The UK Springtime gives birth to a type of ‘marathon fever' which doesn’t seem to be matched at any other time of the year. With the iconic London Marathon back in its rightful place in April, other City Marathons such as Manchester, Brighton and Leeds are growing in popularity.
Running a marathon is a frequent bucket list ambition, providing a fantastic balance of high challenge but realistic attainability. It’s a hard slog to complete the training, but the finishers medals and achievement are worth the toil.
2023 marked a great year for Smiling Tri Coach with eight of our team training for a Spring Marathon. Their goals ranged from sub 3 hours to a sub 4 hours 30, so this year we were dealing with some serious runners. The beauty of marathon training is that everyone is different and it’s a fantastic challenge for a coach to work out how to get the best out of each athlete.
We are delighted to celebrate the achievements of our team! Drop us a line and tell us how your marathon went, or get in touch if you would like to talk about a marathon that you are planning.
David 3:50:55 (target sub 4:00)
Anna, 4:26:50 (target sub 4:30)
Sophie 3:52:15 (target sub 4:00)
Karen 3:59.01 (target sub 4.00)
It’s rare for a marathon training block to go completely smoothly, and to be fair, it's the bumps in the road that make you human and it’s how you deal with them that mark you out as an athlete or a coach.
Take Lydia, who is a high level, seasoned club runner and was aiming for a sub 3 hour target at the London Marathon as a stretch target from her 3 hours and 12 minutes performance in Paris 2022.
Sub 3 hours was a dream, and we decided to go for it.
But training was not straight forward. Since November, Lydia had been struggling with fatigue and it was something we discussed when she signed up for training in January. Rest was not going to be the full solution (although rest is never wasted) and extensive medical tests revealed that she was anaemic. We stripped all of the intensity out of the training programme and she started on the medication to rebalance her iron levels. Along with more sleep and good food, things were starting to look great… until a Tuesday run led to some unusual pain in her calf 5 weeks out from the London Marathon. We cut out the running, and rested on the advice of a physio, and we waited for improvement. But the improvement was slow. We discussed the possibility of not running, and it was clear that a place on the Championship Start Line might never be repeated. We switched training to the bike via turbo sessions and some outdoor rides, plus some swimming was added to the mix. On the Monday before the marathon Lydia took the decision to start the race - on strict instructions to pull up if she was in pain and all time goals put to rest.
When my tracker beeped, Lydia had gone through the first 5k in 20:11 (6.29 per mile pace) my heart started racing. Could her calf hold this pace on no running for 5 weeks. Another tracker beep at 10k - 40:31 (6.31 per mile pace). Maybe she could do it? Maybe the calf was going to hold up. The tracker kept beeping, half marathon in 1.26.45 (faster than her Barcelona half marathon training run), 18 miles in 2:05 and finally, the last beep 26.2 miles in 3 hours 00 and 55 seconds! Lydia had absolutely smashed it despite the bumpy roads in training.
It’s fair to say that Lydia’s London Marathon experience was pretty unique, but her success came from resilience and making the right decisions at the right time. Lydia was incredibly mentally tough - as she says…
“It’s not just about miles and pace and that running is just as hard mentally as it is physically (but I learnt this very quickly after my first marathon in 2017). The change in mindset to mitigate potential disappointment (ie, it’s fine if I have to pull out and DNF) was important to me feeling optimistic and happy going in to the race, despite the issues I had in the training block, and allowing myself to experience the excitement in the days building up to it with my friends and family.”
For the other 7 athletes in our team who completed their Spring Marathon, their success was also as much down to mental fitness as physical fitness.
Sophie, who smashed her sub 4 hours target, commented:
‘Believe in yourself and trust your training. Beyond 20 miles will be hard, but you can do it. Anyone can run a marathon but you have to really want to!’
Whilst all of the Smiling Tri athletes were running a marathon, they all had very different goals, lifestyles and training programmes. For example Chris and Stephen were training predominantly for Iron distance events which had to be carefully balanced into their marathon training. All of the athletes were balancing busy jobs, from police officers, to head teachers to corporate players. No training need is the same, therefore no training plan will be the same.
We asked our marathon runners for some reflections about their training and race day that would not only help them with their future performances, but would also help other athletes in a similar situation.
Which part of training do you think benefited you the most?
All the long easy pace runs at a heart rate of 180 minus age, and of course the enjoyment of the Friday track sessions with a great group of friends!
I couldn't pick one thing. The consistency of the training was what worked for me. Pushing up the mileage and the longer intervals over the weeks.
Having a clear plan and structure to my training.
Regular easy runs which I never previously understood the point of (lol). Very long but steady runs (I do understand because of the distance) are very good for me as a confidence boost about the distance. Turbo interval sessions to get some intensity whilst I was managing the calf injury (suspected inflamed fascia) were good for me to focus and manage any loss in fitness.
Mel suggested I did Trimple 20 (a 20 mile mixed terrain and mostly off road race) which was the middle of March (5 weeks prior to the marathon). This was a great opportunity for me to practice my pacing and gave me a real confidence boost knowing that I could hold my pace for longer than I thought I could. This was the longest run I did, so it was also good to do it as a race as it was less boring. I used this as a dress rehearsal for the real thing, practicing my nutrition strategy so I wasn’t leaving anything down to chance on the day.
The interval runs I did in the middle of the week. Mel manages my training around my commute and I run to work. The interval runs really helped with my pace and endurance.
The structure of the training plans, especially as I was training for multiple races with different disciplines (having to fit cycling and swimming in as well). Just trying to get these from books as I have done before can be quite difficult, as the training plans don’t take into consideration, other races you may be training for, or work commitments, or just general life obstacles. Having a coach to taking the responsibility of planning workouts was very beneficial
What was the hardest training session in the lead up to the Marathon?
The first time running for 3 hours, it seemed so much more than 2h45!
The longest 3:15 run session
The long intervals straight after the Wilmslow Half. This was one of the most useful though; knowing I could push through a mile at a time even though it was horrible and I wanted to stop.There was an earlier interval session quite early on as well when it was wet and windy and I was finding it hard to hit the pace and maintain it. I did wonder what I'd agreed to during that one! A few weeks later the intervals were much longer but they weren't so hard. I could see the progress I had made.
Hill repeats - the worst! Or a particularly hard long run towards the end. I just felt very fatigued right from the start. Still finished it though.
I had a few run club group sessions (track and intervals) where I had to cut them short because of fatigue and breathing difficulties, then my runs at goal marathon pace felt really tough which mentally caused me to think my goal marathon time (generally, not necessarily goal London marathon time) was delusional.
Having to stop my run club track speed sessions late January and all group speed sessions completely from early March because of, what turned out to be anaemia, causing fatigue and difficulties breathing at pace was mentally pretty tough. I had a decent cross country season but couldn’t understand why my times from November were dropping so much in the 2023 races and I felt demoralised. A good 20 miler run early March made me feel a lot better and Kate suggested we shifted to doing easy load instead of faster workouts (what we called “Adaptation Week”) as I was responding much better to that type of training. Unfortunately though, the 20 miler started a tight calf injury and I had to near enough stop running altogether (60-80 Km weeks down to 10-20km) with 5 weeks to go before the race. It all made me think my goal marathon time was delusional and forever unachievable but it turns out it is completely within reach.
Trying to make sure you fit the long run in each week is difficult when you have a family, job and whilst trying to do all the other triathlon training along side marathon training. This was particularly true during the last month where the long run was generally 2.5 - 3 hours of running.
My first longer run. I did 16 miles and was just not feeling it at all. I had a bit of a meltdown and wanted to give up on more that one occasion! At the end I had decided I wasn’t going to run the marathon. I ran 20 miles the week after and loved it!
One of the longer runs that I did for over 2 hours incorporated marathon pace of around 5 minute kms, as well as easier pace sections. During the faster pace segments I really struggled to keep my pace up, I was having stomach pains for some reason and I had to stop a few times due to these pains as well as the fatigue I was feeling. I still completed the session. I did a longer run the week after and had none of the issues of the previous week! I still don’t know what was happening on that run, but I guess sometimes you just have to put it down as a bad day at the office and move on.
What was your longest run (approx)?
I think 3hr 20 a trail run which turned out to be longer than I expected and longer than the run on the plan
I did Trimpell 20 mile race as a training run
What piece of advice resonated with you the most?
Don’t set off too fast! Everyone says it, and it’s true!
Try and enjoy the race!
That it would be hard and I needed to be prepared for that. Knowing that everyone else was struggling at the end was some consolation.
That I am strong!
To chill out a bit and appreciate the importance of rest. Also the importance of strength training, I’ve learnt my lesson 😂
Don’t set off too fast at the beginning or you will pay for it at the end
It will hurt and there is nowhere to hide! I had done several endurance events and an ultra but never a road marathon. Going into it knowing how it would feel was so helpful it helped me to prepare mentally which I think is key. It’s not just the physical side of the marathon it’s the mental and emotional side of it you need to be prepared for
All the people I spoke to before the race who had done it before just said to take in the experience as it’s like no other. I completely agree with this. I think this is the biggest event I’ve ever taken part in by some way. The crowds on the course are absolutely insane, incredible and magnificent. That’s one of the main things that has stayed with me
What did you learn from your Marathon experience?
With the right guidance and preparation you can push yourself further/faster than you think.
To make sure I’m in a good place physically leading up to it.
That I don't like running marathons! That I can do anything I want - as long as I want it enough. That I am capable of a lot more than I thought possible. I loved the training. Having structure and purpose for each run made a huge difference to me.
That I have amazing family and friends who came out to support me. That was the highlight for me, seeing them around the course was better than any medal.
Also that I really enjoy the marathon training block and the distance (albeit it hurts). I think I like the challenge.
It’s not just about miles and pace and that running is just as hard mentally as it is physically (but I learnt this very quickly after my first marathon in 2017). The change in mindset to mitigate potential disappointment (ie, it’s fine if I have to pull out and DNF) was important to me feeling optimistic and happy going in to the race, despite the issues I had in the training block, and allowing myself to experience the excitement in the days building up to it with my friends and family.
Wear compression socks, make sure you warm up / stay warm prior to the race
That I’m stronger than I think I am and capable of so much if I put my mind to it. I was overwhelmed after when I reflected on the experience and how I found the drive to carry on at a steady pace when my legs wanted to stop!
I learnt this from previous marathons that I’d completed, but was reminded of this as I haven’t ran one in 5 years. No marathon is the same. Just because you’ve done the distance before doesn’t make the next one easy. Every marathon has its own unique challenges. I think there are harder courses than London Marathon as it’s a pretty flat course, but the emotion of it being my ‘home’ marathon was quite mentally exhausting. And all that emotion came out at the end of the race!
What advice would you give to others planning to run a Marathon?
Get a coach - so much better than an online plan. You get feedback, can ask questions, vary the schedule for injuries/working away…, plan training around the days that suit you best. Secondly, commit to it, don’t go in to it half baked or without the support of family. It’s hard enough without making it more difficult.
Stretches, sports massages are really important, but not something you should start doing a few weeks before the race.
Believe in yourself and trust your training. Beyond 20 miles will be hard, but you can do it. Anyone can run a marathon but you have to really want to!
Go for it. If I can do it anyone can!
Be prepared to have to alter mindset and expectations when you hit roadblocks but also to not make your race goals your entire life. You’re still a fantastic runner and person aside from running, even if your training hasn’t gone perfectly.
Stick to the training plan, particularly making sure you do the long run each week. This gives you the confidence to know that you can do the distance. Start refuelling early on in the race and force yourself to take food or a gel on every 3 miles throughout. Make sure you practice with food and gels during your long runs so you know what your body can digest.
Embrace and enjoy the training. It’s a journey and so important you do this so you can enjoy the experience on race day. The support and encouragement on the day is amazing!
It’s not always about trying to strive for the fastest time in a race. Sometimes it’s good to take a moment and take in what you are achieving just by being there. Entering these races should always be about enjoyment first then everything else can fall into place
What went well in your recent marathon?
The training went well, getting used to using gels and the longer times/distances at a lower heart rate (easy pace). On the day the first 22 miles went well, I generally felt quite comfortable and loved the atmosphere. Having a read of the signs that had been made and high fiving the kids was a good distraction and made me smile. Seeing friends and family was a real high.
I felt fitter and stronger than last year. No physical issues really until around mile 23 when I got a bit of cramp.
Cardio was excellent
The training overall was really positive. I finished in under 4 hours which was one goal!
Everything on the day! I was debating the week before whether to run it or not with the persisting calf injury and anaemia causing breathing difficulties but it all worked out and I’m very happy I decided to run, with Kate’s advice and backing too.
My training plan had gone well and I kept my pre race prep exactly as I had done for previous long runs and triathlons. I was feeling excited about the race and determined to enjoy it and push myself. I found the 3.30 pacer at the beginning and stuck with him for the first half of the race, this resulted in my pacing being very consistent for the first 16 miles.
It had a great run! The weather was perfect and I felt really well prepared
Having a victory pint of beer afterwards! Haha! My word how amazing that first sip was! It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that went well. There were so many things that fell into place to make it a special day! The training, nutrition, the logistics of making sure I was at the start line (that nearly went horribly wrong as I nearly didn’t pick up my race number the day before the race as I got stuck in traffic!). And the most important thing of the support network of friends and family, both those that were at the race as well as those supporting from afar.
We hope that these insights into a recent marathon experience will inspire you to get running or to take the plunge and enter a marathon one day. As coaches we learn from athletes every day and our take outs are below:
Bumps in the road will happen - it’s how you manage them that counts
There’s usually an alternative way to train if you look for it
Take the pressure off the athlete
Be honest and give frank and truthful advice
Plan for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D!
Discourage athletes from comparing themselves to others training from the same event
Rest is your friend
We have coached many athletes to marathon and triathlon success, and there's every chance we can help you too! For more info, search here If you would like to receive updates from us, please subscribe here
If you are lacking motivation why not come down to our track session at Timperley Athletics Track on a Friday 1-2pm. All welcome, training is tailored to the needs of each individual in the group. Pay on the day, £6.00 per runner.