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London Marathon training

December 27, 2011

Like (I suspect) most runners with a spring marathon lined up, I’m using the gap between Christmas and New Year to work out what I’m going to do with my marathon training plan. Before I draw up my plan, I thought I’d set out the principles that I’m going to follow in 2012.

After a conscious push to increase my mileage over November and December, I’m starting from a much stronger base than this time last year where I’d effectively taken most of November and the whole of December off running. Despite this, I kicked off January a 16-mile long run before building distance to 22 miles by the end of the month, all the time grinding along slowly at 8-minute miles. In December this year my fastest 17.5-mile run was at consistent sub-7 minute mile pace.

So, here are the ingredients I’m thinking about including in my schedule.


A stronger foundation means that I can build in some tempo and speed work earlier into my training, which should help to temper the slow pace of progressively longer runs. I’m not a great follower of the Yasso 800s method, so I’m thinking of using repeats of anything between a mile and three miles. Technically more threshold runs than speedwork, this should be good for both physical and mental toughening.

For example, in lighter evenings or on the occasional lunch break, a timed two-lap circuit of Regent’s Park is a great way of pushing the pace. Complete one circuit at a decent clip, then aim to complete the second circuit in the same time or less – a break between laps being optional.

The view of Regents Park from Primrose Hill

Regents Park – an ideal measured lap for repeats.

Long runs

I’ve always approached long runs with a specific pace and distance in mind. I find it useful to stick to a pace and get a feeling for maintaining that pace over a substantial period of time, which makes it easier to judge the pace you’re shooting for on race day. However, this comes with a couple of downsides:

  • Obsessing over mile splits can quickly become demoralising if you find your route busier than planned or have to wait at traffic lights.
  • This approach can embed the ‘time in the bank’ philosophy that leads to horrific positive splits. So, it’s easy to knock out the first few miles substantially faster than target only to blow up in the second half of the run, struggle to the end with dreadful splits and still look okay overall when your average pace hits your target.

While I’ll keep long tempo runs in my schedule, I’ll probably use a two-week sequence where the second week’s long run is judged solely by time. So one week will be a 19-mile run at around 7-minute miles, the next week will be a 2:15 run.

This means that every other week I’ll be able to experiment with different routes, take in some of the hillier surroundings of Alexandra Palace, Highgate and Hampstead Heath without flogging myself over pace.

Tempo runs

Last year my tempo runs went up to 13 miles, which was probably a little short. They also took in Tower Bridge and Liverpool Street, both busy places where pedestrians tend to dawdle, amongst other major road junctions. Consequently, there was always a bit of waiting around for lights to change or trudging along behind tourists.

This year, with some new (and better) routes in my arsenal, I can push the pace a bit more effectively on the tempo runs. Similarly, I need to make sure I run more regularly with the Serpies on the Wednesday run. Running with others is a much easier way to push the pace and practice race conditions.

Time-efficient running

One of the challenges I faced last year was getting home, going for a run and then having dinner. It usually resulted in eating late, heading out when I felt a bit lethargic and generally not getting the best from the exercise.

Now that I’ve worked out decent running routes to work (and especially since my girlfriend got me a proper running rucksack for Christmas), I’ll be making much better use of the six miles separating me and work. Hopefully that should mean fewer late meals and a bit more spare time in the evening.

Better-chosen routes

It sounds simple, but this was something I completely neglected last year. New to London, I was keen to take in the sights while on my runs. Consequently, long runs looped through Camden, Regent’s Park, Baker Street, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, the South Bank, Tower Bridge, Liverpool Street, and back up through Dalston and Stoke Newington. Although I saw a lot of landmarks, I also saw a lot of pedestrians, busy road crossings, and tourists.

Now I’ve found a number of relatively traffic-free routes I will be able to keep to my own pace.

So, while I’m drawing up my training plan, what sessions are the absolute must-haves for you? What are they and what do they add to your marathon training?

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