Online Marathon Coaching

I hired an online coach for my last marathon attempt. I chose one with an Olympic pedigree who offered a tailored training plan. We started 18 weeks out from the race, identified a goal time (3:20, a 21 minute PB), and he set about creating a plan that would get me there.

I can, now, clearly see method in the workouts I was given. Every run had a purpose – many of them being centered around 7:37/mile, my target marathon pace.

But he didn’t really share the theory behind the training with me.

I would just run according to the plan but I didn’t appreciate the absolute specificity required in good marathon training.

One key session was the In/Out – warm up then run alternating 600m intervals at 90 and 110% goal pace. For 12 sets. Nearer race day it became a 1000m interval. No other single workout killed me like these.

Another was the long run with marathon paced section – warm up 6 miles, 8-10 miles marathon pace, 2 miles cool down. Sometimes the marathon section was split to repeats of 4 miles @ goal pace, 1 mile @ 110% goal pace.

Intervals, hill runs, fartlek and of course lots of easy aerobic miles support the regime.

The aim is obviously to prepare the runner, physiologically and psychologically, to run at a specific pace for a specific time.

It almost sounds easy put like that.

What I felt the online coach was missing was just sharing the theory behind the plan, and giving ongoing encouragement or progress updates. I felt he wasn’t doing anything that I couldn’t have done myself with a £40 plan from Macmillan Running.

That said, I finished the race just 45 seconds outside my goal, which I took as (more or less) a success.

What I did get was an insight into how to train, really train, to run a goal time marathon. Knowledge that I’ll use to train myself for Berlin.

Marathon Paced Workouts

During my last ‘race’ in November I ran 9 miles at an average 6:52/mile, and 13 at 7:00/mile. I’ve probably lost a bit of speed since then (but gained aerobic function) so I’m using that as my starting point. So maybe I’m 1/3 of the way to my target but it gets exponentially harder so probably more like 1/5.

It’s 32 weeks until Berlin and I’m going to start training at marathon pace at least once a week. I really like (in the masochistic sense) these In/Out sessions and I’ll work in plenty fast interval sessions too. I also want to get back into Parkruns.

For my long runs I’ll do a mixture of mid-section goal pace and fast finish run.

I use Garmin Workouts for anything that requires some thought while running. It’s not easy to remember if you’ve done 9 or 10 reps when your heart’s trying to pull a John Hurt.

6:50/mile still feels like an insane marathon pace. But I ran my first marathon in 9:11/mile so, you know, things have already come on.

Ultra Warm Up

I have two ultras to run before Berlin. The training for these will take care of my aerobic improvement over the next six months. I should also see progress in strength and endurance thanks to the long hill runs.

I love ultras because the scene is smaller and the scenery bigger. The racing suits me more as an endurance machine and just love the challenge of going out to run what would constitute a decent drive.

The Hoka Highland Fling

First, the Highland Fling at the end of April. Now this is a serious race – 53 miles over trails and hills with 7500ft of vert – so requires serious training. My plan is to get out on the West Highland Way every weekend. I’ll get used to steep, strength-sapping slogs, technical descents and lots of uneven trails.

While I’m not racing this, I just want to enjoy it and finish it, I do want a time that does me justice.

The Fling race should make 26.2 miles round the roads of Berlin feel like a cake walk.

The Clyde Stride

My other Ultra is the Clyde Stride in July. It’s a fantastic race that I’ve done three times. It’s not as brutal as the Fling but it’s a challenge.

I split the course into three bite size half marathon chunks. The first 13 miles are mainly flat and paved with a couple of trail sections – cover this in marathon pace. The second section is about 50/50 paths and trails but it isn’t too steep so again it’ll be covered quite swiftly. The last section is the sting in the tail and you better make damn sure you have some legs left. There are some short steep hills, a lot of stairs, zig-zags, some long, lonely, flats. Just when you think you’re at the end it loops round another mile. Up a hill.

This year it’s not my main focus but I love the race so I’ll go out flying, trying to keep close to Berlin pace on the flats, and see how far until I blow up. It’s the antithesis of my usual steady start, strong finish strategy but I feel it’s right for this year.

Last year I came in a surprising 9th place in 5h:34m, so ‘top 5 or bust’ is the plan. I’ve watched fine runners disappear impossibly into the distance at this race. If I can stick closer to them I’ll know I’m in good shape for Berlin.

Project Berlin180

I’ve given my training ‘plan’ a fancy name, Berlin180, because it sounds dead cool and Nike-y. It might keep me focussed that every mile is to prepare me to get around Berlin in under 180 minutes. I’m not using a coach, I don’t run with any clubs (yet), I just read internet articles, copy better runners and get out there. I feel like a guy building a racing car in his shed, then turning up on the grid next to sponsored, science-honed machines.

I don’t underestimate the challenge here, getting sub-3 will take everything I can summon and I still have doubts that’ll be enough. But, you have to push yourself, because that’s the only way to find out what you can do.