• Helen Phillips

Surprising transition to the marathon. How a VLM pacer trained for his first marathon.


A few months ago I met up with Simon Martin, one of the Runner’s World VLM pacers to find out about his running journey and to find out why he started running marathons.

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 challenge.

I asked Simon about his running goals and ambitions and what motivates and drives him to succeed.

So Simon, you went from a chain smoking, reasonably heavy drinking “WTF I hate running” couchie to a sub 1:50 half runner. Most people would have been happy to stop there, what motivated you to run your first marathon?

I ran my first half in 2008 and in 2009 I decided to give up cycling (I’d been doing a few duathlons) to focus on running. I joined my club Ranelagh Harriers, in October 2010 and did a few more 10ks and halves and gradually, with a more structured training approach, my times got faster.

On New Years Eve 2012, I decided that rather than giving something up I would add something to my life as my New Years resolution. So I decided I would run a marathon that year and that I wanted to run it sub 3:30. I wanted to take my running further and to feel the sense of achievement of completing a marathon. So I signed up to run Edinburgh Marathon, in May 2012.

Before I’d even run that marathon, that spring I decided I would do Marathon Des Sables in 2013 and also signed up for my first ultra, The Wall which was planned for June 2012. So I signed up to run two pretty tough and competitive ultras BEFORE I’d ran my first marathon!

Cheesecake Runner: Nutter!

How did you train for your first marathon?

I didn’t follow a plan, just gradually increased the distance of my long run up to 23 miles three weeks before the marathon. I wanted to do a really long run so I knew I could complete the distance on marathon day.

I didn’t do anything else different. No different training or nutrition, although I did give up booze about a fortnight before race day.

How did your first marathon go?

I was aiming to run consistent throughout the race. 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. But even so, I kept on overtaking people and finished in 3:22.

Cheesecake Runner: WOW!

So what about your first ultra in 2012? How did that go?

The Wall ultra was only a few weeks after Edinburgh, so I didn’t do any additional training for it. I pretty much just turned up and ran. I had no idea about ultra running, so just ran it like I’d run the marathon. The race was over 2 days, the first day was 34 miles and the second 37 miles. I ran most of the way and walked up the hills, and somehow managed to finish in the top 10!

Cheesecake Runner: Respect!

So now I guess you’ve run a fair few marathons. Which have you run?

Let me see: Edinburgh, Paris, Dublin, Berlin, Amsterdam, Richmond Park and I’ve run London 4 times as a pacer.

What was your best marathon race experience?

Berlin, I paced it to perfection. I managed 3:14 in a Good for Age time and was racing to the line. Since then I’ve focused a lot on ultras and pacing marathons. I want to have another crack at an even faster PB sometime.

And what about your worst marathon?

Oh my god! That has to be Amsterdam. I trained half-heartedly for the race, as it wasn’t my “A Race” that season. But then on race day my ego got the better of me and I tried to run in a PB time. I got cramp half way around, much earlier than usual and the second half it hurt a lot to run. I finished in 3:18, somewhat slower than my PB. I learned a valuable lesson, you need to readjust your target if you haven’t done the training!

Cheesecake Runner: WTF … Still an awesome time!

You’ve run a lot of races, so what’s left to do? What are your bucket list races?

I’ve still not ran all the Abbott Marathon Majors, so Boston, Tokyo, New York and Chicago are on the list and I’d like to run some marathons on other continents.

The Comrades Ultra in South Africa is on the list as well as the Annapurna Ultra in the Himalayas. If I do that one I’d like to finish in the top 10.

Cheesecake Runner: Help ... this guy wants to take me out for a run later!

Don’t think you’re a runner? Simon didn’t too!

But he went from a 20+ silk cut a day heavy drinker to running marathons and some of the toughest ultras in the world … all for fun!

Life is for living folks! Set yourself Big Audacious Goals then find a way to achieve them.


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