Ask the coaches


This Friday 14 March at 1pm, coaches Sam Murphy and Steve Smythe will be answering all your training questions right here in the Spring marathon forum.

If you have a question about the marathon distance, want advice on when to start the taper or just want training tips from two of the UK’s leading running coaches, get involved!

Post your questions below – and don’t forget to state whether your question is for Sam or Steve.




  • Question for Steve:

    I'm running Barcelona Marathon this Sunday. This is my target race (my 17th marathon) and training has gone as well as I could have hoped with very few niggles. 

    I've also entered London - a four week gap. What would you recommend I do in between the two races to maximise my recovery while keeping up my speed? I currently go for a fortnightly massage, which I'm going to up to weekly in between the two marathons. Barcelona will be the all out effort - while I appreciate I won't run a quicker time at London I don't want to just jog round!

  • Hi!

    I suppose this question would be for either Steve or Sam. I always do my Long Slow Runs about 30 secs to a minute per mile slower than marathon pace, with some marathon paced miles at the end of the run. On at least one of my 20 mile training runs I'll try and do the last 10 miles all at marathon pace.

    Are there any positives/ negatives to mixing the slower miles and marathon paced miles together, rather than leaving all the marathon paced miles to the end? For example running 1 mile at MP +60 and then the next at MP and do this 10 times? I've seen some runners doing and was curious what the benefits were?


  • RoundmanRoundman ✭✭✭

    Hi Steve

    I will be running the Paris marathon and attempting to break 3hrs for the 1st time.  I have followed the Asics 26.2 Sub 3 Training Plan pretty religiously and this has been pretty comfortable, culminating in a PB 1:22:03 for the Reading Half which I finished strongly in.  My question is re pacing strategy for the marathon (negative/consistent or positive split) and what your advice would be on what to complete the 1st half of the marathon in to give me the best opportunity to achieve my goal?


  • Hi. Question(s) for Sam

    As a relative newbie to marathons (Paris will be no.2), I have a question. What's actually happening physiologically in the taper? Is it simply a case of resting up after the heavy mileage weeks and filling the tanks during a carbo-load for a few days before the race? And, perhaps more importantly as the volume drops off should remaining sessions build in more MP work? As a related, question to the best to adjust diet too? I'm eating a lot right now to fuel higher mileage but this starts to drop off next week?



  • Hi There, 

    Firstly, thanks both for all your fab advise on the threads!  From following this competition last year to now, i've taken 13 minutes off my half marathon time from March last year, and am looking for a really big improvement in my marathon too image.  I ran the Essex 20 on Sunday just gone- its a 3 lap course with each lap just under 7 miles, so i used it as a progressive long run, doing lap 1 at 9:30s, lap 2 at 9:00s and lap 3 at 8;30s, which is my planned marathon pace.  I nailed the pacing plan and finished in 2:56 which was a bit quicker overall on all laps.  I will be doing Manchester Marathon on 6th April, same day as Paris.

    Training has been going pretty well, and my other longest runs have been 20, 19, 18.7 and another 18.  I have Colchester Half Marathon this coming Sunday, and my plan for this race was to run a 2 mile warm up and cool down, and run the half marathon at my marathon pace, so a total of 17 miles run with 13 @MP.  I have no burning desires to push it any faster as I got a pb at dorney lake a few weeks back.  Do you think this is a good plan for my long run 3 weeks out from my Marathon?  Or would you recommend something different?


  • Hi Both,

    My question relates to fuelling. I've been suffering from stomach cramps, vomiting and worse during my longer runs 15 miles. I've tried different brands of gel to no avail and have also tried avoiding certain food types which are known to cause these symptoms for a few days before my LSR. So milk, cheese, butter and high fat foods like peanut butter. It doesn't seem to make much difference. I've also been to the doctor to check for underlying medical conditions, I don't have anything which could be causing these symptoms. So I was wondering if you had any ideas about other forms of fuel which I could use?


  • Hello both,what do you think about taking endurolyte capsules as well as water and lucozade sport during a marathon? thanks

  • Hi Sam,

    My question is about pacing during the marathon. I will be running Manchester on 6th April and it will be my first marathon. I am aiming for a sub 4:30 time (ideally faster but not sure if it will be possible image ). I just wondered if you had any tips on how to make sure I can achieve my goal with regards to pacing? I have read that lots of people start slow to conserve energy but this worries me that I wouldn't pick up the pace in time. Any advice would be great! Also relating to this which shorter/ mid week runs do you think help the most with achieving your pace? The interval style or runs including marathon pace?

    Thanks image


  • CafCaf ✭✭

    Hi Steve

    I'll be running London this year as my 9th marathon, aiming for sub-3. In previous years, my training has gone well but then, off a 3 week gradual taper, I often get ill in the final week or two before the race. I'm wondering whether I should trial a steeper 2 week taper this year in order to reduce the time I have to get ill in?


  • Hi, Sam

    Thank you for your time.

    Bit of background, I run all year round, have half PB of 1.33. Last year I trained hard for London only to get injured with ITBFS on my last LR of 22 miles, & had to defer 1 week before, gutted to say the least! This is my first marathon. This time round am having fortnighly massage & regular physio. (so far so good)

    Am currently LM training again (following advanced plan from LM Magazine) – 5 weeks to go. I feel on the edge!! My 4 last long runs have been:- 16,18,20,20 (last run was mixture of steady MP Pace & Under MP time 2.40) I will hit 55 miles in total this week, I'm then due to do 22 miles, can I get away with just doing 18 really don’t want to push it being so near or do I need to get 22 in the bag?  Was hoping to get good for age time (nearer sub 3.40).

    Q2 If thats ok?  I have to chop my plan around due to childcare so do the following an example week its:-

    M:- 8 mile tempo, T:- 20mile LR, W:- 5 mile recovery, T:- Rest, Fri:- 7 mile Speed/Interval session, Sat:- 8 mile steady Run, Sunday:- Crosstrain.

    Am I getting the balance right with hard/easy sessions?  

    Thank you very much, sorry for the waffle & hope it makes sense!


  • WardiWardi ✭✭✭

    Hi Steve, long time no see.  Thought I would share a dilemma with you as you're a similar age to me.  In the last 5 years (age 51-56) I my times have inevitably declined ('tell me about it' I hear you say!).  My 5k times are holding up reasonably well (19:30-20:00 on a good day) but every other distance up from there doesn't tally with this and gets gradually worse.  My 10k time has dropped from circa 39 to 43 ins, half marathon 1.26 to 1:33 & after my string of sub 3:15 marathons I am now hovering around the 3:30 mark.    

    I'm running VLM this year and put in around 50-60 mpw including tempo work (e.g 10m with 5-6m @ 6:45 pace), 1 & 2k intervals plus the usual mixture of medium and long runs and a Park Run every 2-3 weeks.  The problem is the training isn't reaping any rewards and I'm finding it more than a little frustrating.  I did expect a decline but not this much!  To think that my 2008 marathon pace is now my 10k pace says it all really!

    Is there anything training wise that you could suggest?  If old father time has clamped a ball & chain on each leg then so be it, but I would like to get a bit closer to where I was 5-6 years ago if at all possible.  I don't tend to get ill or injured so that is at least one positive.  

    I hope you are still running well and your twilight career has been more succesful than mine!   Thanks in advance for any suggestions. 


  • Hi Both,

    I am currently training for London and have been out for nearly 2 months with Achilles tendinitis.  I am currently logging some miles on an Anti gravity treadmill.  Would you advise (so i can get some long runs in my legs) doing a long run (16+ miles) on the anti gravity or should i stick to cross training?

    Also i have been cycling/spinning/swimming etc. to try and keep up fitness, is there anything else you would suggest i should do to try and prepare my body for the long miles I have been doing these activities at higher intensities for shorted duration - my target time is 3:30 - 3:45 depending on the Achilles on the day.

    Thanks very much.

  • Hi!

    in the build-up for my 2 marathons training went pretty smoothly, until, in both cases, I injured either my calfs or knee during the big 20+ LSRs image Managed to get myself to the starting lines in both cases, but the lack of the long runs is my explanation for 2 pretty painful 4:25 marathon times image

    One contributing factor may have been running the long runs too fast. I have my eye on a sub 4h in 2015 (with a HM PB  of 1:43 I think this should be possible) but am keen to adapt my training to get make sure I can get more 20+ LSRs in the bag before race day. Experienced triathlete friends have suggested changing some of the LSRs to mixed bike/runs with the aim to maintain the cardiac training whilst reducing the impact on my legs.

    What do you think about this?

    Thanks for all of your input on this forum, it's a really great source of information!


  • Hi guys,

    I'm heading to London to try and break 3hrs (PB was 3.05 last year).  I have a HM in my plan for next weekend, so 3 weeks before London.  It's a fast, flat course and it's tempting to go for a PB (current PB 1:20).  However, would I be better backing off and just running this at MP?  I'd really appreciate your advice on what my HM race strategy should be to maximise my chances of hitting my sub 3hr goal in London.


  • Hi all, welcome to the thread. I'm just getting a large mug of tea ready before I sit down to answer some questions!imageimage

  • Hi

    I am training for my first marathon, London, and training is going (touch wood) alright. However, I ran the Cambridge Half at the weekend and really suffered as it was a warmer day than we've been used to.  I ended up walking alot and felt on the edge of dizzy for a lot of the time.  I noticed that when I rubbed my face there was salt.  I drank water on the way round and had SIS gels but now realise I should probably have had electrolyte drinks.  The thing is I suffer badly with my tummy and I am not sure whether those drinks + the gels will be too much for my stomach on the day.

    Any advice would be appreciated on this matter (especially the stomach department!) and also how else to deal with a hot day (and I know London can sometimes can be quite warm on the day!).

  • Sam cheated by coming on at 12.58 - I'm going to have a tea too now.

    The ideal way to do it would be to run Barcelona as a training effort and London as the race!
    I have experience of running marathons in a week a few times (when i was much younger and a lot less wiser) and for instance did a faster sub-3 at Boston on Monday and a slower sub-3 at London six days later.
    If you race flat out at Barcelona, then a steady marathon at London is advised, You need a week of total recovery - nothing more than easy jogging and focus on refuelling liquid and proteins. The second week up the pace slightly but keep the mileage light - suggest nothing more than 10km and keep any faster running to controlled efforts ideally on grass and nothing faster than 10km pace. The third week try and increase the speed of training but still be sensible and you can probably do a 10 miler the week before. In the final week, there is no need to do a full taper if you aren't racing it flat out but still be careful with your carb loading and fuelling as you would any 26 mile run. In the last ten days, it might be an idea to do some faster running so you don't lose all your speed by running 26 miles twice in a short time!

    Recovery is extra important after the second marathon even if it is slower - don't expect any PBs or fast times for a while.


  • Hi Shady Ady!

    Hi Shady Ady! Hope all going well. Interesting question. I have had some success
    with breaking the marathon pace bouts down within a long run. For example, 3
    miles easy and then 4 x 3 miles at MP with 1 mile MP+30-60 between, 2 miles
    easy. It keeps you focused, and keeps the run interesting! I know Canova, who
    trains a lot of the Kenyan athletes, does a session which alternates 1km MP with
    1km faster than MP for 20k within a long run! The bottom line is that putting the
    miles at the end makes good sense because it trains you to maintain MP on tired
    legs, and it also encourages you not to start off too fast. But I think there’s room
    for switching it around a bit too and it doesn’t have to just be on 20+ runs.

  • orapidrun wrote (see)

    Hi. Question(s) for Sam

    As a relative newbie to marathons (Paris will be no.2), I have a question. What's actually happening physiologically in the taper? Is it simply a case of resting up after the heavy mileage weeks and filling the tanks during a carbo-load for a few days before the race? And, perhaps more importantly as the volume drops off should remaining sessions build in more MP work? As a related, question to the best to adjust diet too? I'm eating a lot right now to fuel higher mileage but this starts to drop off next week?



    Hi Orapidrun
    The taper is all about recovery and repair. Running less allows your body to
    replenish energy stores, repair damaged tissue and benefit from more rest.
    What’s really important is maintaining intensity – this enables you to hold on to
    your cardiovascular fitness despite the lack of volume. This could be marathon
    pace or faster. So, if for example, you were doing 8-10 x 400m reps in a pre-taper
    week, you might reduce it to 4-5 in a taper session, reducing the volume but not
    the speed. Once your mileage starts to drop sharply, you will need to be wary of
    not taking in too many calories – the best way is to cut out the ‘extras’ like
    snacks, sports drinks, energy bars etc, which you won’t need. And maybe the
    booze (if you’re brave!). When it comes to the final days, though, follow Ruth’s
    advice about the carbo load. Good luck!

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