• Helen Phillips

Get the Insiders Insights on Training for a Marathon. Train like a VLM Pacer!


It’s November, so most of the big autumn races are behind us and spring seems such a long way away. But now’s the time to be thinking about and researching training plans for your races next year.

I’m running another marathon (Manchester in April) and am looking at the programmes and plans I used this year, thinking about my goals and objectives for Manchester and other races and runs that’ll help me get there.

A few weeks ago I met up with Simon Martin, one of the Runner’s World VLM pacers to find out about his running journey. Simon has run countless marathons, paced the 3:45 group to the finish line for four VLM marathons and taken on some of the most inhospitable ultra challenges, finishing 5th in this years Fire and Ice Ultra in Iceland.

Simons a bit of an expert these days, but he wasn’t always so serious about his training. I asked him about how he trained when he started out, the lessons he learned and the tips he’s got for us mere mortals training for PB’s at half or marathon distances.

How did you train for your first marathon?

When I started out running in 2008 my training was a bit haphazard. I didn’t have a clue. I just went out to run. The first half I ran on impulse. My usual weekly training run was 6k. Other than that the furthest I had run was 10k on one occasion and a 16k run the week before the race. I crossed the line in 1:47 and swore never again. I’d been running for a few months, but didn’t take running seriously and was pretty overweight. It was the toughest thing I’d ever done.

Cheesecake Runner: Never again usually means “Bring it on! … Pain, I love pain … Give me more, more, more!”

My first marathon was in 2012. By this time I’d joined a club, Ranelagh Harriers, so knew a bit more about running, but still didn’t really follow a plan. I just gradually increased the distance of my weekly long run up to 23 miles, which I did three weeks before the marathon. I wanted to run close to 26 miles so I could be confident I could complete the distance.

I didn’t do anything else different with my running, although I did give up booze about a fortnight before race day!

Cheesecake Runner: Give up booze? … Knowing you Simon that MUST have been tough!

That marathon I was aiming to run consistently throughout the race, but started out a little too fast perhaps. At half way I was a bit faster than I’d intended, but my body felt good, so I just went with it. But by mile 18 my legs started cramping badly, I had bad cramp for the rest of the race and had to keep stopping to stretch it out.

Cheesecake Runner: Lesson learned!

How do you recommend training for a marathon?

The marathon is a hard distance to train for. If you’re training for an ultra you can just go out for a long easy run to build up miles in your legs. But for a marathon you need to mix it up a bit during the week with much harder more intense runs, which take time to recover from.

If I was training for a marathon, each weeks plan would include two interval sessions (one on the road and the other on the track), one long run, which progresses from 16 miles upwards and some easy recovery runs. I’ve found that you don’t need to do a long run each week, every fortnight works too, as long as you’re putting in the effort doing the hard interval training.

For marathons, in my experience, mileage doesn’t get PB’s it’s the quality of your hard training that does.

What I think is important is that you create a plan that fits in with the amount of time you have available to run and to train. Running shouldn’t take over your life. If you’ve got a lot on, or other commitments, then work to a plan that takes account of that, and don’t feel guilty for missing the odd run now and again.

The training you do and your expectations on race day, has to be aligned with the amount of time you have available to train. If you’ve not put the work in or not had time to train, don’t expect a PB or to be able to keep up with those who have. That said, on the start you have to have faith in your training. If you’ve put the work in you will get around.

Cheesecake Runner: Great advice Simon. It’s important when we’re training for marathons, not to forget “life”. Marathon training can become all consuming!

What do you do to train for an ultra?

For ultras I’d do something similar to my marathon training. I still do my track and interval work. But you can have more junk miles in ultra training as time on feet is a key part of training.

Do you do any Strength and Conditioning work?

No, but I probably should. I do a bit of Pilates now and again.

Cheesecake Runner: Loads of runners forget about strength and conditioning. But Pilates, and even yoga, is great for building strong hips, glutes and core, which makes us stronger more resilient runners.

Tell me about your diet and nutrition. How does that change when you’re training?

I don’t change my diet whilst I’m training, only in the last 24 – 48 hours before a race, when I carb load.

For breakfast I have a double espresso and a berry smoothie. I blend blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, fruit juice and seeds.

Mid morning I’ll have fruit as a snack. Anything apart from bananas, I cant stand them!

Cheesecake Runner: HAHAHAH!!! You can’t be a proper runner if you don’t eat bananas!

Lunch I’ll have salad plus protein and at least 1 bag of crisps, maybe two. You’ve gotta have crisps!

Evenings, if I’m training or coaching I’ll get home and make an omelette with chicken, cheese & chillies. Or if I’m not in the mood for cooking I’ll have cheese & crackers and red wine, or soup and bread. It’s bullshit when people say they don’t have time to cook. An omelette takes no time at all and it’s a great meal to have after training.

Cheesecake Runner: Noted Simon!

I’m sensible about what I eat morning and lunch and eat what’s practical in the evening. I train hard, so like to eat things that make me happy!

Cheesecake Runner: So true!

Crisps are my biggest weakness. If I’m trying to get down to race weight, for a marathon or ultra, then I’ll cut back on my crisps. I’ll have one packet instead of two! You have to make sacrifices to lose weight!

There are a lot of first time marathoners who read this blog, what are your top training tips for new marathoners?

Firstly when you’re training don’t lose sight of enjoying running for the complexity of sticking to your training plan. Don’t allow training to become a burden. You have to have some enjoyment in your plan and in life! If you’re not enjoying it, do something different.

Also, you need to plan your training around the time you have available. That means there needs to be some give and take. You might not do all the training sessions in your plan, but that’s ok. If you’re busy, don’t stress. Accept it and work around it. But if you’ve trained at a lower intensity or not as often as you’d originally thought you might need to lower your expectations come race day.

Cheesecake Runner: Great advice Simon. I know of a few people who’ve tried to push it race day, only to implode half way around.

You do a lot of running, do you get injured a lot?

I’m most prone to foot and ankle injuries and it’s usually when I’m under training!

Cheesecake Runner: Go figure! You’re odd Mr Martin!

Now for the important questions … Wine or beer?

Red wine, big fruity and bold. And I don’t generally give up booze when training!

Cheesecake Runner: Bad influence!

Favourite cake?

Fruit cake. I love Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.

I make home made flapjack for ultras and put pieces of chopped up bounties, M&M’s and crunchies in it!

Cheesecake Runner: Watch this space for my version of Ultra Flapjacks, coming to a Facebook post very soon!

Guilty food pleasure

Has to be crisps. After I’ve run I always want crisps or chips. At lunchtime I often go for Walkers Squares. When I’m doing a multi day self-sufficient ultra I have 100g of Kettle Chips each day between when I finish and my evening meal. They are a real treat I look forward to. They're highly calorific which is perfect for ultra running!

Cheesecake Runner: HMMMM but maybe not for a gentle jog post Parkrun treat then!

I also love ice cream and sorbet. I have a run route of 18 miles I do once a week or fortnight. I run to Richmond where I have an ice cream (if it’s cold) or a sorbet (if it’s hot) at Gelateria Danieli and then run home. The ice creams and sorbets there are well worth the run! I am usually a creature of habit but sometimes try a different flavour to be really daring! My favourite (or usual) ice cream flavours are crema siciliana and coconut, and for sorbets I usually have lemon and dark chocolate.

Cheesecake Runner: Wow! I love that idea! Race directors should take note of this!

Are you signed up to run a Spring marathon or half?

If you've a marathon in your sights why don't you come and join Marathon Club Hub to help with your training and preparation for your race. Marathon Club Hub will help you ramp up your running for your marathon, focusing on the right foods for fitness, strength and conditioning to fitness your form, as well as keeping you engaged and motivated along the way.

Click here to join now!

You got this!