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Month: January 2018

Marathon Pace Practice

Posted on January 30th, 2018 by

This Sunday, Marathoners following our schedules will want to do the final chunk of their run at target Marathon pace.

I recommend getting up early, doing the easy bit of your run and then doing the Marathon pace section on the Regent’s Park 10K course.

Regent's Park 10K

The advantage of this is that you’ll be replicating race day as close as possible on a flat traffic-free route with water stations. This means you can really learn what marathon pace is meant to feel like and you can practice things like taking gels and drinking on the run. You could even drop off a water bottle or some Lucozade sport with a friendly marshal so you can replicate race day more exactly.

If you have marshaled (or just signed up to marshal) one of the 10K’s, you get free race entry to the rest of the series. So if you fancy running the 10K this weekend, you could sign up to marshal in March. You sign up to marshal via our calendar and then log in to our website and select “Enter 10K”. Do this (or pay in the usual way) before midday on the Friday before the race.

We don’t run at target Marathon pace every Sunday because it is very tiring. You need time to recover before trying this kind of session again. There will be a few runs with sections at target marathon pace throughout the schedule and they are a great way of monitoring progress. Don’t worry if you find them tiring and find yourself wondering how on earth you will ever manage to do the whole race at your target pace. They are meant to be hard work and you will be going into race day feeling fresh and with considerably more training under your belt.


Race Day Nutrition

Posted on January 24th, 2018 by

For those of us who are marathon training, our Sunday runs are starting to get seriously long. Once you are running for over 2 hours, you should think seriously about nutrition.

On marathon day, nutrition is crucial. Your body’s ability to store fuel is often the limiting factor on marathon ability. Your body’s main fuel reserve for running is called glycogen. This is the main way carbohydrates are stored in the human body for use by your muscles. Your body can also use fat reserves when you are running, but this is a much less effective source of energy on race day. Many runners will run out of glycogen at about mile 18 or 20. This is often called “hitting the wall” for self-explanatory reasons.

This is why on race day you should definitely be taking on board fuel as you run. There are many options: you can carry energy gels and/or eat the various energy gels, sweets and drinks they hand out at most big marathons. Personally, I eat 3 jelly babies every 5k during a marathon until I can’t stand them any more plus one energy gel at the start and a caffeinated gel towards the end. I also make sure I know where the water stations are so I get a drink immediately after eating anything.

What works for  me may not work for you. But you should start trying to figure out what you intend to do on race day. How much can you take on without getting a stomach upset? Does Lucozade agree with you etc? We all respond quite differently.

Start experimenting on your long runs with nutrition to find out what works. If you practice taking on fuel, your body will learn how to make the most of it. There is some debate about how much fuel you should take on during training.  Personally, I think you should do all or almost all of your long runs (>2hrs) taking on a reasonable amount of food to stop your training runs being too exhausting and to aid recovery. You should certainly do a few dry runs where you try out your race day strategy as close as you can.

There is some (in my view slightly unconvincing) evidence that doing some training runs where you allow yourself to run on low glycogen can help you develop the ability to use fat as a fuel on race day. So some people do recommend running occasional “glycogen depletion” runs. The reason I find the evidence is unconvincing is that although in the experiments they were able to show athletes who had experienced glycogen depletion training had better fat metabolism, they didn’t actually have better times. You might wonder about the effect of glycogen depletion on weight loss, surprisingly the evidence suggests that glycogen depletion runs don’t help with weight loss (having said that, anyone who drinks sports drinks when they are not doing sport is on a fast-track to weight gain, we’re talking about moderate carb consumption as part of a greater than 2hr run here).

Despite the pretty clear evidence that you need to eat to get the most out of your marathon, I know that a lot of people worry about doing so. One obstacle that I know stops some people trying gels etc is that they taste pretty revolting. Also I know a lot of you don’t like eating rubbish processed food. And it’s absolutely true that eaten when you’re not running, gels are just the kind of pure sugary junk you should avoid. But so long as you eat a balanced diet when you’re not choking down your High 5’s, you shouldn’t worry about taking them when you run.  The fact is that on race day, the flavour and the lack of fibre are not important considerations. On the other hand, be warned that failing to take on energy during the race will cost you dear.

Geek’s Corner

Here are two links to some science. I’m not claiming to have read the articles in full, but I think I’ve managed to extract the gist of both.

The first paper Metabolic Factors Limiting Performance in Marathon Runners has a number of references to back up the basic claim that you need to eat while you run to achieve your best performance. They also develop a mathematical model that can supposedly be used as a marathon pace/energy calculator. I’d be very skeptical about their calculator as they don’t really seem to have tested it much.

The second paper is Training in the fasted state facilitates re-activation of eEF2 activity during recovery from endurance exercise. This title says it all: namely that they study the effect of glycogen depletion exercise not on performance but on some rather technical aspect of how your cells function. One might conjecture this cellular change could make you run faster but in the time trials they conducted they didn’t observe a difference.


Run a Better Half with Betterave

Posted on January 20th, 2018 by

There is a tremendous amount of rubbish printed about sports nutrition. One thing that sounds like total rubbish is the claim that consuming beetroot shots can boost your race results by 1-2%. That equates to about a minute off a half marathon, which is a huge claim.

And yet the evidence is pretty good. A paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology by Prof Andy Jones of the University of Exeter is the main one cited in the many newspaper and magazine stories on the subject. You can find a readable account in this article from Runner’s World.

On a practical level, the bottom line is that you should probably try 2 shots of Beet It concentrated beetroot about 2-3 hours before you want to hit peak beetroot. So for a ten mile race probably take it 2 hours before the start. Weirdly you mustn’t brush your teeth since the interaction of mouth bacteria is an important part of the chemistry behind it. The optimal dose varies from person to person so you might experiment.

Should you get Beet It, Beet It Sport or Beet It Pro Elite, or some other brand? It really depends how much you want to pay as there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful difference between the products. The research was done using the cheapest option.

Whether it is true or total rubbish, its pretty harmless. The flavour is a bit disgusting, but that is part of the fun. Like everything, however, you shouldn’t try it for the first time on marathon day. So if you’re racing this weekend, why not give it a go?




Posted on January 11th, 2018 by

If you are following our marathon and half marathon schedules, you will see that we’ve got a lot of long Sunday runs coming up. For marathons in particular, the long Sunday run is the key session of the week.

One mistake a lot of people who are new to marathon running make is to try to do the long Sunday runs too fast or to go too far too often.

The fact is that running for two hours or longer is tiring, and running it fast is utterly exhausting. It is OK to be exhausted occasionally during training, but not every week. You will see that in our schedule there are a few sessions where you run a long way fast, but they are spread out throughout the schedule to give you time to recover.

What happens if you do not take time to recover? You are very likely to fall ill (perhaps getting a cold that never seems to go or simply feeling tired all the time) or get injured (too many miles can take a real toll). There is absolutely nothing worse for your training than being ill or injured. It is better not to be training at all than to be making yourself sick.

I think there are two reasons people make the mistake of over-training.

  • Firstly, it’s easy to believe that more is more. If you increase your mileage a little, your race times will probably improve so you find yourself reasoning that if you run 100 miles a week you will probably become an elite athlete. In reality if you run 100 miles a week you are for more likely to become someone with a chronic injury who cannot run at all without discomfort. Yes, there are the occasional biologically blessed individuals who can cope with tremendous training loads, but for every elite athlete there are a thousand talented athletes nursing injuries.
  • Secondly, it’s impossible to believe that on race day you will be able to run 26.2 miles with all of those miles run faster than the longest run you did in training. Especially when that longest run was only 20 miles (for most athletes 20 miles should be the furthest they run, some faster runners may do as much as 22 miles or even 24 miles). When I’m training I find it impossible to believe that I can do it too, and yet I have done it time and time again, and athletes I have trained have done it too! It takes a bit of nerve to believe that moderation will pay off, but experience says that it does. That’s why experienced athletes don’t push their Sunday runs too hard. If you are new to marathons you have a choice: the hard way is to learn from your own experience; the easy way is to learn from other people’s.

How fast should you do your Sunday runs? Our schedule will tell you.

Our schedule mostly says “easy” or “steady” and gives you a rough idea of what pace that might be. For easy runs, you shouldn’t be too much of a stickler about the precise pace you run them. Apart from anything else you should sometimes be running on hilly routes or off road and inevitably you should run slower on tougher terrain. An easy run is a conversational pace but not a complete plod. A steady run is a brisk conversational pace.

Occasionally our schedule says that you should run some of the session at race pace. These are key sessions in the training programme. This gives you practice running at your target marathon pace and I recommend finding a flat fast route to give you a fighting chance of achieving this. You will find these sessions are seriously tough. They will make you question your ability to run 26.2 miles at your target pace. But they should do the opposite, if you can do these sessions you’re on track. Come race day it is astonishing what you will achieve.

How far should you go on your Sunday runs? Our schedule will tell you.

If you are doing an off-road route, I recommend judging your run by time rather than by distance. Don’t run 20 miles over mountains, that will exhaust you.

Where should you do your Sunday runs? From Talacre at 9 am using one of the routes on our website!

We’ve got 30 routes for you to choose between and you can easily follow them using a smartphone if you don’t yet know the way.

We encourage everyone to post on Facebook what they are doing for their Sunday runs so we can train together. Fairly obviously if you plan on running 18 miles at 7:30 minutes per mile, you can’t really expect to have company unless you’ve arranged to meet up in advance. Sometimes a solitary 3 hour run can clear your head, but most of the time it is a good idea to do these big runs with other people. I strongly recommend trying to get to Talacre as often as possible over the next few weeks so you can find the running buddies who are going to get you through the long runs ahead.


Why I’m not telling you how fast to run the Parkrun

Posted on January 6th, 2018 by

If you’re following our training schedules and have said you’d like to run the Saturday sessions, you will see there are a lot of parkruns in the schedule. Some of them are marked as “hard” which means you should race* them properly, but how fast should you run the rest of them? The answer is: it’s up to you!

When there’s a parkrun in the schedule it’s your job to listen to your body and decide how hard to take it. Most of the time you should be taking them fairly easy, running them at your 10 mile race pace or slower rather than your 5k pace. But every now and again, you might want to test your fitness and see what you can do. Just don’t do this every week or immediately before big races. However, if you’re running a parkrun in the rain during a flu epidemic and suddenly realise you have a chance of winning* the damn thing, then don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: it may never happen again.

So why don’t I tell you what to do?

A typical running schedule tells you exactly what to do for every session, but in reality you have to see a schedule as a guide to what to do rather than follow it to the letter. One danger with giving an athlete a schedule is that they can become completely passive and just do what they are told without applying their brain. But to get the most from a schedule you need to interact with it and make some decisions of your own about when to push yourself and when to back off.

Here are some points to remember. They apply to every training session, not just the parkruns.

  • If you are ill, don’t run. If you’ve got a cold, you will recover from it faster if you stop running. If you keep doing hard sessions, you can easily drag a cold out for weeks.
  • If you are feeling tired, take it easy. Most of us have got tiring jobs and long commutes, so you can’t push yourself as hard as an elite athlete would do. Your muscles only develop when you’re resting between training sessions, not when you’re training, so rest time is key to improvement.
  • If you miss some sessions, don’t try to catch up by doing them later. Just let them go. It is assumed when writing a schedule that you will miss some of the sessions, practically everyone will have to take a little bit of time out due to colds if they are training during the winter. So the schedule will still work if you don’t do all the sessions.
  • If you are injured, don’t run unless you have received medical advice that this will not exacerbate your injury. You are playing a long game: it doesn’t matter if you have to pull out of some training or miss a target race; it matters a great deal if you pick up a chronic injury that stops you running.
  • Don’t go to our track sessions with an injury.

It is a skill to adapt a schedule around your life and your fitness, but it is a skill that you are going to have to master to get the most out of yourself. I want you to learn that skill.

That is why I haven’t told you how fast to run every parkrun. And, of course, it should go without saying that you don’t have to run a parkrun at all! You can skip the session entirely if you’re not in the mood, or do a similar 5k session of your own later in the day. And if you like to get your long run over with on a Saturday because you have other godly or ungodly matters to attend to on a Sunday morning, by all means do your long run on a Saturday.

It’s your schedule. Adapt it to your needs.

Pedants’ Korner

*A parkrun is not a race so you cannot race a parkrun. A parkrun is not a race so you cannot win a parkrun.


Running Interval Notation

Posted on January 4th, 2018 by

How can you understand the Thursday sessions described in our training schedules? Most of our Thursday sessions are what is called “interval sessions”. In an interval session you alternate fast running with rest or jogging, but to describe the session in full you need to know how many intervals to do, how long they should be, how fast to run them and how long to rest. That’s quite a bit of information to get across.

Believe it or not there is an international standard for describing running interval training sessions, and that’s pretty much what we use in our schedules. The official notation was adopted as a standard by the IAAF in 1997, but we’ve made a few tiny tweaks from the standard to make it easier to read for novices.

The basic format is:

reps x distance (pace) [rest/recovery].

For example we might specify that you run:

4 x 1600m (10k) [1min].

That would mean that you run 1600m at your 10k race pace then rest for a minute. This is repeated 4 times.

A more complex session might be:

1600m (10m) [3min] 4 x {400m (1m) [2min]} 1600m (10m).

This means that you first run 1600m at your 10 mile race pace, then do 4 sets of 400m at your 1 mile race pace with 2 minutes rest between each 400m, then finish off the session with another 1600m at your 10 mile race pace.

That’s the notation we use for the main part of our schedule, but for the sessions for the current week we go to the trouble of calculating how long each interval should take you. This depends upon how you’ve customized the schedule. For example, if you’re hoping for a 3:30 marathon, for the complex session described above it would say

1600m (10m pace=7’31”) [3min] 4 x {400m (1m pace=1’38”) [2min]} 1600m (10m=7’31).

This means that the first 1600m rep should be done in 7 minutes and 31 seconds.

For Geeks and Pedants

You might be wondering what the official notation is. The official notation for the session above is:

1600 (7’31”) [3′] 4 x {400 (1’38”) [2′]} 1600m (7’31”)

What are the differences?

  • The distances are always in metres so the “m” can be dropped. Our notation uses m for metres when describing the distance and m for miles when describing the pace which is a bit icky.
  • The terse notation 3′ for 3 minutes.
  • The equivalent race pace isn’t mentioned, only the time each repetition should take.

Although it’s standard, the official notation is probably a bit too terse for normal humans to read. Also it doesn’t give you much of a clue what the effort should feel like. It’s easier to understand how running at 10 mile race pace should feel than it is to work out how running 1600m in 7’31” should feel.

For more information on the official standard see:

MACKENZIE, B. (2006) Representation of Running Training [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/trainprog.htm [Accessed 4/1/2018]


2018 Marathon and Half Marathon Training

Posted on January 2nd, 2018 by

At Mornington Chasers, we’ve put together some spring marathon and half marathon training schedules. They’re designed to target the London Marathon, the Brighton Marathon and the Paddock Wood half marathon (which is a flat, fast half marathon in Kent which is easy to get to on the train from London). We’ve written them with our members in mind but if you’re not a member you’re still welcome to use them.

The schedules are aimed at runners who are planning to do some track work as part of their schedule, but that’s a pretty broad range. Our marathon plans have been used in the past to achieve goals from sub 2:45 to over 4 hours. You can customize our schedules to match your personal goals.

We’ll be doing the Thursday sessions together at Parliament Hill track each week and we welcome runners of all abilities to our Thursday track sessions. And don’t worry if you just want to do the track sessions and have no intention of running a marathon/half marathon. Whatever races you are targeting these Thursday sessions should help you improve.

Using our schedules

You can find all our schedules here.

The marathon schedule is aimed at runners who can already run for 90 minutes continuously. If you can’t do this yet, start with what you can manage for the Sunday runs and add no more than 15 minutes each week until you have caught up with the long runs in the schedule.

If you have missed the first few weeks of the schedule, again don’t worry about it. Just join in and adjust the long runs as described above so that you are building up gradually.

The schedules include various warm-up races to help you prepare for race day. If you’re planning to follow the schedule with the club you should enter those races now. See this post for details of all the races. We’ve provided a few alternatives in case the races are full and if they don’t work for you, just replace them a hard workout of a similar distance.

I’ll be posting on this blog over the next few weeks to explain what all the terms in the schedules mean, but the easiest way to find out exactly what to do will be to come and join us at our Tuesday and Thursday sessions (at the Talacre Sports Centre in Kentish Town and Parliament Hill track respectively). We hope there will be plenty of pace groups running the Sunday sessions from Talacre too, but you should chat with others on our Facebook group to find out who’s running and at what pace on a Sunday.

Session 1: Kenyan Hills

We’re starting the New Year with 2 sets of 10 minutes Kenyan Hills.

Kenyan Hills is a training session where you run at a continuous fairly hard effort both up and down hills. It’s the fact that you keep up a good effort level on the downhills that makes them Kenyan Hills.

The session is designed to build strength (from running uphill), technique (running downhill) and speed endurance (from the continuous effort). The focus is primarily on building speed endurance.

You should be running at “threshold” effort which is the effort level you can just about sustain for an hour long race. That might be your 10K effort or your 10 mile effort depending upon how fast a runner you are. If you’re an olympic athlete it might even be your half marathon effort. Note that it isn’t your speed that counts, but the effort level. You want to maintain this same effort level on the ups and on the downs.

An alternative way of understanding what threshold means is that it is a pace where you should be able to say 3 or 4 words while running, but by the end of the session you shouldn’t be able to put a full sentence together.

We’ll be running two blocks of 10 minutes continuous Kenyan Hills on Primrose Hill with a two minute jog recovery between each block. We’ll meet at the Talacre Centre in Kentish Town at 19:00 for a 19:15 start as usual.

If Primrose Hill is no good for you, find a hilly circuit so that you can alternate about a minute uphill with a minute downhill.