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Category: Marathon Training

Our Schedules for Spring 2018

Posted on December 9th, 2017 by

We’ve got a feast of running lined up for you in spring with no less than 3 schedules for you to choose from, all adapted to the Mornington Chasers timetable so we can train together as much as possible.

The schedules we have are:

As preparation for all of these big target races, the schedules work in the following preparatory races. Make sure you sign up for them ASAP. Dates and times are in our calendar.

  • The Fred Hughes 10 (in St Albans) or, if you are fit enough already and prefer a trail race, the Benfleet 15.
  • The National Cross Country championships, Parliament Hill. Sign up via our calendar. If you are following the half marathon schedule you should take this easy, everyone else should be in it to win it.
  • The Mornington Chaser’s Regent’s Park 10K in March. This is our club 10K championship. If you are following the half marathon schedule, you should race this hard. If you are following the marathon schedule, you should build this into your long run as a marathon pace section. Marshal the race in January or February to get free entry.
  • The Official Hampton Court Half Marathon (in March, not to be confused with the “original” Hampton Court Half Marathon in February) or if you are a trail fan the Ashridge Boundary Run (note that this is on a Saturday an is a scenic but demanding 16 miler)
  • For those who like to train on Saturdays as well as Sundays, the schedule also incorporates the remaining Start Fitness Met League Cross Country fixtures. You can just turn up for those races on the day: just remember to bring your club vest and make sure that you have England Athletics membership (log in to our website to check).

Can’t wait to get started? Well we’ve also got a December schedule that will build your strength and, if you are a marathoner, will start to condition you ready for the long runs ahead.



Endurance Coaching Seminar at St. Mary’s – ‘Aiming High’

Posted on December 9th, 2016 by

Every couple of months, England Athletics invites the leading coaches on the National Coach Development Programme (NCDP) based in the South-east for a get together at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham. I have been to various gatherings over the years and those sessions never disappoint. The wealth of experience and willingness among coaches to drive athletics forward is something I always find inspiring. Special thanks to Neville Taylor, National Coach Mentor for Endurance, for putting together a packed agenda.

This year’s NCDP coaching seminar theme was on ‘Aim higher’. The next Olympic cycle is already upon us and what has worked so far for the last 4 years, may not be good enough anymore to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and make the podium. Future performances such as sub 1’40’’ (800m), 3’26’’ (1,500m) or even the sub 2-hour marathon are discussed among athletics pundits. While these are big challenges, pushing the boundaries is the first step towards improvement. When we do not start to plan for it, it will unlikely happen, and then we will not strive towards improvement says Neville Taylor. This session on ‘Aim higher’ provides the context to explore how training would need to change to enable athletes to reach the next level.

General Testing & Screening

The seminar started with a practical session led by Richard Blagrove. Richard is a Senior Lecturer for Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University College and has authored a book with the title ‘Strength & Conditioning for Endurance Running’. The aim of the practical session was to assist coaches with screening and testing technique when working with athletes, regardless of their age. Screening and testing help to assess the athlete’s muscular and functional strength and weaknesses. Once the coach understands the athlete’s specific demands, remedial strategies to strengthen joints, muscle and improve movement patterns can be put in place, which helps to prevent injury and enable the athlete to do more event-specific work.

Testing & Screening

Testing & Screening

The screening and testing tools were general strength exercises along the specificity continuum. Richard introduced a set of low/high load exercises and capacity tests and explained to coached what to look out for. Coaches experimented with the exercises (single leg bridge, standing rotation, walking lunge, side hold, etc.), gave each other feedback and identified variants of the movements as remedial actions. The majority of exercises were related to hip strength, correct pelvis position and maintaining a static core. The scoring in those tests help during athlete profiling and develop improvement plans, which prevent injury and drive performance.

A very useful clinic and Richard busted some myth about strength & conditioning and highlighted some common exercises used by many endurance athletes, which are rather counterproductive to core strengthening.

Altitude Training

Dr Kate Spilsbury, Physiologist with British Athletics, provided an overview of British Athletics’ Altitude Programme. Since the first altitude trips, the altitude programme has evolved and matured. What was initially perceived as a ‘holiday trip’ for athletes, has now turned into a thoroughly planned, high-tech expedition. Top endurance athletes, depending on their season goal, apply multiple altitude camps a year. Between November and January, athletes have been attending the High Altitude Training Camp (HATC) in Iten, Kenya for typically 3 to 4 weeks. The aim is to accelerate the development of aerobic fitness. In November to January, Iten in Kenya at 2,400m is ideal and has favourable weather and altitude conditions. However, for some athletes getting from the UK to Iten is a very long and tiring journey. Font Romeu, from the UK, is more accessible, though the weather is more unpredictable during the off season. Further into the season, British Athletics uses Font Romeu in the French Pyrenes or for US based athletes Flagstaff and Park City as altitude camps. Those locations enable athletes to stay at a lower level of altitude and do more intense sessions at a lower altitude while staying for the rest of the time at a higher base.

The research found that complementing altitude camps with altitude tents at sea level has an accumulative effect and helps the athletes to maintain and even increase high haemoglobin levels.

Optimal Exposure

Optimal Exposure

A couple of coaches were critical of the benefits of altitude training. The change in environment and the adaptations of the training programme was seen more as a risk than a benefit. It was pointed out that early adopters of altitude training in the 1970s and 1980s went to altitude and continued with the same amount and intensity they were used to at sea-level. When at altitude, depending on the level, intensity is reduced. High intense workouts are done sparsely, i.e. after 2 easy days, a more intense session follows to allow extra recovery. Further determinants of a successful altitude camp are better understood and controls are put in place to ensure that athletes arrive fit, healthy and conditioned at altitude to maximise the training effect.

To my surprise, British Athletics approach to altitude camps is quite controlled and regimented. The camps have clear objectives and measurements have to be in place to support those. Athletes are closely monitored on a daily basis and ensure that they follow their personalised training and not training too hard or join sessions of local athletes. The data gathering helps British Athletics to continuously improve and optimise the programme and get an in-depth understanding of the benefits and physiological changes in athletes of altitude training.

In contrast to the official British Athletics altitude programme, Mo Farah, Charlie Grice and Adam Clarke went to train in Ethiopia. However, all stayed in Kenya first before moving on to Ethiopia. It was highlighted that Mo Farah attended many altitude camps and spent a lot of time throughout the year at altitude, consequently his body is already adjusted. To gain extra benefit Mo Farah has to train at higher altitudes in Ethiopia and in addition use an altitude tent. The highlands of Ethiopia are flatter compared to Kenya.

Charlotte Purdue has been training at altitude in Falls Creek in Australia and is preparing for an altitude camp to Dulstrom in South Africa. Both locations are not part of the British Athletics altitude camp, though frequented by many international runners.

Another coach asked if athletes offered US scholarships should rather choose a university located at altitude. Kate confirmed that spending 3 years at altitude could be very beneficial for their performance and long term development.

Altitude Tents

The founder of Affinity Altitude Ray Matthews (Brighton Phoenix) presented his latest range of altitude tents. Ray, a club mate of the 1,500m runner Charlie Grice, assessed the altitude tents available on the market and thought he could improve and simplify the usability of those tents. Affinity Altitude offers two models, the ‘Oxy Hood’ and the ‘Oxy Wagon’. The Oxy Hood is a small version of the Oxy Wagon and fits around the upper body, while the Oxy Wagon covers the whole double bed. The altitude tents enable athletes to simulate altitudes of up to 3,500 meters.

Ray tried the altitude tent out for himself. After a couple of weeks, despite reducing his training load by 50% he kept on improving and maintains a mid 17 minutes 5k as a V50. He attributes the improvement to sleeping in the altitude tent. British Athletics has some units in circulations, British Cycling tested the tents with their cyclist too and received positive feedback, while the tent is also beneficial for triathletes.

The altitude tent comes with a generator (40 dBA) and starts from £1,900. These are possibly worth 2x altitude trips to Kenya. However, as pointed out by the British Athletics, the altitude camp and staying at the tent at sea levels makes the difference to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness for longer.

Altitude Tent

Altitude Tent

The responses among the coaches were mixed. While I am a strong advocate of altitude training camps, some of the middle distance coaches were sceptical about the value add such tents have. As we heard, leading athletes like Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz use altitude tents all the time. One of the issues identified is that what is the effect when sleep gets interrupted, or one has to leave the tent. Further, a recommended minimum of 10 hours sleep is required, not an option for many athletes in full-time employment.

Q&A with Elliot Giles and Charlotte Purdue

Elliot Giles, bronze medal winner in this year’s European Championships in the 800m talked about changing his coach and getting used to the new training regime. Matt Yates, a retired international middle distance runner, coaches Elliot. Elliot, still U23, is learning and getting familiar with the coaching process. Matt Yates quickly fills in the gap and entertains the room with his latest methods (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) he has seen used by drug addicts for getting Elliot to reinforce his new regime. Next, Matt states that athletes should not limit themselves by thinking they cannot beat the Africans in important races. It seems to have worked well so far. Elliot made a significant improvement, earned a medal at the European Championships, made it to the Olympics and gained a lot of experience. An exciting athlete to watch.

Charlotte Purdue ran her debut marathon in the 2016 London Marathon (2:32:48) and narrowly missed out on making the team for the Rio Olympics. Charlotte changed coaches and is now coached by Australian coach Nic Bideau. Despite at young age, Charlotte always felt positive about the marathon and enjoys the training. Previous VO2Max tests suggested that she is particular suited for the more longer distances. Her long term aspirations is to make the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Her next goal is to compete in the World Championships in London next year.

Charlotte talked about her build up for the Berlin Marathon. Unfortunately, the night before the race she felt sick and dropped out of the race the next day. A frustrating experience, though Charlotte quickly re-focussed and her coach entered her in the Frankfurt Marathon. She had a good race in Frankfurt and managed to run 2:30:04 and felt she has found her event. She wants to progress further in the marathon and want to follow the likes of Benita Johnson / Mara Yamauchi and progress towards 2:25 in the marathon.

Many coaches in the room assumed Charlotte or Elliot are on lottery funding.  Charlotte is a self-funded athlete, works part-time as a personal trainer/pilates teacher and funds her own altitude camps. Unlike other athletes on the funded programme, she does not receive the same amount of medical support from British Athletics. Coaches highlighted that there are many athletes trying to transition from national to international athletes or after coming back to the UK after their US scholarship in a similar situation. A kit or shoe sponsor supplies equipment rather than funds. This leaves athletes, not on funding trying to make their own arrangements. It is less the long term financial incentive that drives athletes rather than the prospect of performing at their full potential. Thanks to some sponsorship Elliot is a full-time athlete. He knows that he has to deliver results too to maintain his status.

Unfortunately, from a coaching perspective, there was little detail on the actual training programme. For example, peak mileage, typical build up, peaking, carbo-loading regime.


An insightful day at St. Mary’s which facilitates learning among coaches, sharing idea and contextualising strength & conditioning into their coaching reality. Not all of us have the means and opportunity to attend an altitude trip, though Font Romeu is only a flight away to Barcelona and a 2 hour drive. 1-2 weeks has benefits and accelerates aerobic fitness. For those keen to perform close to their full potential, altitude training is a must. 2015 I spend a week in Iten, Kenya and definitely benefited.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Tune-Up Races during Marathon Training

Posted on October 22nd, 2016 by

From time to time I follow Premier League football. I don’t have a particular team and neither am I informed on the ability of any particular team, though I follow with interest Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool FC. Jürgen Klopp has a diploma in Sports Science. His thesis was on race walking, so he must have an appreciation of endurance events.

Shortly after I have submitted the last blog entry on active recoveries, I went onto the BBC website and came across the very latest post on Jürgen Klopp (video). Klopp heard about the premier league fixtures during boxing day. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased that he has to play Manchester City, a top team coached by the Spaniard Pep Guardiola followed 48 hours later to play an away game to FC Sunderland, coached by David Moyes. Klopp was slowly winding up his point, stating two matches in less than 48 hours are not the way to go about it. He admitted that he enjoys watching football during boxing days like many other football fans. However, he raised the point that all other teams around Europe take a break. Many players will have played more than 20 games by Christmas already. There is a risk of injury from playing too many games. More vital in Premier League football as a lot of money is at stake. Klopp suggests to take a break and claims this would help the England Team to perform better in big tournaments. What can we learn from Jürgen Klopp when we are training for a marathon and running too many tune-up races?

Spring Marathons

Last week the Virgin Money London Money Marathon announced the results of the ballot. Many including me have received their rejection magazine through the letter box. Running for a charity is the final option to get into the London Marathon. With London out of the way, most start to look at Manchester or Brighton, perhaps consider running a marathon in Europe – Paris, Rotterdam, Zurich, Vienna, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Barcelona, etc. are worthy city marathon alternatives with a flat and fast course.

Many spring marathons take place between March and April. Once we made up our mind and paid the entry fee, we then have to worry about signing up for a Half-Marathon as a tune-up race. There is a common belief that when one trains for the marathon, then a Half-Marathon needs to be done before a marathon, even if the physiological demands for the Half-Marathon are slightly different compared to the marathon. Ironically, most of the elite runners, once their agents managed to secure them a place in a big city marathon will either not be allowed to race due to a risk of injury or none of the other event organisers want to hire a top runner when not committed and specifically training for their event. There must be some explanation for what makes runners run half-marathons before a marathon.

Marathon Training

Between now and London Marathon, most try to get back into the groove and get their base fitness sorted. Working on strength & conditioning during the dark winter evenings helps too.

From January onwards, folks should start to look at their general preparation, building on the base fitness and expanding the long run. With 6-8 weeks to go, the marathon specific phase occupies most of March followed by a 2-3 weeks taper in April.

We now have a dilemma of finding a Half-Marathon race and fitting it in. When we choose a race, then likely a long run has to give way. We also want to do well and expect a PB, which hopefully sets us up nicely for the marathon.

What to do? There are many Half-Marathons on offer. It’s a busy market with Half-Marathons every weekend. On the other when running too many races during training, will it negatively affect my marathon training. These are general considerations among marathon runners.

Should I run a half-marathon?

Given the training circumstances, one can either run a Half-Marathon in the general preparation phase, specific phase or during the taper phase.

The aim of the taper phase is to get as fresh as possible and ready for the marathon it would not be advisable to run a Half-Marathon close to the marathon. While likely in good form, capitalising on the previous training cycles, an athlete need to factor in the recovery required when running the Half-Marathon. Also, there could be a risk of injury, endangering the marathon.

Having out ruled the taper phase, this leaves the general preparation or the specific marathon preparation phase. Towards the end of a general preparation would be an ideal time to test the waters with a Half-Marathon. The mileage is moderate, the intensity of the training is not too high. On the other hand, racing in March when runners need to practice their long runs should happen, running a Half-Marathon will be a bad idea. Most athletes reach their peak weekly mileage and train quite hard. The compound training effect suggests that we will be unlikely at our best form or fresh for a race. Further, whenever training volume and intensity increase/reduces and cross over, then there is a risk of injury.

When is the best time to run a Half-Marathon?

An ideal window of opportunity for racing a Half-Marathon is between February and early March. Wokingham or Brighton are well positioned for those wanting to build up to the London Marathon.

Vitality Brighton Marathon (9/4/2017)

In a 16 weeks marathon build up, the general preparation phase starts mid-December and lasts until mid-January. Competitive phase and taper starts in late March.

  • Fred Hughes 10m (January, 22nd 2017)
  • Watford Half-Marathon (February 5th 2017)

ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon (2/4/2017)

Similar to Brighton, though Manchester is a week earlier.

  • Fred Hughes 10m (January, 22nd 2017)
  • Watford Half-Marathon (February 5th 2017)

Virgin Money London Marathon (23/4/2017)

In a 16 weeks marathon build up, the general preparation phase should start early January and should last until mid-February. Competitive phase and taper starts in April.

  • Hampton Court Half-Marathon (February, 19th 2017)
  • Vitality Brighton Half-Marathon (26th February 2017)


Figure 1: Example Virgin Money London Marathon

Volume and Intensity during the Marathon specific phase

During the marathon specific phase, as the name suggests, the focus needs to be specific to the event demands of the marathon.

Within the last 6-8 weeks of the marathon, the focus needs to be on the long run rather than the Half-Marathon. The long run is run at a slower pace in comparison to the marathon and the Half-Marathon. The purpose of the long run is to build endurance, strength and prepare your body to source energy from fat rather than muscle glycogen. As the Half-Marathon is typically run at a faster pace in comparison with the marathon, the sourcing of fuels relies more on muscle glycogen rather than body fat. If we race week in week out during this phase we never properly train for the marathon and teach the body to burn fat as fuel efficiently or practice our breakfast and fuelling strategy. Instead, we are mainly using muscle glycogen and we are missing out on preparing ourselves for the later stages during a marathon.

Volume and Intensity

Figure 2: Volume vs. Intensity

Sure, some runners prefer to get constant feedback from a race result, though the risk is high, when it matters on marathon day to underperform and treat the season’s goal as just another race. Physiologically, we will be missing out on the most important training unit for the marathon, the long run.

While there are ‘cut-back’ weeks in a marathon specific phase, i.e. very third of fourth week there is a week of reduced volume and intensity to allow the body to repair itself from the previous week’s training, some runners use this opportunity to run a ½ marathon. However, instead of focusing on recovery, some will up the intensity once more and will accept a few more days of post-race recovery. Choose wisely when it comes to including a tune-up race during the marathon specific phase.

Are there any other options?

If you need to take part in a race during your marathon campaign, then the following options come to mind.

Option 1 – Run a Half-Marathon at your target marathon pace. 

Resist racing a Half-Marathon at your Half-Marathon pace and rather shift a gear down. After a 1 or 2 miles of an easy warm-up run 8-9 miles at your target marathon pace and follow on with a cool-down of another 1-2 miles. Operating at a lower intensity will ensure your training remains marathon specific and you rehearse your marathon target pace. This approach requires a lot of discipline, especially during the first few miles when everyone around you is running hard.

Option 2 – Run a 20 Mile race as a training run at your long slow distance pace.

In the build-up to the London Marathon, there are a few 20 Mile races. 20 Mile races are a bit old school. For example, there is the Finchley 20. A 20 Mile race is an excellent opportunity to master long runs, while not having to worry about drinks and nutrition. However, resist the urge of running a 20 Miler as an all-out effort. You will only end up depleting your glycogen muscle stores. Rather than a few miles at your target marathon race or 5% slower than your marathon target pace and practice pacing, fuelling and drinking.

Option 3 – Running a shorter race as part of a long distance run.

For example, run 10k at an easy pace, run a 10k at marathon pace followed by another 10k run. Logistically, challenging to make it to the start line on time.

While there are options, too many tune-up races during marathon training can be counterproductive. Due to the accumulated fatigue of increased training week in week out we will not be physically in the best position to run a Half-Marathon personal best.


When it comes to training and racing, everyone is different and an experiment of one. What works for one doesn’t work for others. Some are happy to work with patience toward a big goal, while others need stepping stones along the way to fuel their motivation.

Considering a lot of commitment is required when training for a marathon, my advice is to avoid running a Half-Marathon during the marathon specific phase. It’s best to use a Half-Marathon as a marker at the end of the general preparation phase to assess the level of fitness. Once we know where we are fitness-wise, we will address weaknesses and will train more focused through the marathon specific phase.

As we have seen, during the marathon specific phase we will hit the peak weekly mileage, we will be running our longest runs. The combined volume and intensity will reach its peak. Runners need to be mindful during the marathon phase not to overload their body and increase the risk of injury. Contrary, ensuring enough recovery after the long runs will become vital. Sticking to structured training plan helps to navigate around those weeks of specific training and keep the risk of injuries at bay.

Psychologically, during the taper phase, the focus needs to be on the marathon. When we get distracted by running a 10k, we are less focused and will not take the final days before the race too seriously. When running a marathon, respect the distance and the training you need to be doing.

As I finished this blog, looking at the premier league table. Klopp must have done something right with his planning as his Liverpool FC shares the top spot.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Saturday).