a 20-mile race this weekend to gauge my pace. I don't want to run too hard as I may not recover in time and it might affect the remainder of my training. Should I aim to run the first half slower, and the second half at marathon pace? Experimental Penguin

A. I agree - running a flat-out 20-miler at this stage would be a risk. But by pacing the race as you suggest, you can turn it into an excellent training session without exhausting yourself. Make sure you hold yourself back in the first half and don't go mad when you hit the acceleration phase. Count how many runners you can overtake in your fast period to make it more interesting!

Q. I've a couple of 20-milers and long races under my belt so far, but I'm concerned about breaking down before race day. How many more long runs should I do? Ian Burdin

A. One more 20-miler should suffice. Try to run a shorter longer run at marathon pace too - if you keep your other runs shorter still, you should be fighting fit for the marathon.

Q. I did a local 20-mile road race, but although it advertised plenty of drinks stations these were only stocked with water. I hadn't taken any energy products with me, and at around Mile 14 I ran out of gas and plodded home 10 minutes behind schedule. What advice can you give on fuelling - how often and when during a marathon? Anthony Scott 3

A. Personally, I like to consume a carbo-gel at the start, another between 10K and 10 miles, a third carbo-gel between Miles 13 and 15 (I find this one the most useful) and a final one at about Mile 20. I keep myself topped up with energy drink too. Of course, no fuel strategy can make up for poor pacing or insufficient training.

Q. I'm thinking about entering a 10-mile race the weekend before the marathon. If I run it at marathon pace (or just a bit faster) will it do me more harm than good? I also do a club marathon-pace session on Wednesdays - should I do this session so close to a marathon? Stat

A. Running 10 miles flat out the week before is too much. 10 miles at marathon pace should be OK, as long as you refuel immediately afterwards and have a relaxed easy week.The fast mid-week club run has probably done you well up to now but it might be best to run with slower runners the week before your marathon so you don't overdo it!

Q. Is it better to start at the pace you want to maintain (in my case, 9min/mile) or start a little slower, see how its going and try and catch up in the second half? Shaken & Stirred

A. Space permitting, set off as close to the pace you need to run as you can. Take care not to go too fast - just try and get into a nine-minute-mile rhythm. Practice it in training so you can settle into it automatically.

Q. How much fluid should I drink on the morning of the marathon? Last year I drank too much and had to use the loos on the way round! inlastplace

have to be careful not to overdo the drinking and stick pretty much to what you are used to in training pre race. remember there are drinks every mile and unless it is very hot you don't need to drink at every drinks station. Drinking too much is more dangerous than drinking too little

Q. This will be my seventh marathon - my PB is 3:05 (last year). I've managed to hit all my training targets (for a sub-3:00 marathon) but my mileage is relatively low as I'm extremely injury-prone. Should I still be aiming to run sub-3:00? JFDI

A. If you have stuck to the times and training then you should be fine. Not everyone can handle high mileage. The sessions are more important than the numbers - as long as you do the long runs, then the rest of the week is not too important.

Q. Do you have any tips for a brand new runner who has a year to train for a marathon? I've found a 16-week schedule and want to make the most of the year to really prepare myself, but I don't want to do too much too soon. NorwichRunner

A. In theory, the fitter you can get prior to starting the schedule, the faster you will be when you start your marathon training. Get into a regular routine of a weekend long run (building up gradually), some faster mid-week runs and a few faster efforts in the middle of some of your sessions. It's probably best not to do too much speedwork initially - build up your stamina, and do everything gradually to let your body accustom itself to the higher workloads.

Q. How can I maintain my fitness after the marathon without overtraining? Ang12

A. The marathon will leave you with plenty of fitness to keep your endurance levels high during the summer. Firstly, make sure you recover properly after the race and don't do too much for a few weeks afterwards. Then, gradually try and get back into a routine - a month after the marathon you should start upping the pace of your runs and target some shorter races. If you've been doing 50 miles a week during your marathon build up, 35 - 40 miles a week should be sufficient to maintain your endurance and still allow you to train faster to increase your speed and speed endurance.

Don't miss our next live forum debate - part of a series in our 2009 Flora London Marathon build-up. On Friday April 3, we'll be welcoming back Nick Morgan, Lead Sports Scientist at Lucozade Sport between 1pm and 2pm to answer your last-minute fuel and hydration questions. Pop the date in your diary now!

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Discuss this article

Hi everyone

Lucozade Sport Super Six mentor Steve Smythe will be online between 1pm and 2pm today to answer any queries you might have about your spring marathon training.

Steve worked at Runner's World for 10 years and took over the marathon schedules when Bruce Tulloh retired from writing them. 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. As far as his coaching record goes, he's helped one runner to British international level over the marathon distance and another to a British age-group record. He also coaches around 30 runners in his running club, whose abilities range from 2:30 to outside five hours..

We're starting this thread now so you have a chance to post your questions beforehand - that way, Steve will be able to hit the ground running rather than having to deal with too many questions all at once.

Time to get posting!

Catherine RW

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:23

Steve, do you have any tips for a brand new runner who has a year to train for the 2010 London Marathon? I've found a 16 week schedule, but what should I do for the rest of the year before I start to follow the schedule? I want to make the most of the year to really prepare myself and learn how to run, but I don't want to do too much too soon. Thank you.
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:41

Hi Steve, I am running my first marathon in London, training has been going well, and last  weekend I saw a significant improvement on my half mara time.

My question is, how can I maintain my fitness after the marathon, without overtraining, or is running 40 miles + a week about average?


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:48

Hi Steve

 On Sunday i did a local 20 mile road race - it advertised plenty of drinks stations - however unknown to me I these were water only and I had taken any other fuel - at around 14 miles I ran out of gas  and plodded home 10 minutes behind schedule  - many other people I saw used energy pouches

I had done 20 mile training runs and fueled on Lucozade sport during these with little problem albeit training runs have been around 1.00min per mile slower than last sunday

What advice can you give on fuelling - how often and when during the marathon ?

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:49

Steve - not so much a question as a quick note to anyone posting just to say how much your advice has helped me in my training - I was lucky enough to get one of the Lucozade/RW super six places for this years FLM. The advice he has given me to date has really turned my approach to training around and I'd like to say a big thank you to Steve.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:50


Firstly, apologies for the long question but I think it's improtant to have a bit of background. I am currently in the height of training for my first marathon (Hamburg on 26th April 09) and things are going a lot better than expected. Despite spending half of December on crutches I spent the majority of last year getting general fitness back. Initially my aim was to aim sub 3:15 as I thought this would be achievable given my 10k PB from last year. However, as I have increased the mileage and quality of the training I have seen dramatic improvements which has left me thinking that I could have a reasonable stab at sub 3. A few facts, beginning of February i ran a ten mile race in 64:52, beginning of March a 5 mile blast in 30:34 and this past Sunday completed a half marathon in 1:23:52. I am currently averaging 40 miles a week since the beginning of Jan and will peak this week with around 60miles. With my top three LSR totalling 63 miles so far (and still 3 more 20+ to go).

So finally my question: What do you think I should do? Should I aim to scrape sub three or do you think I should just take my first marathon as an experience and ensure I make sub 3:15?

Thanks in advance

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 12:55


I've been running regularly since 2003 and since last September started training for my 3rd Marathon (May 10th) Training was going great 50 mpw which i was comfortable with. Started specific training in January.

Early Feb picked up a calf injury (soleus) which i did get treatment for but lost a good 3-4 weeks training. Managed to get back running proper last week but picked up a bad blister (i hardly get blisters) and i think i overcompensated with my running style and somehow strained my hamstring.

Last long run of any significance was Feb 1st (15 miles) since then 7½ miles (when i got the blister) March 14th

Now i am worried i do not have enough time with just over 7 weeks to go. I was looking towards aiming for a 3:45 which i very much doubt is likely now. What should i do? I know a marathon can take a lot of you and i don't want to just treat it as a log run. I appreciated any advice you can give me.

I think my original problems were due to my shoes i was wearing (shoes i wore before with a previous injury in 2007) so i have different shoes now and everything was going well
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:00

Dear Steve


I missed out on training in December and the first two weeks of January for various reasons (before that I had been doing 30-35 mpw through the summer and autumn). However, my last 9 weeks of training have surpassed my expectations and in the last 4 weeks I’ve managed 70-75 miles per week, which have included:

  • A long run (7.40 pace)
  • Two medium long runs (12-13 miles @ 7.20-7.30 pace)
  • A 1 hour steady run (7.30 pace)
  • A tempo session (30-40 mins @ 6.20/mile pace)
  • An interval session (e.g. 6 x 1 K @ 6 min/mile pace).                                               

I’ve done 6 long runs of 20-22 miles in the last 8 weeks.


This will be my 6th FLM and last year I ran my PB of 3.03. I’m now getting very close to last year’s fitness level, but I’m not sure what to do for the next three weeks – keep on with the high mileage regime or cut down and start to up the intensity of the speed sessions (e.g. make the tempo and interval sessions more taxing)? Also, I’ve not done any marathon pace efforts and wonder if I should be introducing them.


Many thanks for your advice



Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:01

Norwich Runner...

Luckily you've got plenty of time to prepare yourself for the schedule.

I think it's just a case of getting into a regular routine of weekend long run (building up gradually), some faster midweek runs and a few faster efforts in the middle of your run.

The fitter you can get prior to starting the schedule, in theory the faster you will be when you start the marathon.

It's probably best not doing too much speedwork initially but building up the stamina, but do everything gradually to let your body accustom itself to the higher workloads.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:01


the marathon will give you lots of fitness to keep your endurance levels high during the summer. Just make sure you recover and don't do too much for the few weeks afterwards and then gradually try and get into a routine and a month after the marathon you should be upping the pace of your runs and aiming for shorter races. if you've been doing 50 miles a week in marathon build up, 35-40 should be sufficient to keep endurance but be able to train faster to increase speed and speed endurance.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:04

Hi Steve,


My question is about knee pain – when I started running several years ago I was training for a 12km race. During the training I noticed increasing pain in my knees, most noticeable when bending down and trying to stand up again. This prompted a trip to the podiatrist, a change of shoes (Brooks Glycerine), and a pair of orthotics (I’m flatfooted, so I over-pronate). Over the next couple of years I continued to have problems with shin splints which I just ‘manage’ with ice, ibuprofen, massage, stretching, blah, blah. After another trip to a podiatrist I had my orthotics adjusted (increased arch support) and he recommended different shoes (Brooks Adrenaline). But now that I am training for London marathon the knee pain is back. I’m still doing all the ‘managing’ stuff and am keeping the shin splints to a minor level but am worried that with a month of tough long runs my knees may not make it to the marathon.


Any advice appreciated!


ps. I have been pretty much following the RW sub-4:30 marathon schedule and to date all training has gone to schedule.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:05


Important to practice fuelling in training and warm up races. London will be fine for fuelling with Lucozade. Personally I like a gel at the start, one around 10k-10 miles and then one around 13-15 which I feel is the most useful one and then one around 20. Topped up with Lucozade, that seems to have kept me strong over the last few miles in my recent marathons. I used to run out of energy before changing to this. of course no fuel strategy can make up for poor pacing or insufficient training!

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:08

Hi Steve,

'm training for London and running a 20 mile race this weekend as preparation, and to gauge my pace for the marathon. I don't want to run the 20 miler too hard as I may not recover in time for London, and also adversely affect  the remainder of my LM training. I think that my target MP for London will be 6:40 mins per mile, so do you think I would be ok to run the first half of the 20 miler at 7:10 pace, and the second half at 6:40's?



Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:14

Big Jase

You are in great shape and getting fitter all the time and yes you are capable of sub 3 but it is probably too early to try.

I think best to run 3:10 and feeling you can go quicker than try and run 2:59, sufffer and run 3:10 or much, much slower. if you run 3:10 and feel there is more there then you can always go for sub-3 next time.

Enjoy your first one as much as you can. and remember that plenty of runners who think they can break three, sometimes struggle to break 3:30.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:14

Hi Steve

I have a marathon on 5 April (no 13). I like the look of a 10 mile race the weekend before. If I run it at MP, or just a bit faster will it do me more harm than good, or more good than harm?

The Wednesday evening before the sunday marathon is my club night. My group is getting quicker each week - last night it was 6 miles at MP - 30 seconds. Again should I do this session so close to a marathon?

I always seem to do something daft before a race, and want to do thing properly this year.

Thanks for any advice.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:18


There is still time to get reasonably fit but I would suggest changing your aim for a sub-4.

The key is not to get any more injuries and get as many long runs in as you can.

You still may be able to get back on course but lower the expectations.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:19

Hi Steve,

 I'm training for the London marathon and my best run so far was 13 miles on Tuesday at just under 2 hours. I was hoping for a sub-4 marathon but got setback by injury. What would you recommend for the next few weeks in terms of getting used to the distance. Is sub-4 still in sight?

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:19

Hi there,

I'm training for London and it is my first marathon.  Previously I've been a 4 miles, 3 times a week kind of runner.  I am following a sub 4.30 16 week training plan which is going really well however I have checked out the plans on this site and am worried that I am not doing enough miles each week.  The plan has me doing a couple of 45-60 minutes runs and a n interval session each week and then the long run....have done a 13, 15, 13 and then will be 17 miles this weekend.  Does this sound ok or should I be doing more??


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:21

ITFAC - great training. Sub 3 should be well within your compass.

I suggest a half marathon race would be a good idea to monitor your fitness and a few runs at marathon pace - ie 10 miles at 6:45s.

However, generally just keep what you are doing as it looks like you hav most things covered.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:23

Hi Steve

I'm running the London on 26th, and am hoping for sub 4 (as it seems every on is!). My recent half and 10k times suggest its possible. But what pace should I start at?

I'd rather achieve sub 4:30 than burn out and get nearer 5 or more, which I hear happens a lot to runners aiming for 4.

So is it better to start at the pace you want to keep up - 9min/mile -  or start a little slower, see how its going and try and catch up in the second half if I feel up to it?

This is my first marathon.


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:26


Suggest you see a physio or osteo. I'm not a great fan of orthotics and my osteo believes that most (but not all) problems that orthotics are supposed to put right could be better dealt with by adjusting the foot muscles Orthotics sometimes adjust problems but cause others.

However you seem to be using all the right treatments and have done well to keep your fitness with your problems.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:29


Many thanks for the advice (and vote of confidence), I really appreciate it. 


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:30

Exp Penguin

Yes that seems a good plan. I agree that a flat out 20 now is a risk but this way will make it an excellent training session and not take it all out of you. Just try and make sure you hold yourself back in the first half and don't go mad when you hit the acceleration phase. Count how many runners you can overtake in your fast period to make it more interesting!

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:32

Its probably a daft question but whats the single one thing I could do to run marathons faster? Intervals tempos or more miles?
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:35

Hi Steve,

My training has been severley hampered this year this injury. To date my longest run is only a half marathon. I know any chance of going sub 4 hours is out of the question this year and the aim is to get around. Due to how close we are do you think the best/quickest way to get around will be to use a run/walk stategy, say 9min1min.

 My 10k PB is 46mins & half PB is 1.47. My second marathon - last year I did FLM in 4.12 after hitting the wall at 20miles


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:36

Thanks Steve.
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:38


10 miles flat out the week before is too much. 10 miles at marathon pace should just about be ok as long as you refuel immediately afterwards and have a relaxed easy week.

The fast midweek club run has probably done you well up to now but now might be best to run with slower runners in the club so you don't overdo it!

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:38

Hi Steve,

I did my first marathon in 2:59 on 50-60 mpw, for my 2nd attempt i increased the mileage to around 70-80 miles per week and ran 2:44.

My question in order to get down into the  2:30's should i be looking to increase mileage again, or run my sessions faster?

Thanks alot

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:40

Neil S

You obviously have quite a way to get into sub 4 shape. All you can do is focus on building up those long runs every week, 15, 17, 19 and 21 but try and work on doing some faster midweek runs so you will feel easier when you reach halfway.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:41

Hiya Steve   I'm recovering from a broken ankle and have my first marathon on October! It was a simple break and is healing okay. What do you suggest for getting back into things? I usually run 3-4 times per week between 20-30 miles or so. I have done a 40 mile run a few weeks ago so I'm not worried about the distance, more about getting back into it. Cheers
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:42

Hi Steve

I've done a couple of 20 milers so far; a race of 2h27 and a training run of 2h35...last week I did 1h32 in the Bath half.

With FLM only 5.5 weeks away and 2x20 milers under my belt, how many more should I do? I am also running the Kingston 16 on 5th April.

Last time I did FLM in 2006, I missed Feb entirely due to shin splints and I'm just concerned about breaking down again so close to race day!

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:42


Last year I ran FLM in 3:23 and in previous marathons I have always been around this mark.

This year I'm running in Nessa "the Wellchild" Nurse and I'm guessing I'll be on my feet for up to 6 hours...

Is there any training specific to being on my feet that would be beneficial or is it a case of going out and training longer?



Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:43

Thank you Steve for your advice and a confidence boost
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:44

Hi Steve,

Currently doing 35-40 miles a week hoping for a sub 3:30 at the London. Biggest problem on long runs is not so much stamina, but my legs hit the wall. I been told gels are the answer, any info would be much appreciated. Plus how much water should I be taking on during the run?


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:45


I would up the long runs very slightly (perhaps try and get a 19 or 20 3 or four weeks before but you seem to be on course for a good marathon and you don't have to change too much. well done so far..

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:45

Ok thanks Steve.
Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:46

Shaken and Stirred

London isn't easy to come through as there will be a wall of runners ahead!

I would set off at the pace you need to run (space permitting) as close as you can - but don't go too fast or too slow - just try and get into that nine minute mile rhythmn and do it in training so you do it automatically.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:51

JB - no single thing just a mixture. it's how you put the long runs, the speedwork and the tempo runs and races plus rest together that makes the improvement.

The single most important thing though is the long, slow steady run.


You could up the mileage very very slightly but I would suggest it would be better to increase the speed slightly and also add extra reps or reduce recovery to your speedwork.


If you can run 40 you don't need too much advice! - just work on some speedwork and doing tempo and threshold style runs and perhaps some fartlek. A few shorter races should keep up the interest too

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:55

Hi Steve

What advice would you give on the amount of fluids to drink on the morning of the marathon.  Last year I drank too much and had to use the loos on the way round quite a lot?

Many Thanks


Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:57

Hi Steve,

 Another question about marathon time.

This will be my 5th London and 7th marathon. I have times ranging from 3:14 to a PB last year of 3:05. All these were off average weekly mileage of 35-40 MPW as I am extremely injury prone.

 This year I have been following the Furman First plan, using my 18:10 5k pb as a basis for the training times. According to the Furman tables this predicts a sub 3 marathon.

I've managed to keep to all the suggested training times for the track repeats, tempo and long runs + cross training - but I am still aware that my mileage is relatively low.

Thanks for your advice

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 13:59

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