Q&A with GB runner Susan Partridge

Q1: I am running my first marathon (London) in a couple of weeks and typically set off far too fast then begin to struggle around the 15/16 mile mark. Do you have any tricks/tips that keeps your pace fairly even through out the marathon or would you suggest I start off fast and just try and hold on - or a negative split what you would advise? Secondly, as ever, do you have any advice for those last 6.2 miles when everything hurts? Thanks in advance, Sarah (SRyder4)

A1: For a novice marathon runner, starting out hard and trying to hold on is unlikely to end well as you will have less experience of listening to your body and knowing when you’re pushing too hard. A marathon is a long way to hold on if you get it wrong. Even paced marathons are more likely you give you a positive experience and help you to reach your potential on the day. You will cross the line feeling much better and encouraged to try and go faster in your next race. Run at a pace that feels comfortable. Don’t panic at the start if it feels too slow or if you are slowed down by other runners, you will be able to pick up the pace later in the race if you feel good. It’s o.k. to start feeling fatigued but you shouldn’t feel overly stressed until about 20miles, certainly not before half way. 

The last 6.2 miles will be tough no matter what you do but if you are having a good run it can also feel amazing. I use visualisation to help spur me along. I picture myself running down the Mall; it’s such an iconic finish. Remind yourself that you will join a special group of people that have been able to do that. I also imagine my family and friends following my progress. Think of how proud they will be. Even although they are not physically with you, they will have thought of nothing but you for the last few hours. It doesn’t have to be realistic. I often visualise winning the race in a “dramatic turn of events”. Whatever, works for you. Also, splitting it into sections is a good idea. I don’t aim for the end, I aim for the next drinks station at 35km, then I aim for 24miles along the Embankment where I know I will get a boost from the crowds. I then aim for the turn at Big Ben and from there it’s pretty much the home straight.          

Hope that helps and good luck. Enjoy it!

Q2: Congrats on all of your recent success, Susan and good luck ahead of the Commonwealth games - I will be cheering you on. I am doing the London Marathon in two weeks and wondered if you have any advice about the course and what parts to prepare for? I did the Loch Ness marathon in September and the massive hills from 18-21 miles really made the last 6 miles difficult for me and wish I had of paced slower a bit more earlier in the race in order to prepare for those hills. All the best, John (John1986)

A2: London will be quite different to Loch Ness as it's pretty flat. So if you pace yourself well you shouldn't be caught out by unexpected difficulties. The first part of London is slightly downhill and the first mile is usually quite quick so bear this in mind. Don't get carried away and start far too fast but at the same time don't panic if you're slightly quick in your first couple of miles, it's normal to get a bit of help from the downhill. Your pace will probably even out after that. If you want to split the course into sections, I usually aim for Tower Bridge first. The crowd is brilliant at this point and it's a real thrill. You're also almost half way. I also mentally aim for the Embankment at about 24 miles ( I think). The crowds are great there too and they will help carry you the last few miles. I think you'll really enjoy the atmosphere in London. The support from the public and others is very special! Good luck.  

Q3: I was wondering whether elite athletes go for protein bars and such like for post race recovery or whether it's more low tech like Chocolate milk etc. All the best, Nayan

A3: I don’t personally use protein bars (unless I get them free in a goody bag). I’m happy enough with a banana or a cereal bar straight after the race and then a good meal as soon as I can. However, I think a lot of elite athletes do. If you like them and feel they help, then I would say go for it but I don't think they're absolutely essential. 

Q4: Elite times in running always amaze and impress me, you guys are head and shoulders above the winning club runners at local and regional level. I think I do well at times and then are completely humbled by younger faster women just in my county. Never mind you guys. Damn! So, my question is this (let's hope it isn't deleted). How do you feel on a personal level about being elite but knowing that you're never going to win any World Majors? Don't get me wrong, I would love to be as fast as you, but you are in 'that' limbo which must be so difficult on a personal level if you are competitive and elevated to perform. We have a culture of remembering only the people who win. (Well the media do, true runners don't). kittenkat 

A4: What? I’m never going to win a World Major???

I don’t really concentrate on what I am not going to be able to do. I spend more time thinking about what I think I can do. You’re absolutely right, realistically speaking, I will never win the London Marathon or be an Olympic Champion but I suppose elite athletes never really give up hope. Things could change in the future and Championship races are not always won by the best athletes on paper. To date, my proudest achievements are finishing 9th in the London Marathon and 10th in the World Championships. I still have ambitions for the future, but I will have no regrets about the time, effort and sacrifice that has gone into my running career over the years if this is all I achieve. It has absolutely been worth it. I may not be remembered like the winners but I have received a lot of recognition and more importantly I have enjoyed doing it. Things would have been very different if I was the best in the World but I like my life the way it is, so I have nothing to worry about. I think this is what attracts people to running. It can be done by all abilities and everyone sets their owns goals to feel that they have achieved something. 

Q5: Susan, I'd be interested to hear about how you break down your weekly training programme.  Mileage, paces, rest days etc. Do you work to pace zones, or heart rate monitoring. And how has your training changed over the years, what mistakes/amendments have you had to make?  Stevie G

A5: My mileage is relatively low for an elite marathon runner. I run up to 100/week during a build up but the average is probably more like 80+. This usually involves running every day, running twice 4-5/week, 1-2 sessions per week (e.g. 6 x 5mins, 8 x 3mins, 12 x 90sec hills ) and a tempo/threshold. What I call tempo runs are short and hard, 15 to 30mins. I would also do a medium long run mid-week (1:10 to 1:30) and a long run on Sunday (2hrs to 2:30). I don’t do marathon paced efforts and I don’t do very large volume sessions. I feel that the benefit of slightly lower volume is to be able to run harder without getting over tired. Mileage is good but if you’re a slave to the mileage it’s hard to get the quality.

My training hasn't changed much over the years. I have just stuck with it for a long time. I have gotten to know myself better, so I know when to push and when to hold back. I used to train quite a lot on my own but I know recognise the value of company and I think that joining up with the Leeds City AC group for runs and sessions has helped me improve.

I don’t use GPS watches and heart rate monitors. I just run how I feel. 

Q6: This year's London Marathon will be my first ever 26.2 mile experience and to put it simply, I am feeling the nerves. My question is how do stay focused on the morning of the race (I appreciate we all have different 'rituals') but I am scared about becoming too phased by the enormity of the event and I would love some advice on how to keep my mind set on the task that lies before me? Your time is hugely appreciated, Todd 

A6: Why are you nervous? I'm pretty sure you are amazing and will be brilliant! Seriously though, nerves are not a bad thing as long as you keep them under control.

The first thing you have to do is plan your race morning in advance. Make sure you know what you are doing. When are you getting out of bed? What will you have for breakfast? Make sure you're bag is packed. What train are your getting? Write it all down if you have to. Allow plenty of time for everything. That way there will be no last minute panics. I find it helps to have someone accompany me. That way if there is a blip or the nerves take over, there is someone with a cool head around to get things back on track.

Everyone is different, I like to chat to people because it takes my mind off the race but if you prefer to be alone, listening to music or reading a magazine might help. 

Finally, remind yourself that you have trained for this and you are ready. Think of a good session or race you did in the build up and focus on how that made you feel. 

Once the gun goes the nerves will disappear.

Enjoy it!

Q7: Do you have any advice on pre race nerves.  I am usually unable to sleep the night before and struggle to eat in the morning due to the nerves? Also whilst on the start line do you have any advice on how to mentally prepare for the race, or any phrases you use during the hard miles? Thanks a lot. Lilly

A7: I covered this a little in my answer to Todd's question. It's fairly normal not to sleep well the night before and I wouldn't let it worry you too much. Just try and make sure you get plenty of sleep the week before. One night won't ruin your race. If you're more relaxed about not sleeping you might sleep better anyway. It's probably best not to go to bed ridiculously early the night before. You probably won't sleep and you'll stress about it. Go to bed early-ish but at a time that you will feel tired. 

I've had the same problem with breakfast. I think I broke the world record before one marathon for the time to chew one piece of banana. Allow more time than normal for breakfast so that you don't feel rushed. Go for things that are easy to eat - I find a banana will go down when I'm struggling with more solid food. Different types of bread may be easier to eat than others. It might be an idea to think of this in advance, so you can practise. Don't try anything too different on the morning of the race. 

My mental preparation is usually visualisation (I mention it above too). I picture myself during the race feeling good and running well. Some things are realistic, others not so much; running across Tower Bridge with the crowds cheering or falling over and then going on to win the race in a sprint finish. Whatever makes you feel excited and positive.

Good luck! 

Q8: I'd be interested to know what training you do in the last weeks leading up to a marathon, and whether you bother carb loading etc.? 15West

A8: I’ve never properly done carbo loading for marathons. I just make sure I eat “a good amount” in the days leading up to the race but not so much that I feel bloated and enormous on the start line.

Basically, the taper depends on the training you are doing to start with. I think standard advice is 80%, 60% and 40% of your maximum volume for the last three weeks. My taper isn’t as long as some other runners but that’s probably because my mileage is not as high to start with. I just start to reduce the volume in the last 2 weeks but keep the frequency of runs the same (or similar). I still do sessions but I don’t do anything that I won’t recover from relatively quickly– no big sessions or very long runs. 

Hope that helps!

Q9: My question would be what does your diet look like on a typical day? Scott Pulley

A9: Breakfast: Cereal, fresh juice, coffee

Lunch: Sandwich and yoghurt or snack (cereal bar, chocolate, banana, etc..), coffee

Afternoon coffee and a snack if I’m hungry

Dinner: I’m not a great cook but I home cook my food. It’s nothing special, pasta, rice, potatoes, meat, fish, veg, omelette, etc. then yoghurt, fruit or some sort of pudding for a treat

I don’t over think my diet. I eat when I’m hungry and drink when I’m thirsty and I have pretty much what I want in moderation.

Thanks for your question!

Q10: Susan, when marathon training, typically how many runs of 18+ miles do you do in the  four months before the marathon? And how fast do you do your long runs compared with your marathon pace? Do you do any runs over 22 miles in training? Slowkoala

A10: I work to time rather than miles. I’d probably do 4/5 2hrs runs, 2-3 2:15 runs and 1-2 2:30 runs in the 4 months preceding the marathon but it depends on how often I race, etc. My training and the number of long runs is adapted to each build up and depends on the races/travel I have planned and what I feel I need to work on.

However, I would run 1:45 to 2hrs throughout the year not just in a marathon build up. 

I doubt I’d do much more than 22 miles in 2:30, which is the longest duration I would run. 

I run them as I feel as I don't do strict routes or use a GPS watch but they are probably typically 45secs to 1min30 slower than marathon pace. 

Q11: I want to know what your PhD is about! marrows

A11: Hi Marrows. I study hip replacements. It’s medical engineering. 

Q12: Hi Susan, I know the complete marathon training plan consists of many different disciplines, but what do you consider to be the most effective way to train for speed endurance and are there specific sessions you would particularly recommend;  all my race stats over every distance - including 20 miles - suggest a marathon time which is almost 10 minutes quicker than I have ever managed and I need to find a way to fulfil my potential. Thanks! Miss Kovich

A12: It’s difficult to offer advice without knowing what you are already doing but in my experience when people aren't happy with their marathon times they try to do more, which may just make you more tired without making you run faster. Mileage is the marathon runner’s safety net and for the most part it works pretty well but sometimes it’s worth having the confidence to reduce your training and increase the intensity. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another but, for me, the session I wouldn’t do without is my short tempo. I run hard for 15-30mins. These should feel like you’re really pushing yourself, too long and you’ll just end up running slowly. I mention some of the other sessions I do in my answer to Stevie G. 

I think that what ever training plan you chose to follow, the key is making sure that your quality sessions stay quality. It's o.k. to feel tired during a marathon build up but not so tired that every day is a slog. Don't be tempted to run everything slowly just to get big mileage. 

Also, I wouldn't beat yourself up too much – 10 minutes in the marathon is no big deal! It’s very hard to get exactly right. I'm sure a faster time is in you somewhere.  

Thanks everyone for your questions. 

I hope I didn't miss anyone and that you got the answers you were looking for. 

I'm no expert on training/nutrition etc but I'm happy to share my experience. I hope it helps.

Good luck! 


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