Ask The Experts: Marathon Week with Liz Yelling

Liz Yelling has been competing as a top international athlete for more than 15 years. In 2006, she won the Bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and she has twice represented Great Britain in the Olympics (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008). In 2007, she also won the British Half-Marathon and Marathon titles, and is a Lucozade Sport Running Ambassador.

Over the past few months, Liz has been one of our Lucozade Sport Super Six mentors, working with our Virgin London Marathon hopefuls as they look ahead to April 25.

Read the whole forum debate


Q. I am training for a sub-3:45 marathon, and normally run my long runs at about 9:00 or 9:30 pace. However, last week my plan suggested I do my long run at 8:30 pace.  Is this too fast? Kirsty G

A. Marathon pace for a 3:45 marathon is an 8:35-minute mile so yes, 8:30 is too fast. Aim to run your long runs slower than your marathon race pace and then add in some sections at race pace ( for example, three x 15 minute bursts or a 60-minute stretch) when you are three to four weeks out from race day.

Q. On runs of longer than three hours I tend to cramp up badly  - can I do anything to combat this?
Egilaustinsdad

A. Cramp can be a number of things. It can be nerve-related (so could be worth getting your back checked) or it could be de-hydration or fatigue. Try drinking an electrolyte drink in the days leading up to the marathon, and ensure you have a good hydration strategy in place for the race.

Q. Do you find you get all kinds of strange aches and pains turning up during taper?  Rowan Green

A. Yes, I get aches and pains during the taper period. If they are new niggles, then I know they are in my head, but if it is something I recognise then I tend to listen to it. Don't worry - they will all vanish once the gun goes on April 25!

Q. I am really panicking about falling behind - my schedule doesn't include running longer than an hour between now and the marathon. Won't I lose endurance and speed? tinka

A. Your taper sounds very sensible. Trust the training you have done - now's the time to relax and enjoy the ease down before race day. It's normal to feel like you will lose fitness, but the reality is far different. It takes two weeks of zero activity for you to start losing fitness - the taper is for maintaining your fitness, while giving your body a chance to recover from all the hard training you have done. Watch a movie and read some books - that's what I do!

Q. I've been really looking forward to my first marathon but now the last week is here I'm terrified! How much running should I do this week? grandadnohair

A. Maintain the frequency with which you run, especially if you're slightly older (resting tends to make you seize up). You should be doing about 40 per cent of your biggest week - a light session the Tuesday before (for example, 10 minutes easy, 10 minutes at marathon pace, 10 minutes easy) and reducing your runs as race day draws closer (no more than 10 - 30 minutes in the final four days). The day before the marathon, do a 10-minute easy jog. Good luck!

Q. I have a target time in mind, but if things go wrong and I start missing my pace goals, what's the best way to salvage a good race? Wobbled

A. It's best to have a window for pacing, so have a pace band for your target time, but also one for a time a little slower (a time that you would still be happy with) so you have some room for error. Also, if you do find yourself going off track, it is a good idea to have a back-up plan ready so you don't lose focus. If you start dropping off the pace, run how you feel and don't look at your splits again - just run the best you can on the day!

Q. I am preparing to run my first marathon - any advice on dealing with the nerves? Darran Jenkins

A. Nerves are normal. Try to embrace them  - they make you run well and are the petrol in your blood. Remind yourself why you are running the marathon and if someone told you you couldn't run, how would you feel? Think of five great sessions you have banked in the last three months, and remind yourself of how far you have come. It is all about positive thoughts, and reminding yourself it will be worth it. Deep breathing can also help calm those nerves too!

Q. Training hasn't quite gone to plan for me - how do you deal with the pressure of trying to run as quickly as possible for the distance, and how do you plan a race when you don't feel fully prepared? Frosty9

A. I like pressure but don't worry about other people, I just focus on what I want to achieve. If my race preparation has not gone to plan I run how I feel and don't look at my watch. Why not take the pressure off yourself, run without a watch and enjoy the race instead? Then your time at the end will be a nice surprise either way. Just make sure it feels comfortable until Mile 18-20, then run for home if you are feeling OK.

Q. I get really nervous and before a race starts, constantly feel like I need the toilet - even when the run starts, I still think I need to go. How can I combat this? BHOGG

A. Try a light jog before the start and see if that gets anything going, then pop into the loo. Alternatively, take an Imodium Instant 50 minutes before the start of the race. Drinking coffee early in the morning when you wake may also help evacuate the bowels.

Q. Do you have any tips on how much water to drink during the race? Sarah Masterson

A. Ideally you should have practised drinking on the run while you have been training. Only taking on water is not a good idea - I'd advise you take on some sports drink or carry some gels as well. Water will be out on the course - just don't take only water as you will not absorb it as well. I'd advise drinking three to four sips every 30 minutes.

Q. I always struggle to know how much fluid to take on board. I've been carrying a sports drink for all my training runs but always run out by Mile 18 or 19. Should I try to manage on water alone or delay drinking my sports drink until the later stages of the race? Amanda TW

A. I would take your sports drinks first and switch to water. You have been practising in your training, so you already have some idea of what you need which is great. The experts recommend you take on about 30 -60g of carbohydrate per hour, so you can take a gel  (30g) or the Lucozade Sport on course (20g per 330ml bottle). How much fluid you need will depend on how much you sweat.

Q. How soon after a race do you get back into training? Flat Footed

A. I take seven days rest after a marathon and advise the runners I coach to do the same. Then I do a week of very easy running, starting with 15 minutes and running a little bit more every other day. Only after a month of easy and steady running would I re-introduce some pace.

Q. I have just short of a month after an ultra to recover for a marathon. What would you recommend? Jonathan Mackintosh

A. I would enjoy a week of swimming (or at least five days of no running) and then do a week of very easy running (with no longer than two hours of easy running at the end of that week). You can then afford to add in some marathon- or half-marathon pace sessions to wake up your legs. Listen to your body - the first two weeks after an ultra are crucial for recovery. Eat and hydrate well as soon as you can and don't do anything too mad!


Stay tuned for stacks more advice online next week, including an interactive mile-by-mile guide, information about our free pacing groups and last-minute race-day checklists.