How to run a faster marathon – We help Jim plan to run a fast 42km

How to run a faster marathon – We help Jim plan to run a fast 42km

On this edition of RUN we help another member of the Coach Parry online community create a plan to achieve their running goals. We head to Edinburgh in Scotland and help Jim Panton create a plan to run a fast marathon. (Don’t forget to grab our free marathon training program here)

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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of RUN with Coach Parry. I’m Brad Brown and it’s a great pleasure to welcome you back onto the podcast.

Thanks for listening and thanks for downloading, and thanks for being with us. Hopefully you’ll get something out of this podcast as well.

I’m pretty excited to welcome our next guest onto the show because it’s just over a year ago that we met for the first time. We’d spoken a few times online and the name pops up every now and again in the forums on the Coach Parry site and with the webinars and that sort of thing. But before we get to our guest let’s welcome Lindsey Parry onto the podcast.

Lindsey, welcome back. Nice to touch base with you.

COACH PARRY: Hi Brad. I’m good and it’s always fun to do these.

BRAD BROWN: Lindsey I’m quite excited to welcome Jim Panton onto the podcast. Jim is an ex-South African who’s living in Edinburgh, Scotland. If you’ve listened to the last few weeks of the podcast you will have heard Jim’s name and intro on the intro of the podcast. So it’s the second time technically that we’re getting you on the podcast.

Jim welcome onto RUN. Thanks for joining us.

JIM PANTON: Good morning, thanks so much. Great to be on.

BRAD BROWN: Jim, its summer in Edinburgh, and I use the term very loosely because it’s a bit gloomy today as we’re recording this. You’ve had a couple of days of sunshine. Is that summer over now? Is it baton up the hatch, winter is coming?

Running when there’s not much sunshine

JIM PANTON: We get 2 days of summer in Scotland. Normally people are out with their shirts off and they’ve got about 20 degrees so there were a lot of very white naked people running around. But it’s back to 14, 15 degrees so normal services resumed.

BRAD BROWN: I love it. Jim, before we jump into getting Lindsey to help you and get those goals in place for the next year for running. Some people who have been listening to podcasts that I have been doing for a while might recognise your voice.

I had a chat to you; it was around Comrades in 2016 I think it was that we had a chat. You’ve got a pretty interesting Comrades story that’s connected to Bruce Fordyce and a very interesting run that you did in Bosnia.

Tell us the abridged version of that because if people haven’t heard it, it’s quite a cool story.

JIM PANTON: In a nutshell, having grown up in South Africa living on the routes of the Comrades, I was determined one day I was going to do it. As a teenager, moved to the UK so I didn’t get a chance.

I joined the British Army and in the late 90’s I was serving in Bosnia with the British Army and a bit fed up with not a huge amount going on. They decided that we would do a duplicate, if we couldn’t do the real run, we would do a duplicate. We did a 90km run across Bosnia in a group of 10 that finished in the Olympic stadium in Sarajevo.

At the last minute we managed to convince Bruce Fordyce and Steve Cram to join us. So they came out from South Africa and the UK and ran with us.

Make history running with your childhood idol

We did that run in 9 hours and 46 minutes, which becomes a repeated time in a minute. It was fantastic. Effectively my first Comrades, but not the real Comrades. Running with Bruce and Steve was an amazing story at the time and a real memory to take to the grandkids in future.

BRAD BROWN: You told me the story as well about having to pee along the route that you weren’t allowed to step off the road. You had to pee in the middle of the road because of landmines.

JIM PANTON: This is one of Bruce Fordyce’s favourite stories actually because he found that quite extraordinary. In all seriousness there was a war zone. We had to up the level of security around us quite a bit and you weren’t allowed to step off the tarmac roads because there were quite a lot of very old war zone landmines around. So, peeing was done on the road. You couldn’t step off.

BRAD BROWN: It’s like the 2nd half of Comrades. Early on in Comrades people go into the bushes. But by the time the 2nd half comes you’re so knackered you couldn’t give a stuff. You just pee in the middle of the road, that’s the way it is.

JIM PANTON: You can’t be bothered anymore. Having idolised Bruce Fordyce as a kid watching him win race after race. It was an interesting introduction to seeing him peeing on the road without having him step off the road in the early stages of getting to know him.

The bucket list dream comes to fruition at the Comrades Marathon

BRAD BROWN: I still love that story, I think it’s fantastic.

Jim, from a running perspective you mentioned growing up with Comrades always being on your bucket list and always wanting to do it. Being in Scotland is a long way to come. You’ve run Comrades now. You ran in 2016 and we’ll get onto that in a moment. But what are some of the other things that you’re running. What sort of distances and what sort of running background have you got?

JIM PANTON: As a teenager I did a lot of middle distance and then it pretty much dried up after that in my early 20’s. Then the Comrades bug kicked in and a lot of my running has always just been about running. Having done the Bosnia run in 1998, Bruce Fordyce invited us, with a bit of a show for the next year.

So I did 2 in 1999 and 2000. Interestingly enough we did the down run in 1999 in 9 hours and 45. About a minute different from the Bosnia run. Then in 2000 for the back-to-back, was an up run and that was the first year they had the Bill Rowan.

I was determined to make it a Bill Rowan in the first year they had it. Having done 9:46 twice I figured it was on the cards. But I blew up badly on the up run and finished in 10:15. Then having done the back-to-back, living in the UK at that point I had small children. The whole thing kind of stopped and I didn’t really do much at all.

Running shorter distances gains better time on the long run

Until about a year and a half ago when I decided that as I approached 50, that Bill Rowan has got to be done. I put a whole lot of effort into the 2016 down run. Did about 1600km in training. Much the same kind of thing all the time. Just long runs, long runs, on a weekly structure which had short, medium and long. And did 9:49 last year. It ended up at a point where I thought that’s it, that’s my last attempt.

After Comrades last year, I made a few errors. My qualifying time was 3:39. I pushed it pretty hard to get that 3:39. That’s probably outside the Bill Rowan zone. I just looked at what I could do differently.

So in the last year I’ve concentrated on short distances. Mainly 5, 10 and half marathons and got my times down on all those. I changed my diet for the first time in my life. I’ve lost around 15 kilograms in the last year and a bit. None of my clothes fit me anymore which is completely mad.

I was building up to a marathon, which was my kind of alternative for this time of year. Not being able to do, and missing out on the 2017 Comrades, I did a 3:23 marathon yesterday. This is 17 minutes off my qualifier last year. I was very pleased so now it’s a case of I’ve got my speed up a bit on the short distance. I’ve got a marathon down to 3:23.

The plan for the next 12 months

What do I do for the next year in the run up to 2018? How can I up my speed? Shall I keep my speed and up my distance? What is the plan that I need to do over the next year now that I’ve concentrated on this short distance for the last year?

BRAD BROWN: That’s awesome. I’m going to hand you over to Lindsey. Lindsey, that’s your baby.

COACH PARRY: I’ve got a couple of questions about the marathon that you ran. And congratulations, it’s always awesome getting a PB. Based on your shorter distances, you’ve done a phenomenal job on your shorter than marathon distance.

As you said earlier, yesterday did conspire slightly against you although 23, 24 degrees wouldn’t be constituted as warm in South Africa. It’s particularly warm when you’re used to 14 degrees. We know from loads of research articles that as you go north of 14 degrees, your body does struggle to dissipate heat more and more. You probably would have got your 3:20 which was your original goal, had you been faced with 14 degrees.

What I wanted to ask you, and let me just give you a little bit of context before I ask that. If we look at your 5k PB at the moment of 19:09, you should then have a 10k PB of just less than 39 minutes. But you only did 2 races so you may not have hit your straps there. Your 16k PB is exactly in line with your 5k PB of 19:09. 1:06 is exactly what you should be doing and your half marathon is pretty close. You’re about 23 seconds off what I predict your half marathon to be, based on your 19:09.

How to turn speed into endurance

What that tells me is that your blend of the endurance versus the speed up to the half marathon is definitely in the right place. 3:23 was your marathon time and your marathon based on your 5k PB, should be around 3:07. So it means that there was quite a bit lost over that period. But I’d go as far as to say that you probably lost between 6 and 7 minutes just because of the heat. You’re probably capable of, for sure, a 3:15 to 3:20.

Talk me through the pacing a little bit. How did the actual run progress? What did you go through half way in?

JIM PANTON: That’s really interesting actually and I think you’re spot on there. The answer will completely come to justify that. I ended up, and I think that’s the challenge for the next year, I’m really happy with the short distances and the speed. But how do I turn that into endurance? That has to be what I do for the next year and I’m not quite sure how to do that.

So in the run yesterday, I was doing 4 minutes 30 to 4 minutes 35, probably for the first 15km. After that it slipped to about 4:40, 4:45 which I was okay with because I was looking for 4:44 average all the way through. But then from about 25k’s it started to go and I dropped to about 4:50, knocking on 5 minutes. The last 10k I couldn’t get below 5:15, 5:20.

COACH PARRY: Okay. In the race, did you feel a gradual depletion of energy or gradually slowing down? Or did you feel in parts that you still felt reasonably strong but you were just getting slower as you went?

When fatigue sets in after the halfway mark

JIM PANTON: No, I felt the depletion of energy. I started to get a little used to this recently. And probably last year’s Comrades, the 2016 Comrades, was the same thing. I feel absolutely fine cruising to halfway and just beyond. Then fatigue sets in.

It was hot in the Comrades for me and it was hot yesterday. I read your blog about the running in heat. I’m going to get a treadmill in the garage and get the heater on for the next 8 or 9 months so that bit I’m reasonably comfortable with what to do there to get used to the heat.

But I do feel fatigue in the second half. I heard someone say recently that a marathon is a, in miles here in the UK they talk about miles all the time. They say it’s a 20 mile training run and a 10k race. And I feel pretty comfortable about two-thirds of the way through. And then it’s just absolute hammers and tongs, everything I’ve got with the fatigue kicking in all the way to the end. I was pretty shot to pieces by the end and I had to lie down for quite a while.

COACH PARRY: Looking at what you are doing training wise. I like the Monday track that you’ve got going with the group and the variety through the year. They probably work towards different things at different times of the year. For most of your training I would maintain that.

Conquer the hills with strength work as opposed to speed work

Next year, and when I’m talking about next year I’m talking about your peak training time in March and April. I would move away from that group and start working more specifically on strengthening yourself on the hills that you are going to encounter. Although it’s a down run, having run it before, you know there’s like monstrous hills that you have to run over. So I would change that speed work to strength work and that would be on the hills in March and April.

But for now, I would continue to work on getting a little quicker if you can. I know you’re getting into your 50’s but you’ve had a long break from running. I’ve seen people that take a break from running still get quicker right into their mid to late 50’s before they then start getting the normal slowing down with ageing.

You probably still have a little bit where you can improve. Although it’s not necessary, it’s still nice to always get a little bit quicker. I also like the rest day that you have on the Tuesday which is after that session so that you can recover well.

That Wednesday and Thursday is where I think you can make the most impact in terms of your endurance. So, certainly regardless of the distance that you’re training for, 5k’s is very much on the light end. And then on the Thursday, the 10 to 15 is okay if we get a nice solid Wednesday in. But if you can increase Wednesday slightly to say also 10 to 15, then I would look at taking Thursday to a 15 to 20. That will certainly help in terms of that balance.

Shift your training strategy to accommodate the Comrades Marathon

For marathon training, your Saturday is also pretty good and the Sunday building up to 38k’s is also fairly normal. Now you can already see something quite obvious when you look at it. When you’re preparing for the half you are doing 25k for your longest run which means you’ve done a bit of over distance. That’s not practical for either a marathon or for Comrades. And in particular for Comrades.

How do you then counter that? Now we’ve done over distance for  the half marathon so psychologically you are very well prepared to race a 21, because you’ve run beyond that distance a couple of times. And number 2, physiologically you’re very well prepared because you’ve gone over that distance a couple of times. How do we do the same thing for the marathon?

The first thing is your Wednesday and Thursday. If we up those a little bit, and you want neither of those beyond 20. So one of those will be around 20 and the other one will be around 10 to 15k’s. That’s the one area where we will fix it a little bit because then your accumulative mileage just gets that little bit more.

Your Saturday which at the moment is a 10 to 20. When you’re moving into the Comrades training, it will be a 20 rather than a 10 more regularly. You need to be nearer to the 20k on a consistent basis.

Run a comfortable marathon, not a fast marathon

Then when you get to those long runs for a marathon, 38k will be good but I would say that needs to be repeated probably 4 times in the build up to the marathon. And then the consistency of having gone to that distance; means that you will then develop that aerobic capacity that you need to then allow you to be stronger through that whole 42.

What you must be careful of is trying to train for Comrades too far away from Comrades. We do want to fix the balance so to speak but I would suggest that what you do is prepare yourself for another marathon towards the latter part of the year. Rather than preparing yourself for Comrades next year early.

The point of that marathon isn’t necessarily to run a faster marathon than what you’ve already done. But it’s to get you to a point where you can run a much more comfortable marathon towards the end of the year, close to that lifetime PB perhaps or maybe it’s around 3:30. But the idea is that it will be a whole lot more comfortable than what you did. You may not get anywhere near that 3:07, or maybe you will. That decision can be made closer to the time.

Get strong and tough for the climbs

Then you start a gradual build up to Comrades in January. Your main period of fixing that endurance will take place in March and April. It will be happening on 2 levels. Actually, it will be happening on 3 levels. With the heat, acclimatisation which you’re already sorting out and made a plan for. It will be happening with building you strong and tough for those climbs. And then on the 3rd level, it will be about getting this aerobic phase or the conditioning and tying the speed together.

By doing that, when it comes to the actual Comrades part of the training, then on the Wednesday my recommendation would be to be running at least 20k’s with a maximum of 25 on the Wednesday.

On the Thursday you’d be running 15k’s.

On the Saturday, you’d be running 20 to 25 kilometres.

And then on that Sunday you pretty much won’t, except in your recovery weeks. You pretty much won’t run less than 35k’s on a weekend.

You’re talking about an 8 week block where you’ll run between 30 and 50k’s. In the first 4 week block, you’ll either be running 30, 40 maybe 50k’s and then you’ll have a bit of a recovery. Then you’ll have another 4 week block where you’ll do much the same. Where you’ll do 30, 40, and another 50 to 55. Then you’ll do a bit of a recovery and then you’ll start your taper down into Comrades. And that will tie your speed and endurance together and then you should end up coming to South Africa and running a pretty comfortable Bill Rowan. Especially with the heat acclimatisation being taken care of.

To qualify earlier or later in the season?

JIM PANTON: Fantastic. That’s really, really helpful. Just one quick thing and it kind of links I think, to talking about a marathon for this year. I think where the mistakes I made in 2016 was I left my qualifier until March. I was quite desperate to get below 3:40 to get into the pen at the start and I hammered it pretty hard to get that. And I did a 3:39 qualifier and again, I was lying on the ground for quite a bit afterwards.

I just wondered afterwards whether that took more out of me than I really needed. And that instead of recovering from that which my body needed, I carried on straight away with the training program because it’s the peak of training.

I’m just wondering whether, and what you said actually fits very nicely with that. If I went for a marathon at the end of this calendar year, at the end of 2017, got my qualifier inside that 3:30 zone. One more pen forward for 3:20 probably isn’t going to make that much difference. Have a nice comfortable 3:30, get in the right pen. Not overdo it but at the same time I don’t have to worry about qualifying in that peak period of March, April next year. I can just concentrate on my good steady program.

COACH PARRY: Absolutely. That I will go with 100%. If for whatever reason, the marathon doesn’t work out then again, still looking at where you’ve progressed to, there is still the possibility of doing a late January, early February 3:30 quite comfortably as a qualifier. Then a bit of recovery then you build up again and hit that March and April. Those are your important months for Comrades.

Stay fit, strong, healthy and injury free

The ideal is absolutely that if everything works out well and you continue to improve; and you end up going and running close to 3:20 or 3:30, but it’s a whole lot more comfortable than what you did now. Then you get into a nice general groove again.

Keep yourself fit, strong, healthy, injury free through to the end of Feb. Then March and April you really just pile on those kilometres. Recover through May. And next year the race is on the 10th June so everything will move across by roughly 10 days. But the principles will still remain the same.

JIM PANTON: I didn’t know it was 10 June in 2018. That’s great news to be able to start planning early. Fantastic, that’s great.

One of the things I learned this year in my run up to the marathon this weekend, was that I had a pretty steady program building up the distances on a Sunday. But just for a bit of variety I decided to do that 16k race in the middle of it. Tt was supposed to just be another training run but as you say I ran a time of 1:06 which is bang on the 19 minute 5k’s.

So, I was fantastic there, I was in really good form. And I felt brilliant at the end of it and I was so pleased with the time but it was supposed to be a training run on the way to the marathon.

Allow your body time to recover adequately

Then I was out training 2 days later and I never felt the same again for the next 3 or 4 weeks. I was really sluggish and I think that affected my running. And that’s what got me thinking about the qualifier in the middle of March, April and the damage that can do.

COACH PARRY: The lesson to take out of that is not to do no races, but it’s to allow your body to recover adequately after each race. So every time you do something like that, give yourself at least a week where your training is right down. You don’t have to do no training, but just leave out speed work. Drop the volume and drop the intensity. Allow your body to recover from that effort and then you crack back onto the training.

The longer the race is that you do, the more likely it is to have the effect that you had. Perhaps a 10 miler already told us that the 10 miler is that little bit too far and that when you do want to test yourself, your Parkrun or a 10k is perhaps more appropriate.

JIM PANTON: Fantastic. That is really helpful. It’s fantastic; I’m really motivated by that. Thank you very much.

BRAD BROWN: If I can just jump in there, Lindsey that’s a mistake that a lot of runners make. In the first half of the year, particularly before the Comrades. They’ve been training for the Comrades for 12 months from the previous Comrades.

Like you say, they’re not training for a marathon in November; they’re training for the Comrades the next year. Then they try to smash race after race, and they wonder why they feel terrible on race day at the Comrades.

Does a higher seeding gain you more time?

COACH PARRY: Yes, a lot of people get sucked into the seeding trap. And really once you move past D seeding you can add roughly 2 minutes per seeding pen as you move back. Unfortunately what happens is that people save themselves 2 minutes on race day by smashing themselves in a marathon to dip just under 3:20 or 3:40 or 4 hours. The recovery from that costs them 15, 20, 30 minutes. Depending exactly on the proximity to the race. But it costs you anyway. Even if you allow your recovery time. It costs you in those 10 to 14 days of training. So the 2 minutes that you gain you lose it anyway. So it’s madness.

JIM PANTON: In the end it cost me 49 minutes because I did 9:49.

BRAD BROWN: Jim, is there anything else? I know you mentioned the heat and you talk about getting a treadmill. Unfortunately that’s the down side of living in the UK and training for the Comrades Marathon. When you do it, the heat is just something you do struggle with.

Is there anything else we can help you with today?

JIM PANTON: The heat was a big issue for me last year, in 2016, I really battled. It wasn’t that warm in South African terms. But from a Scottish point of view it was sweltering and I thought it would be alright; but I could actually feel it. I remember putting ice in my mouth round about Hillcrest, Winston Park and it was the most exotic and amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. It was just so hot.

How to train for unaccustomed heat

And having raised the heat issue as a concern, I then read your blog about advice for all international runners which cover travel, etc. and the heat in there was fantastic. To run in extra clothing and to get a treadmill in a warm room; put a kettle on for some humidity. I’m definitely going to be doing that. That’s very helpful.

I remember when I moved to the UK from South Africa as a teenage runner, if it got really hot here, suddenly I’d be 10, 15 places higher than I was because I was used to the heat and the other kids weren’t. But now I’m acclimatised to this and it’s difficult in the heat.

COACH PARRY: I’m also going to give you a website to go on because since we did that blog I’ve been approached by these guys. Its idenixx.com and they have developed a material that when you sweat it absorbs the sweat and it undergoes a chemical reaction; and the garment itself cools down. That is a great way particularly for people who are coming from Europe or North America, coming from the Northern Hemisphere summer and coming into our so-called winter. Our winter is nearly 20 degrees warmer on some days. They have caps and all sorts of stuff. I haven’t run in it but I have tried the garments and wet it and it gets considerably cooler as soon as it gets wet. It’s definitely something to go and look at. They’re based in Germany so I’m pretty sure it won’t be too difficult to get there.

How much energy your body uses in the run to cool it down

JIM PANTON: I remember being amazed by the bit of research afterward to learn a little bit about how much energy your body uses up trying to cool down when you’re not used to the heat. And that’s definitely something that played on me. Other little things like you get the Comrades hat in the expo and I never wore a hat in training. But I thought that’s cool, I’ll wear a hat to keep the sun off my face but that just stopped the heat getting out of my head. So it added another layer of things that I hadn’t thought through. So all that’s going to come into play.

BRAD BROWN: Well Jim, you’re a member of the Coach Parry online community. The forum is there, hop in. Lindsey’s in there every day so if you’ve got any questions or if you need any help just hop in there and we’ll get you sorted ASAP.

Thanks for your time today. Much appreciated. It was great to catch up again and keep in contact. We’re keen to see how things go towards the end of this year. Then in the build up to the Comrades Marathon 2018.

JIM PANTON: Incredibly grateful. Thanks very much. See you at the expo in 2018.

COACH PARRY: Cool Jim, have a good year.

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