Marathon Q+A: Nick Anderson

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Q. I’ve recently started marathon training but am finding the long runs both daunting and boring. I do most of my training on my own - how can I stay motivated and focused? Jimmy F
A. Long runs can be really boring for some people. There are lots of ways to make it easier, but whatever happens, you must do them! Try some of the following techniques to help you stay motivated:

  • Listen to music.
  • Run with other people – friends, or club runners. Many clubs do long runs at the weekend and they can be good fun socially.
  • Vary your route - include interesting locations or beautiful scenery.
  • Vary the terrain to include countryside, paths and trails as well as the road.
  • Enter races, but run them as long runs or as part of your long run. As long as you run at training pace, it’ll teach you to run in a race environment, practice taking drinks and getting used to standing on a start line.

Q. I try to do speed work, but I can’t retain my speed over a full mile.  How can I fix this? Are the speed sessions important, or can they be replaced with other exercise? Russell Silsbury-Basey
A. As far as speedwork goes, measure your sessions in terms of effort. Don’t worry if you’re not hitting target times. You’ve got plenty of time and should start hitting the times as you get fitter.

Q. I’m doing the Paris Marathon - it'll be my second marathon and my target time is 4:30-4:40. How can I - or indeed should I - work marathon-pace into my long run? I’m running long and slow but feel I should be doing some of my long run at my target pace. Jo Gray 3
A. Don’t get too hooked on how many miles you do at the weekend. You should include some marathon pace in the last ten weeks though. Make sure, too, that your long runs aren't longer than three (or three and a quarter) hours. If they are, you’ll get too tired and start to see negative returns. Run the last 45 minutes to an hour of your long runs at marathon pace for thelast ten weeks of your training. Don’t worry if you don’t hit that pace though. There could be outside factors slowing you down – the weather, for example. Just try to find a firm and flat route for the marathon-pace section, and go for it!

Q. I'm trying to throw marathon pace into a few of my runs. I don’t have a GPS but I know I’m going way too fast. How can I achieve constant marathon pace in training?  Steve Hilliard
A. You could be much fitter than you think, and your marathon pace might need reviewing. However, there’s a chance that you’re pushing too hard - marathon pace needs to be maintained for 26.2 miles. Could you have maintained your pace this week for 26 miles or close to this? Without a GPS, you need to learn to feel the pace from your effort. Marathon pace, if you’re fit, should be easier than threshold but a touch quicker than your easy runs. Your effort should be around 7.5/10.

Q. Most of the tips I've read recommend marathon pace + 10-20% for most sessions. A lot of my mileage is done straight out of bed in the morning as my commute to work. I run according to how my body feels, and these sessions tend to be more like marathon pace + 25-35%. Are these runs wasted mileage? I don’t want to incur extra muscle damage and delay my recovery for very little aerobic benefit. MuppetLegs
A. They’re not wasted miles – this is real life, and you have to run when it’s convenient. The key is to make sure that you run sessions at marathon pace at 7-8/10 effort or 75% maximum heart rate. Your easy and long training runs can be much slower – they’re often just time on your feet. Don’t worry too much about pace – what is key, is the effort you put in. Pick some races at weekends, relax, make sure you’ve got enough breakfast inside you, then go for marathon pace!

Q. Due to work commitments I sometimes don't have time to run during the day. What's the best way to work round this – should I increase the length of my runs on other days, or is it OK just to swap rest sessions around? Douey
A
. You have to let life go on, and fit training in where you can. Don’t worry if you miss days, but do try to swap your sessions around or make a new plan. Follow these basic rules though: don’t do a hard session the day after a long run;
don’t do sessions two days in a row; if you’re tired, do a recovery run instead (or take the day off). The key sessions are your long run, threshold work and marathon-pace runs. If you only did these three runs, your week would still be a success.

Q. My five-mile race league has four races, the first three of which are on consecutive Wednesdays just before the FLM. Should I race them? I’m worried that even if I do them as training runs, I’ll get caught up and race them instead… Tonythetiger
A. It can be good to race a few five-milers or 10Ks during your marathon build-up, to either get a faster workout or make training interesting. I would run the last one (two or three weeks before the big day) hard to sharpen you up. The others could be good training prep and could be run as below:
  • 10 - 15 mins easy, five miles at threshold pace, 10-15 mins easy
  • Five miles easy, then five miles at threshold pace (a clever way to run a mid-week longer run and specific to marathon preparation)
  • As part of your long run - five miles easy, five miles steady, then five miles at marathon pace

As far as getting 'caught up' in the racing goes, just control that testosterone! Let the others go, run with a smile and don’t feel you have to prove yourself to anybody. Train for yourself.

Q. I’m following the sub-3:45 schedule and have just completed Week One. Trouble is, I'm targeting the Edinburgh Marathon (May 31) so this leaves me with 20 weeks to fill, rather than 16. How should I extend the schedule – should I repeat early weeks, or later weeks, or fill in the gaps with extra sessions? Would more long runs be better, or speedwork? And when should I schedule my build-up races? John Lowe 3
A. I think it’s best to race a PB-effort half-marathon six weeks from race day, and a 10K two or three weeks from race day. As far as the extra weeks go, if it’s going well, do take some recovery weeks. These should include easy runs and a shorter long run. Your body will be able to recover and get ready for the next challenge, which it can’t do during a hard week. Two or three weeks of harder training should always be followed by an easier week, and then you’ll be ready to start the next four weeks of the training cycle.

Q.
In every marathon I've done, I’ve found it very difficult to keep the pace up after 20 miles. In my last marathon, I was running consistent 6:40-minute miles, until mile 20 when it dropped to 7:00- then 7:15-minute miles. I missed out on sub-3 by 5 seconds. How can I sort this out? Podro
A. There are a few things you need to consider:

  • Your nutrition before and during the race. Take on plenty of carbohydrate before the race (and the week before) and staying hydrated during the race. Try out energy gels on our long runs and see if they’d help you on race day.
  • Do you include marathon-pace sections in your long runs as race-day draws nearer?
  • Are you doing too many long runs or hard weeks? This will make you carry a low level of fatigue into the race that’ll show itself in the last miles.
  • Are you going too fast early in the race? This will lead to glycogen depletion and tiredness.
  • Are you being realistic with your target time, or are you pushing yourself too hard?
  • Threshold runs and Kenyan hillwork (continuous hills at threshold) will build your endurance and strength ready for the second half of the race.

Q. I've put together my own training schedule, and intend to run 27 miles four weeks prior to the race. Is this OK to do? Russell Gardham
A. No, definitely not- it’ll cause a negative return. I don’t know what your target pace is, but your long runs shouldn’t take more than three hours. If you’re a quicker runner, then I’d suggest that you run no more than 20-22 miles, including marathon-pace sections.

Q. I have the same problem in all my runs - after warming up, my knees and ankles seem to lock up, and can hurt so much that I to stop. When I carry on, it hurts for another mile, but then it’s plain sailing after that! Is this a physical or psychological issue? Russell Silsbury-Basey
A. Consult a good physio for an MOT, and then get your gait analysed at a local running shop. The physio should check ankle mobility and strength around the pain site. You should keep running, but only if the pain always goes. Never run through pain that gets worse.

Q. I’m training for my fifth marathon, but I’ve just started road cycling too. I want to continue with a long bike ride each week as cross-training. Do you think there is a maximum amount of cycling that can be safely incorporated into marathon training? Minni
A. Cycling is fine, but I would keep it low intensity. Just spin those legs out - no long epic rides! I would suggest that you maybe ride for up to two hours with a relaxed heart rate and easy gears - you could use this session in place of a recovery run.