The road to improvement

A follower on Twitter (@palmerleggings) asked me a question yesterday after seeing my previous marathon times :-

determined on a sub 4hr marathon, sub 1hr35 half and sub 20min 5k. What's the best way to achieve this next spring/summer?

So rather than post it on Twitter and be limited to 140 characters, I thought I would reply here.

As you will see in my bio, my first marathon was just sub 5 hours. The first thing that helped me bring my times down was loosing weight. Carrying that extra bulk does make a difference but I reckon even if you weren't very overweight, like I was, the following can help bring your times down.

Disclaimer: These are just my thoughts and by no means scientifically proven!

Now that that is out the way, I shall begin, this may be a good point to grab a cup of coffee/tea and a chocolate biscuit!


Find a running group / club

I finished my first marathon and had been bitten by the running bug, I wanted to run the distance faster but I needed guidance, advice from people who had ran for longer than my 6 months and also give me a structure to my running. I headed along to Pitreavie AAC in Dunfermline on a Tuesday evening and struggled round the 6 mile route they had planned. I was last back to the club house by quite some way but I was determined to come back and get fitter, to get faster! The Thursday session was something new to me, hill work and speed work!

Why would anyone want to run up and down a hill or run as hard as they can for 400 metres with only 1 minute of recovery? The answer, because it makes you faster and stronger!

By going to the club on a weekly basis my pace started to increase, I met like minded people who were all very encouraging and now I am running at the front of the pack instead of at the back and when people ask me about the club, I say, if they can only make one session per week, Thursday nights are the sessions you want to get to. But club running isn't for everyone, so if you are one of those people, then why not speak to people at your work, get a wee group together and see about pushing each other once or twice a week in your lunch hour.


Strength Training / Speed work

To get the benefits of strength training and speed work, ideally you do the sessions with others as you wont push yourself anywhere near as hard if you are on your own! When the legs turn like jelly or the wind and rain is lashing the windows, its so easy just to give up but if you go out with others you will push that little bit harder, do that one extra rep.

Strength and Speed training aren't long sessions, only 30 - 40 mins at the most. This is about quality, not quantity. A good first session is Fartlek - speed play - and can be done in a number of different ways. One is to run for 5mins then when you get to a lamp post run as hard as you can to the next lamp post, then ease of again, mix it up, increase the number of lamp posts or choose something else which triggers the speed, maybe when you see a cyclist or a red car!

Hill work builds strength in your legs, a good session I 'enjoy' doing is 1min hard effort up the hill, then walk/jog back to where I started, do the same again but this time 2 mins up, then walk/jog and then 3 mins up, then walk/jog. Now this is where it hurts, you then start again but start with the 3 mins up, then the 2 mins etc. etc. Do this for 25mins and you will know about it by the end. The uphill efforts should be at 80% effort, you don't want to go full out as you wont complete the session but you also don't want it to be easy.

Over time I will probably add more of my sessions to the site so people can see what I do.


Miles in your legs

To hit the times you want you need to run at that pace, sounds obvious doesn't it, but if you don't train at the pace then how can you expect to run a race at that pace? I'm not suggesting you go out and run a marathon every week, that is just crazy, but if you are out on a 10 mile run, put in a mile at your target race pace and build up on this over a period of time, say 12 weeks. Each time you add a mile, and you hit the target pace for the miles, stay there for a week or two until it feels easier, then add another one and so on.

Nothing beats getting the miles in your legs, over the years I have seen my best times when I am running more miles per week. This takes time though, don't go from running twice a week to five days a week because you will get injured!

If you have a local parkrun near you, then I highly recommend heading to that on a regular basis, some weeks you will get a new PB, others you may have a bad run, but these bad runs give you things to learn from so really, no run is ever a bad run. This will also start to give you the pace you are needing for the longer runs.


Stay injury free!

I've been really lucky with my running, I've had very few injuries and any that I have had, haven't kept me off the road for too long. I don't stretch before a run but I try and do at least one mile easy running just to get the muscles warmed up, after every run I spend about five minutes stretching all my leg muscles and also my arms. If you feel tired, take a rest, let your body recovery from the previous session.



If you don't believe that you can run the pace required, you have failed already! It took me 3 attempts to win my home race, each year I believed I could win it and I came close. The first year I finished 2nd, the second year, again, I finished 2nd, this year, I finally finished 1st and boy did it feel good. But the same can be said about my marathon times, I believed I could run faster than that 4:50.13 and I still believe I can run faster than 3:03.21, I believe I have what it takes to get the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Is it going to be easy, no, but if it was then everyone would be giving it a go. The same can be said about anyone elses times, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, it takes all of the things above and time. It won't happen overnight but each run, each day you stay injury free, is another step closer to that time you believe you can get.


I hope this is helpful to some people and if there is any other information people would like me to blog about, please contact me with via twitter (@scottishrunner) or leave a comment below.

Owain Williams

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