Practicalities of marathon training by Philip Ramsden

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“Bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible.” (Julius Caesar, Shakepseare)

Following on from Ian Taylor’s excellent introduction to tackling your first marathon or two (, I’d like to add my own observations and experiences from undergoing the experience he described.

How long will it take to run?

A reasonable rule of thumb in estimating the time it will take to run double any given distance is to multiply the time for that by 2 ¼. So in my case, I’d expect to do a 10k in around 56”, giving rise to:

20k – 2 hours 6 minutes
Add 5% since a half marathon is 21k – 2h 12m (in practice, I’d do around 2h 9m)
42k – marathon – 4h 57m (Brathay took me 5h 17m, but it’s a tougher than average course!)

But it gives you an idea of how long you’ll be out there – and how long your training runs are going to take. That’s an advantage quicker runners have – not only do they finish races sooner, they can cover the necessary training distances sooner too. What is a 3 hour training run for me is a 2 hour one for someone else. You need to factor this in if you are considering a marathon. The most I ran for in a week was 8 hours (67k over 4 runs, including nearly 4 hours on a 20 mile/32k route).

Fitting it in

You don’t necessarily have to add this essential running time/distance on top of what you already do. There were three ways I included current runs into it:

  • Running to Harriers on a Tuesday – that added another 2.5k each way to whatever I did at club. It didn’t matter that I had a short rest between getting there and the session starting. Also, I could drop down a group if I thought the extra distance was going to affect my pace unduly (i.e. I wouldn’t be able to keep up!). Also, if I knew the session was going to pass near home on the way back, I could bale out sooner and make the overall distance not quite so far, if that matched my training requirement. Or run back to the clubhouse and then home.
  • Running to parkrun – I did this a few times – getting to Woodhouse Moor and back, plus doing the parkrun, became a 14 mile route. I’d be obliged to do the parkrun steadily, but this was a time for distance, not PBs. Bramley parkrun is 5k running there; with the parkrun and coming home, that’s 15k, plus I could add a circuit of Bramley (one lap of the Bramley 10k route) takes it to 20k, close to a half marathon.
  • Races – it was surprisingly easy to find races that fitted in with my long runs for the week, especially half marathons and 10 mile ones, so I included them in my training schedule. Again, I was not going to belt round, but treat it as a training run rather than a race, but it’s a better atmosphere for going a long way.

How to run in training

You’ll get plenty of advice on this, but what worked for me was basing it on ‘80/20 running’ by Matt Fitzgerald. In short, 80% of a run, or 80% of a week’s running, should be at training pace, and my training pace was based on heart zones – other methods of assessing running intensity are available. I did most of my running (including races) at a ‘moderate aerobic’ zone (130-136 bpm for me). If you use Strava, that’s Zone 2 (Moderate).

The other 20% allows time for hill reps, speedwork, tempo runs etc – at higher intensity.

There is a school of thought that running slowly only trains you to run slow. I didn’t find that, not by limiting it to around 80% of the time. But I did discover that my strength and stamina improved enormously and that when I once considered a ten mile run to be the domain of the elite runner, it became a medium training run. In time!

One other thought – I know I’ve already said that for us runners at the slower end of the spectrum, training is a time consuming affair. But if you can also fit in at least one cross training session a week, it is of considerable benefit. Fortunately, I was already going to a Pilates class (I also chucked in a four week Introduction to Lindy Hop course!). Club captain Alan Squire has presented a case for incorporating it into a housework (lunges while vacuuming sort of thing), but I think he had the wrong audience at the time…

Running buddies and routes

This depends on your personality, but I was quite happy running by myself, indeed, I generally preferred it. It meant I could stop when I liked, change the route if I wanted, or not even go at all if I didn’t feel like it.

All of which apply if you have a running buddy or two, because they will accommodate you – except that last point, you are not going to back out just because you don’t feel like it today if someone is relying on you to turn up. They will also encourage you, often carry your supplies, help you pass the time by distracting you with conversation (from time to time, not incessantly!) and perhaps offer advice on distance running.

So all of those applied to the help given my running buddy, Sarah P. I had a 20 mile training run which I planned to do during Canal Canter marathon – I would have cheerfully stopped at the 20 mile mark (where the cakes and eventual finish were), but Sarah encouraged me to do the last six; lo and behold I finished my first marathon, and my confidence soared.

Do remember it’s your training, you set the rules (as in “I am running at this heart rate”) – but choose buddies who are quicker than you (they can wait for you, not good the other way round!), are capable of the distance (presumably because they have done a marathon recently, or at least the distance of the training run).

Routes engender two schools of thought – I know Ian was fond of getting dropped off miles from home, then having to run back. I am sure he had contingency plans (a phone to call for a lift, bus fare etc), but it’s a good mentality since you have to get back home, you might as well run it.

Conversely, I preferred to use mapmyrun to calculate routes I likened to ‘petals of a flower’. Starting from home, I constructed routes that went out so far, and headed back another way but not quite as far back as home, say within a mile, then turned off to head out again, then back in the direction of home, but then away again in a different direction. A North, East, South and West variant of this could easily cover 20 miles.

The advantage of this is that of something went wrong, I wasn’t usually too far from home. The downside is that if I got too close, it might be tempting, to call it a day too soon.

Either way, I planned routes that included supermarkets and cafes, so that if a comfort break was needed, there would be a place of refuge.

In summary

Marathon training requires a degree of obsession, because of the time it takes. That time has to come from other areas of your life, and that option is not always available to all at any given time. Which is why I do not intend to use the capacity I have built to run another marathon; I was obliged to neglect other things, and need to redress them. I’m glad I did it, the race itself is a challenge, but it’s the training that takes over, for a while.

That said, I intend to keep doing the odd long run, at heart rate, because it benefits my running in general. If you would like to come with me (or rather, me to come with you if you decide to give a marathon a go), bear in mind my pace is relatively slow, but I hope I can help. I’ll also lend you the 80/20 book!

*Main image: Philip Ramsden finishing the Windermere Marathon on 21st May 2017

By |June 15th, 2017|