Webchat with coach Steve Smythe

A date for your diary!

This Friday at 1pm (Jan 18) running coach Steve Smythe will be joining us for a live webchat here on the RW forum to discuss marathon training - in particular what you should be doing in January to make sure you're marathon fit for the spring.

Steve is the author of our marathon schedules here on RW and is currently coaching two of our Target 26.2-ers - Alex and Sarah - to success in our marathon project, ASICS Target 26.2. He has run more than 60 marathons himself with a PB of 2:29, and as a coach has helped marathon runners to British senior international level, British age group records and London Marathon age group wins.

Have you got a training question for Steve? Post your questions below.



  • why go for the asics schedules when his own are so much betterimage

  • The 44 shown in the magazine are all white, possibly middle class and fairly evenly split between male and female. No problems with that, but not one is wearing glasses. Now that's interesting.image

  • As a first-time marathon runner I would be grateful of any information on training  (only done 10k's so far). 

  • I am wearing glasses. That would explain why I haven't been selected!

    More seriously, I have a question regarding the Long Slow Run. In the past, my longest one (just the one) had been about 2 hours 50 but I have been reading that there is no real benefit to go over 2:30

    My reason for this long run is that I am going to be on the road for nearly 3 hours (less if possible) so I thought it would be useful to test the body over that period of time (but maybe it isn't).

    Thanks. I will try to be there on Friday.

  • Hi,

    I love reading magazines such as Runner's World, but get confused as to what bit of training is most important. I currently run 6 days a week, alternating between hard and easy. My hard include a long run, a Tempo run and interval work. However, I am endlessly told that hill work is good, to run on an empty stomach...etc and simply do not have time for all the stuff that I read about.

    Howdo I gauge what to do AND enjoy reading running info?

  • OK- second question; I am about 4kg heavier than I want to be. Apparently to lose weight I should consume around 1250 kcal. I run 7-8 Miles on average a day-so use up at least 700...making my limit around 2000...I eat around 1400, not junk -but do not lose weight. What else should I monitor?

    I am hypothyroid but take thyroxine and the dose is regularly checked.


  • Hi Steve

    I started running in Sept 2012 to use it to cross train but & I love it to the point it has unexpectedly took over my life and has now become my priority hobby!image. I run alone and with a running club ( I have just joined). I am currently training for my first Half Marathon in May and looking to aim at Marathon training also in the near future. I am female 5ft 1inch and since starting running 4months ago have lost 1 stone going from 9st 7lbs to 8st 7lbs which as a woman I am happy about but I more took this up to keep up with my fitness and I do feel the fittest I have ever been when on form!.Recently however I seem to have come down with colds, virus, chest infections, allergy & spots one after the other it could  be the time of year but I am wondering?. A man at my running club suggested my diet is not compensating for the amount of  training I do hence the weight loss and now my immune system is struggeling too?.I run 4 times a week following a half marathon programme ( 2 weeks in to it but I was doing 4-6 miles 3 or 4 times a week before) & I cross train with aeorobic kickboxing twice a week. I tend just to eat three meals a day sometimes with the odd snack. I have recently started taking a multivitamin & a vitamin C to help and I was wondering if you had any dietary advice, food suggestions/ amounts I should be eating whilst on this plan and what will help with immunity as illness obviously sets the running back.

    Thanks, Furny

    P.s. As a second job I also work night shifts twice a week which mean I sleep in the day the next day which I'm sure doesn't help but it doesn't feel a struggle!.


  • HI Steve, I need help!

    I've been running 8 years and my PB in the mara is 2.47.44 at Amsterdam in 2011 after many close calls. I did this following the Pfitzinger & Douglas training strategy & plans. I subsequently got under 1.23 in half mara 38mins at 10k in March & April respectively last year so thought I was a stick on to go under 3hr at London but in that race faded in the last few miles and came in at 3hr 13secs. Since then things have taken a real downturn and times have gone up and up culminating in a disaster at Cologne mara in Oct where I hit the wall at mile 18 and had a death march the last 8 finishing in 3hr 15min

    I just need to know where to go from here as feel my pace has suddenly gone and thought I'd found the 'magic' formula with P&D - I'm 45 years old and ran 2500 miles, and 3 marathons in 2012 - think I've maybe overdone the mileage or do you think there's any other reason for my demise?


    Neil, Edinburgh.

  • Hi Steve,

    I'll be 55 when I run the London Marathon in April & have been running now for about 5 years (prior to that I played squash & football). I run a couple of half marathons each year & my time has steadily gone up over the years from around 1:50 to 1:40. Hoping to better that 1:40PB in March. My last 10k, in 2012, was a PB of 43:50 (so you can see I'm just a 'steady' runner).

    In 2009 I ran the marathon but got terrible calf cramps during the last 6 miles, & I couldn't shake it off. It stopped me doing anything but a very slow jog. So my time was 4:05, which I was disappointed with. I felt strong when I finished & I reckon sub 4 was easily within my capabilities had cramp not set in.

    I would love to achieve a sub 3:30 this time but do you think if I go for that I might actually fade & fail to even get a sub 4 - a disaster for me!? Is 3:45 more realistic?

    I only manage to run 3 or max 4 times a week (work, plus worries about old injuries!), so I'm loosely following the FIRST plan of a tempo run, an interval session, plus a long weekend run always at around 8:15mpm pace (14 miles OK last week, 15 miles due on Sunday). I'm trying to fit in cross training/weights/stability/flexibility on non-run days & lose the 4 or 5 lbs I'm overweight by.

    2 key questions: 1. How do I avoid calf cramp again? (2009 was boiling hot, I drank loads of lucozade but should I take salt?). 2. I'm panicking now; seeing other weekly run mileages quoted. I probably don't run more than 30-35 miles a week. Am I bound to fail on that? (I'm worried ITB/calf injuries might resurface if I up the mileage).

    Sorry, there is quite a lot of detail in there but I would really appreciate your advice, as I want to complete this marathon knowing I've done my absolute best.



  • Incidentally, is it obvious how to join the webchat tomorrow? I'm fairly new to Runners World site & haven't done a live webchat before..........

  • Hi Steve,

    I'm training for the VLM which will be my first one. Been running for almost 2 years and have PB of 44m 40s for 10k and 1h 13m for 10m (not yet done HM race). I'm a 41 yo female. Three questions for you:

    1. I am following a schedule but was already running 14-16 miles on my LSR before starting so I am a bit ahead of schedule for my LSRs. I did 20m last week. What should I do now for my LSRs -do 20/22 every other week and shorter in between? Is there any merit in doing more than 22 or as a beginner will I burn out (think I know the answer!)

    2. In terms of deciding my marathon pace, McMillan suggests 7m55s based on my other times. Should I err on the conservative side for this first marathon and start with 8m 15 or 8m30? (I did my 20m at 8m 24 pace and felt ok but I know I should have trained slower). Am doing HM in feb so I guess this will help decide.

    3. Was thinking of doing 20m race 4 weeks before marathon. Should I race this or use it as training run?

    Many thanks
  • Food is my biggest problem, knowing what to eat each day, each week, each month, whilst training for the London Marathon in April,so any help would be fantastic Steve.

                                     Yours In Sport


  • Hi Steve,

    I'm 58, been running 5 yrs with Pb's 5k:19.35, 10k:40.25, half:1.35, marathon 4.17. My VO2max and lung capacity have always been 'top of the scale' when tested, yet I'm unable to attain the half marathon time x2 +10% when running marathons. I weigh 65 kgs. This time for VLM I've taken advice to work more in the gym on strength and power for my legs - squats, lunges, kettle bells etc plus hip flexor exercises. I'm still doing the necessary SLR's but have cut back about 50% on hill work and speed work on the basis that the gym prog (2x1hr weekly) will compensate whilst enabling strength improvement with less pounding on the joints. Any thoughts on this kind of approach?
  • Hello there

    Question about long runs and pace. I'm targeting a sub 3:15 marathon this year at VLM. My previous time being 3:17. I keep reading long runs should be slow....around a minute slower than race pace. In my last training for 2010 marathon , I went this pace or maybe slower for majority of run, but then tried to run at race pace for the last 4 miles of a long run. Is this method ok? Or should I be trying to run nearer to race pace the whole way. I need to be that little bit faster to get the time I want. And also.....weights? I do one a week session on weights. 15 or so reps of various exercises.....bench press, squats, lunges, dead lifts, plyometrics, Is a session like this ok to continue with during the 16 week build up.....thank you or your help
  • Hi Mike

    The webchat is just the same as the forum - Steve will come online at 1pm and answer your questions in this thread.

    So keep an eye on this forum thread at 1pm - the thread will obviously stay up too.

    Katie RW

  • Brian Banton - we will have a webchat with ASICS Pro Team nutritionist Ruth McKean in a few weeks, who'll be able to give you advice on nutrition during marathon training.

    We will send you a message to let you know when this webchat takes place.

    Katie RW

  • Hi Steve, I was lucky enough to be one of the Asics Bootcampers in November.  Having never done a marathon before it was news to me that I should be doing long slow runs - however I'm still not sure that I understand why they're beneficial.

    Also, what should I be aiming to take with me (energy and fluid wise) on 12+ mile runs?

    Thanks!! Helen.

  • UFO I have put my glasses on to answer the questions.

  • Yorkshire Tea - there are masses of information of marathon training on the website and hopefully some of the other answers will be useful. The basics are do lots of long run, get incredibly fit and on race day, stay well hydrated and pace it right!

  • Welcome to today's marathon webchat - a  big thank you to coach Steve Smythe for joining us today to answer your training questions.

    Over to you, Steve...

    Katie RW


  • Denis re your long run query

    I disagree that there is little benefit of going over 2:30. It may be a case of diminishing returns, but I have found most of my best marathons have been achieved when I have done long slow runs of three hours and over. You have to be careful not to run them too fast or recovery is difficult and you potentially do lose more than you gain as training is difficult for the following week. But long slow runs built up gradually together with faster shorter runs should benefit you and best to do more than one very long one in the build up. I aim for 3 of 21-23 and maybe 2 or 3 others 20s

  • Ghost of Kitten Kat

    Presume you mean 3:25. I think non structure can work for distances up to half marathon but you do need to tick certain boxes for marathons to prepare properly.

    If you don’t like to follow a day by day schedule then try and do certain sessions during the week as to when you feel fit. Ie do at least one long slow run of two hours or more but do it when you want and one sustained run with at least half a hour of marathon pace or faster and one structured speed session but you can decide on each run about 15 minutes into each session which one to doand as long as you don’t run hard two days running and do the basics, it doesn’t matter if you do your unstructured sessions on the other days and which day you do it.

  • Seems several people in this thread are asking similar questions about the benefits of the long slow run. I'm very interested in that as my schedule doesn't currently allow for a LSR as well as a long run 15-30 seconds slower that target marathon pace (FIRST plan)?

  • Is it sensible to be restricting food intake 18 weeks out from a marathon to shift a couple of kilos (if you're at what would be a "reasonably fit" weight in my life history),or should I forget about that and focus on having the energy to get the training load done.  If it's ok early in a training schedule, at what point would it be silly?

    Second quick question if I may - don't have a great deal of spare time with work and a young child, and enjoy cycling as well.  Which runs in a marathon training schedule would be least detrimental to drop in favour of a pedal on the pushbike, or to put it another way, which should be absolutely kept?

    Thanks for your advice!

  • Nicky Vinall

    Your three basic hard sessions are excellent but maybe once in 3 weeks you can do a hill session instead of a tempo session or interval session. They are good for a change and building leg strength. Increase the percentage of them if the race you are targetting has hills, but even if preparing for a flat marathon, hills have their uses

    re diet

    I’m not a dietician and could do with losing a few pounds myself but basically and obviously to lose weight you need to up calories burnt or reduce calories consumed! I generally find the faster I run, the more calories I burn so maybe up the percentage of faster running but be sensible with any changes in food consumption. You need to be sensible and have to be fuelled well for the important sessions.

  • Furny 78

    Good that you are feeling fitter but you do need to make sure you stay healthy and don’t lose too much weight too fast. The multi vitamins may help and you should make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and probably need to up your healthy snacks between the main meals. It’s probably worth visiting your GP to give you a check over and just make sure there is no underlying problem whic isn't just connected to the running

  • Neil

    It’s possible you have just overdone the miles. The last time I trained very high mileage a few years ago I picked up a virus and went down a level and it took me six months to get vaguely back to where I was before. I would suggest sticking to just one marathon a year in future and have a break from the mileage and focus on getting your speed back with increased shorter pace work and put some strides into some longer runs. Give your body a rest from the miles and  aim for a 10km time. Marathons are great but they take a lot of you. I used to do up to 4 or 5 but now can only cope with one a year.


  • Mike

    as you haven’t broken four, it would be safer to aim for 3:45 rather than 3:30 next time. Your half marathon time isn’t really fast enough to make 3:30 a definite and would mean you would be under pressure by halfway.

    Cramps will be worse in hot weather and you seem to be trying out a lot of the sensible solutions. It might be worth etting massage  or seeing a physio/osteo/chiro in the build up just to ensure there is no underlying problem there. Stretching, hydrating well with some electrolytes. Salt in itself is probably not necessary.

    re mileage totals, you can certainly run marathons off 35 miles a week but it gives you more chance of success if you can up that slightly - do it gradually though - first to 40 and then to 45.


  • Hi Steve. I'm due to do 11 miles LSR for VLM training this weekend. I'm behind due to a knee injury so I really don't want to skip another long one. Some of my more hardy friends are saying "just get out there" but I'm really worried about the ice.

    Should I carry on with 11 miles as planned? Or run on the treadmill until I either get bored to death or thrown out of the gym? Or switch the 11 miles for another treadmill interval run to get another speed session in and give my knee a bit more time to recover (90% better and physio says I'm fine to train)



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