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The spring marathon build-up

October 2, 2012

It’s six and a half months until the 2013 Virgin London Marathon (and countless other spring marathons). Most training plans start in the New Year, when the marathon suddenly feels a whole lot closer.

But the winter plays a key part in marathon training. Building a decent foundation of fitness on which you can layer endurance and speed over the spring months is key to getting best results on race day. Last year I tried to focus purely on distance, eventually building up to an 80-mile week with no focus at all on pace. It did great things for my endurance once I got into the springtime, but it meant that I really had to work to build up any kind of speed at the same time I was spending my weekends running longer and longer.

So, time for this year’s plan…

  • October until the end of December: I plan to increase my weekly mileage to somewhere between 60 and 70 miles through a combination of commuter running, double-sessions and a regular long tempo route. My most productive sessions have often been long tempo/threshold runs, so I have a flat, largely traffic-free 9-mile route that I will be running hard (and potentially extending later in the year) on a weekly basis. The plan is to get my time down, week after week, as a good grounding for the longer paced runs to come.
  • January to end of February: Building distance in the long runs, probably getting up to about 20 miles by the end of this phase. Last year I alternated a set-distance long run with a timed long run, which I think worked well and let my body recover better from my tendency to go super-long. I need to make sure that I’m balancing distance with speed, though, so 400m-to-1-mile repeats, and maintaining the 9-mile tempos will be key.
  • March: I need a build-up race around here. After two years of bad half-marathons – one where poor marshalling resulted in an extra few miles being added to the course, and the Silverstone Half-marathon where traffic problems at the car park meant I rocked up at the start line a few minutes after the starting gun had been fired – I’m hoping this will be a better year. Maybe a return to the Bath Half? Working around this, March is – inevitably – the monster month of super-long runs and high mileage weeks.
  • April: Taper madness. Fidgeting, restlessness, paranoia over tickly coughs and aching joints. And sharpening sessions based on marathon pace and faster, psychologically preparing for the big day.

I’ve been through the training enough times now to have a pretty good idea of what’s in store. But, having been through a few years of preparing for spring marathons, I’m going to record some of the stuff beyond the basic running that goes into a marathon. For example, I’m aware that I spend most of the spring constantly shovelling food into my face, so it might be interesting (or alarming) to see exactly how much I eat during those peak months. And what about how that affects my weight, and body fat composition?

So, over the next six-and-a-bit months this blog will try to really get under the skin of what happens to you when you prepare to run a marathon. Hopefully, something that the marathon runners reading this will recognise, but also a bit of an insight for anyone else considering running a marathon.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom permalink
    October 13, 2012 11:25 pm

    Still my favourite running blog of all the many I have bookmarked. Looking forward to the coming months. Was I under the impression from an earlier blog that you are running Oxford tomorrow? If so, the very best of luck. I went for Henley. Can’t wait, and as usual, can’t sleep.

    Can I tempt you at all with a nice quick Regents Park 10k on November 18th? I don’t often do London races, but thought i’d give it a go. Put that speed training of yours to the test. I recently started parkrunning (only 1 thus far, last week, where I was late, and then later because I forgot to put a ticket on the car). Arrived running from the car park to find the field had already left, and then shortly ran into all the back markers on a very single track path. Not the best start to a 5k. All good fun though.

    All the best for now sir.

    • October 14, 2012 5:45 am

      Oxford Half Marathon indeed! I’m up early – and eating porridge as I type – for the race today. It’s looking a little bit fresh outside, but hopefully there’ll be some sunshine.

      When’s Henley? Hope the training is going/has gone well. Seem to remember reading there’s a bit of a hill on that course…

      Regent’s Park could be a goer. Need to check my calendar, though, as I’m due to head down south to see my folks at some point next month.

  2. Tom permalink
    October 14, 2012 7:03 pm

    Great time, very well done! You treating us to a race report? Henley was today too (that was the problem, most of my club was at Oxford). Beautiful day in the end wasn’t it? Though like you say a chilly start. Henley was rather charming, mixed terrain, nice stretch along the river, and well organised.

    I can confirm there is fairly sizeable hill around the course, from opposite Toad Hall up into Fawley village, I unfortunately knew the area quite well, so spent most of the race trying not to let it psyche me out, but it doesn’t come until mile 8 then drags out for well over a mile after that, so plenty of time to think about it.

    Got 1:33:51, quite happy with that, although it’s a minute slower than my last half, I guess the hill could account for that. I was supposed to be taking it easy, as Abingdon Marathon looms for next weekend. But as usual, I got carried away, and probably couldn’t have given it any more.

    That’ll be it for a while though, marathon training has been a slog, and i’m looking forward to just relaxing a bit with some cross country over the winter. I’m doing Regents Park 10k, and there is a 5 mile in Watford, called the Autumn Challenge ( ), run by the Watford Joggers. Looks similar sort of area to the Watford 10k which I ran in May, and really enjoyed. I believe you’ve done that too.

    I’m from Watford originally, and grew up with Cassiobury park, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me to run round there, I like that a lot.

    Anyway, well done again, rest up 🙂

    • Lewis Birchon permalink*
      October 14, 2012 8:57 pm

      Congrats on the race – such a nice day for it, although it looked like it might be in the freezing fog early this morning!
      I’ve just finished the race report – started it a bit later than I would normally like – so it’ll be up here before the night’s out.
      I’m sure Henley will have been the perfect tempo run for Abingdon. That’s meant to be a fast marathon course – I think I ran several sections of the route on my long runs when I was training for Paris. I hope it goes well, and take this week nice and easy to keep your legs fresh.


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