Ask the Experts: Marathon Training Q&A with Steve Smythe

Morning all, and happy Friday!

ASICS Target 26.2 coach Steve Smythe will be online between 1pm and 2pm today to answer queries about marathon (and half-marathon) training.

Steve has run more than 60 marathons, holds a PB of 2:29, and has also won a British marathon title in his age group. Whether you're targeting a spring marathon, half-marathon or just planning to make the leap, pop your questions right here on this thread.

We're opening the discussion now so Steve will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm and get through all your questions in time.

Now, that's enough from me - time to get posting!



  • Longest Training Runs:
    i. How should you build up to them?
    ii. How long should they be?
    iii. How many times should you run your longest run?
    iv. When should your last longest run be pre-event?
  • dprovandprovan ✭✭✭

    fuelling the body:

    1. How should I hydrate before long runs + 12 miles?

    2. What should I eat before (tend to do long runs on sundays 9.30am)?

  • Having previously ran marathon's my training was as expected running based. This year I am taking part in some cycle races, Etape Caledonia for example, but still want to run at least 1 marathon.

    What would you suggest would be the best cycle to run ratio to get me around a marathon?

     Would it be to cut back on some runs but keep a long run or to ditch the long runs and keep up the others?

  • Hi

     I am running my 2nd marathon but 1st London marathon in April and want to know what's best thing to do to improve my pace as I'd like to get a PB?

  • Hello Steve,

    at what point in your training programme should you fix what is going to be goal marathon pace?  My current HM PB (1:36:27 Dec 11) would suggest a marathon goal of 3:25 is do-able (current marathon PB is 3:39 Oct 11), but my LSRs are currently around 8:15-8:25 pace which suggests I might be capable of something closer to a 3:15 (and a London GFA).


  • What's the easiest way to maintain a pace during a long marathon? Should I even try?

    • I'm running my first marathon in october. (Preston Guild)
    • I'm 44, and returned to running March 2011 after 30 years!
    • I've been running in FiveFingers since the outset
    • I ran 10Km for the first time on Sunday in 1:15:00.
    • My pace was up and down like a fiddlers elbow according to SportTracker.
    • Should I just run how my body feels or aim to keep to a steady pace?

    I'm also contemplating doing the Blackpool Half on 11th March (7 weeks on Sunday) as my first 'proper' race to assess where I'm up to with my training and fitness.

    • Is that too much, too soon?
    • I'm currently doing 10-15 miles a week , running 3 times a week.

    Thanks for your advice in advance. looking forward to the Q&A session later...

  • Steve -Generally speaking for a marathon - What in your opinion should be the maximum distance for a tempo run in order to obtain the greatest benefit from it? Please don't say 26.2 miles!   Thank you.
  • Hi, This will be my first marathon, I've done a couple of halfs but never really got to grips with pace. How much slower should a long run compared to the pace you run the marathon? At the moment therebseems to be about 2 min per mile difference between my fastest and slowest runs.
    Should I be aiming for steady pace or go by perceived effort or heart rate?
  • I'm running a marathon a month in 2012 for Help for Heroes (2 half marathons a month in the first 6 months and then a marathon a month for the remaining 6 months).

    If you have any tips on my training structure I would really appreciate it.

    -At the moment I complete a half mara in 2hrs and my goal is to get it down to under 2 hrs. But should I be focusing on speed as opposed to endurance at the moment? I don't want to burn out too quickly as I have so many races to run but I want to be proud of my times and improve on them each time. 

    -I'm doing x2 training runs at 6 miles+ per week and one longer 10 mile + training run at the weekend- is this a good amount?Should I be doing more? 

     Thanks very much!

     Kate Dobinson

  • Hi Steve

    VLM training is going well for me so far.  I am planning to enter a half marathon in March.  My PB is 1.35 and I think this could come under attack this year.  Is there any harm in pushing for a PB in this race or should I run it trying to maintain marathon pace, for a bit of practice?

    Oh and the LSR pace in the RW 3.30 Schedule feels soooooo slow!  Would I benefit from increasing it?


  • Dan:
    1. I prefer going up a few miles each week with occasional

    easy week ie 15, 17, 19, race/15, 21

    2. most feel it should depend on your speed and your

    training miles but a run of 21-23 miles is long enough for

    most people but it should not be too fast.

    3. There isn't a rule and it's down to personal preference,

    opportunity and fitness but 3 runs of 21-23 would be what I

    would ideally aim for.

    4. Three to four weeks for the last longest run. some

    people like to do a half-marathon race three weeks before

    so the longest run goes 4 weeks before and the last 3 weeks

    should be tapering so I like to run around 15-18 2 wee4ks


  • dprovan
    Firstly important to be well hydrated evening before run and not just on day and then drink a reasonable amount pre run. I usually feel happier with half a litre or so but some like more and the weather, the speed you are running at and the time you will be out are all determining factors. It's a sweeping obvious non scientific statement but the key is to be sensible. Drink enough so you don't get thirsty or badly dehydrated but not that much that you have to keep stopping to go to the toilet or feel bloated. Drinking too much is also as dangerous as not drinking enough.

    re eating - I personally like to have had carbs the night before and then a small breakfast a hour or so before (some need 2 hours to digest) and then maybe some sort of energy drink or bar prerun. On longer runs I would top energy levels up with gels or blocks

  • Rod W
    Long bike rides give you good endurance but it's not specific enough to be good enough training for the marathon alone. If you are to exercise 6 times a week, I would say you need 4 runs (1 long) and 2 bike rides but it would be ideal days on easier shorter runs if you double up and do extra bike rides.
  • Keeley
    I think the best thing is to work out what is the average pace per mile of your first marathon. if, for example it's 9:30 a mile and you think 9:00 a mile is possible for your marathon target, then once a week try and cover some of your runs at 9:00 pace. You can still do the bulk of your long runs at 10:00 pace but every few weeks try running some of the second half of your run at 9:00 pace. Also do some speedwork or tempo running where you aim for a pace a minute a mile faster than goal pace and also do some races - ie aim for a 10k race a minute a mile faster and a half marathon 30 seconds a mile faster than goal marathon pace.the faster you can do the shorter runs, your speed improves and you have more time in hand and feel more relaxed when you run at marathon pace.
  • FF
    negative of me to point this out but I think 90% of runners don't reach their goal targets based on half-marathon and training pace times either due to aiming too high or poor pacing on day or just fatigue in last 10 miles. Sub 3:30 seems a formality but if you can run a half-marathon in 1:33 in March then I would start aiming for a target of3:20-3:25. A time of 3:15 is not really feasible with a 1:36 half PB and you would need to get that down to sub 1:30 to have a realistic chance of that. The current pace of your training runs suggests you have either improved a lot since last year or you are doing them too quickly. 
  • Kittenkat
    Gym training and specifically core strength can undoubtedly help, especially if you have weaknesses in that area. In the big scheme of marathoning, I don't think it's the most important thing (ie compared to endurance, consistency of training, pacing, hydration etc) but it could be the final part of the jigsaw and the part that will stop you getting injured.

    To me the most important thing to have that edge is speed. 26 miles is a long way and the long run is the most important session but how fast you ultimately run in the marathon is determined by your speed. Paula Radcliffe has run the marathon significantly faster than any other woman partially because she trained harder but also because she has the top 10k speed of any serious marathoner. ie she wouldn't have run  2:15 had she not been capable of running 30 minutes for 10k.
    Likewise the men who run 2:03-2:05 for the marathon are all capable of running well inside 28 for 10k.
    This doesn't mean that all runners who run inside 28 for 10k can run 2:03 but for the average person two runners who do the same training and length of long runs, the one who will feel most comfortable and almost certainly run the quicker marathon is the one who has the most speed. so important some running every week is dedicated to running quicker than marathon pace.

  • Hi im running my first marathon this year usually do 10k's and half's! whats the best thing to eat before? and should i be keeping a drink with me all the way i usually do not bother! Ive also seem to of plat-toed at the same speed how can i increase it ive tried to do intervals but it never seems to work outside i just end up at my comfy pace. and how much should i be running a week i try to go every day between 6 -10 miles and a long one on a weekend? is it better to mix it up with swimming and other cardio? x
  • ChopperUK
    good luck in October - you have plenty of time to build up mileage, endurance and knowledge. In the early months when you aren't running too far, running how you feel may be ok but in races and key long runs, even pace is essential to maximise efficiency and endurance.
    And you need to do it during the run and not analyse it afterwards. Maybe Blackpool half is a little early unless you go in with little expectation. I would have said you may be better waiting until May time for a half. However, if you feel your pace is gradually picking up, and 2 months on you should be fitter, faster and stronger then you should be fine.
  • Martenkay
    I like to run a 20 at close to marathon pace a month to six weeks before but I wouldn't recommend this to inexperienced runners and I like to do it in a race situation. However, I think it is harmful to race it as a 20 mile race - ie run as fast as you can, which in theory should be quite a bit quicker than marathon pace.

    I think a better ploy is to run 10 miles easy and relaxed and then run the second half (or a section of it) at marathon pace. I also like to run (or recommend) a couple of half-marathons in the build faster than marathon pace and running in a race situation is always more rewarding.

    Personally, I would never attempt a solo tempo run of more than 15 miles as it would take too much out of me and i struggle to run a decent speed without the stimulus of competition.

  • Susiebuzz
    Pacing is essential for maximising performance and investing in equipment such as Garmin is essential if you are struggling.
    A minute a mile slower than goal marathon pace is fine for the majority of your long runs and so if you are doing some running at 10k pace then a minute a mile faster is ok too so the two minute differential isn't a problem. Without the likes of Garmin, then heart rate does give a good guideline but that can vary on other factors and perceived effort is ok but again isn't foolproof, especially if you are inexperienced.
    Do some runs at marathon pace though and try and get some races in to increase your knowledge about your paces and ability.
  • Kate D
    Good luck with it. I suppose if you are racing every few weeks you don't need too many other long runs but I would suggest a slow 20 miler once a month for the first 6 months which could become a faster 15 once you are into the marathon phase. Once a week focus on your speed and try and run nearer 8 minutes a mile for either three mile tempo runs or mile reps. The half marathon races should be training in themselves but I personally would suggest only racing flat out once a month and using the other one as training.
  • cheers Steve. Thanks for the encouragement. There's a lot of info on this website and out on the www to get through, so as you say, hopefully an october race will give me plenty of time to prepare (mentally and physically)!

    So have you any suggestions on how to keep an even pace during a run? Short of looking at my phone's 'pace' indicator every few minutes? Or is that what I'm meant to do?

  • Tempo Tom
    yes definitely go for a HM PB. It will increase confidence and enable you to see what you are capable of for the full distance.
    Yes increase your training paces - it looks like you might be capable of much quicker than 3:30 so gradually up the pace by 30 seconds a mile.
  • Hi, I'm running my first marathon in the middle of April. My aim is to just get around. At the moment the most I have run is 10 miles. Given the time I have left in which to train, do you have any advice on where I take my training from here? I am currently running three times a week with strengthening exercises twice a week. Thank you.
  • Hi Steve,

    what are your thoughts regarding alcohol while in training? i have my first marathon in april (Paris) then a half ironman later in the year and i'm training about 12 hours a week a present. but i love my wine. i've cut down to around 2 bottles a week... is this too much? i try and make sure i don't drink the day before a long training run and the rest of my diet and nutrition is very healthy



  • Thanks Steve, great advice.


  • Lucy H
    In most marathons, there are drinks on course so would not suggest carrying anything as that adds to the fatigue.
    Re eating beforehand - important to test during long runs and other short races but energy bars or jelly beans work for most people.
    re intervals or tempo runs - important to persevere as it suddenly gets easier. Doing with someone else helps as does timing and recording it as it acts as an incentive if you know you are going to compare.

    a few shorter races such as parkruns - see could also help.

    You seem to be doing a lot of runs per week for your first marathon but that's good as long as you don't get injured. I would try and vary it more with one longer midweek run and shorter faster ones, a hill session and maybe a day off of running where you swim or bike

  • Chopperuk - yes for now every 4-5 mins glance at your pacing aid but as you get more experienced that should lessen.
  • Preets

    you look to be in an ideal position now - just grdaually increase the long run every few weeks until you reach 20 miles by late March (ie 3-4 weeks before) - enter a few races and gradually up the speed on some of your shorter runs every week. Good luck

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