Moving from a 21km to a full marathon – We help Lulu make the jump

Moving from a 21km to a full marathon – We help Lulu make the jump

What does it take to jump from running half marathons to full marathons? On this edition of Run with Coach Parry we create a plan of action for Lulu Sibiya to do just that.

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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto the first edition of Run with Coach Parry. I’m Brad Brown. We’re changing things up in a big way here on the podcast. Over the last 4 or so years we’ve been doing regular, shorter segments of runners asking the coach questions. But we want to really get down and dig deep with some great runners around the world, and here in South Africa. And across the globe. We want to help individual runners just get better. It could be if you’re training for your first 5k or first 10k. Perhaps you want to get better at a half marathon, or you want to run a marathon PB. Coach Parry can definitely help. We’ve got him on the podcast with us once again.

Lindsay welcome. Nice to touch base. I’m quite excited about the changes we’re making, and it’s good to have you with us.

LINDSAY PARRY: It’s awesome. It’s actually very cool to touch base with the runners themselves. We’ve always dealt with just the questions on a sheet of paper. This will be a lot more personal and hopefully we will interact with the runners themselves. Also, the other people who can then identify with these runners with a lot more useful information.

BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. And we’ve got our first guest on as well. Don’t forget if you’d like to find out more about how you can become a guest on the podcast, all you have to do is head over to We’ve got some training programs you can download there, and you’ll get all the details too.

It’s a massive welcome onto the podcast, Lulu Sibiya who is in Cape Town. Lulu, welcome, thanks for joining us today.

LULU SIBIYA: Thank you Brad, for having me.

BRAD BROWN: Lulu tell us a little bit about you and how long you have been running? What’s your running background?

LS: I started running in October 2014 with a friend of mine. We just decided to start running and we joined one of the clubs close to us. I remember the first session we thought this is boring. They’re doing 4 minutes running, 2 minutes walking. But at the end of that session I was left humbled, because I realised that it was going to take time for me to get to where I could run a full 10km. I’ve been running ever since.

I’ve had a few breaks in between and I’ve done about six or seven 21km’s, but I find that my time is not good. I’ve always had the attitude that as long as I finish. I suppose that the running bug has caught me because now I want to improve my time. I want to attempt my first marathon.

BB: Before I let the coach jump in, why do you run Lulu?

Do something for yourself

LS: I run because running is a form of escape. I’m a mother of 3 children. A daughter of 12, a son of 8 and the 3rd one is 3. For me, it’s a way out of work and also a busy life as a mother. Running has really taken care of me. I’ve gone through difficult times in life. Most recently, at the end of last year, losing my parents. And I found that running was a way of me getting better. That’s why I love running. For me, it’s a way to be out there and just doing something for myself.

BB: I’m going to take a back seat now. Lindsay I’m going to let you jump in and let’s see if we can help Lulu achieve some of her goals. I know you were talking before we started recording, and I’m sure you’ll dive into what those goals are and how to get there.

Respect the marathon distance

LP: The interesting thing here, South Africans in general, don’t go about their running in a modest or particularly, I was going to use the word intelligent, but that might be a little bit too direct. But we certainly aren’t modest or too logic in the way that we approach our running. We have very big ultra distance races and we in South Africa, don’t give enough respect to the marathon distance. What I really like about Lulu’s goal is that she would like to run a marathon, but she hasn’t set that target to do it right now.

So, Lulu has been running for a couple of years already. Done a couple of half’s and has decided she wants to move up to the marathon distance. And the race that she selected is the 2018 Cape Town Marathon, which is the first marathon on the African continent to get a Gold Label status. It really is on it’s way to becoming a big city marathon. Time is on Lulu’s side which is brilliant. A runner’s biggest threat is injury, so we’ve got loads of time. Now I need a little bit more information from you Lulu. I’m going to be doing a little less talking and you’re going to do a little more talking.

Balancing responsibilities and training commitments

You have a full time job. You are a mother of 3, so those 2 things require quite a lot of responsibility. Which means as much as you love running, you have a limited amount of time to run. Talk me through a little bit in terms of how many days per week can you consistently commit to either pure running, or perhaps some cross training. Or maybe a bit of gym, whatever. Let’s get a little bit of a picture of your week and what your training week could look like.

LS: At the moment I train with a group in the early mornings at 5 o’ clock. We train about 3 times a week. We meet on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do my long runs on Sundays because I’m not available on a Saturday. I can commit to that. What I’ve also done recently, is I have also tried to tap in on Tuesdays and Thursdays during my lunch hour at work. It could be just a quick 5km around the block or going up to Rhodes Memorial. Just to challenge myself a bit and get moving.

I can commit to the mornings and also early evenings, 6 o’ clock, quarter to 6, I can commit to that. But that is a bit of an uncomfortable time for me. Maybe 2 or 3 times a week for early evening. But I tend to enjoy morning runs. I’m a morning person and I’ve got this group that kind of pushes me to run early mornings.

I’m also able to commit to some training at gym. I’ve got a gym membership at Virgin Active but I haven’t been utilising it fully. I spend most of my time on the road when it comes to training. I have heard that one needs to mix things up with gym work as well. But I’m not sure how to do that so I tend to spend a lot of time on the road.

How should you be doing long runs?

LP: The last piece of information that I need for the puzzle, is to get a bit of a sense of those 3 morning sessions that you’re running with the Edgemead Club. Then when you say long run, what is a long run? In broad terms, you don’t have to give me too many specifics, but on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, roughly how long do you run? Are you doing any intensity work? And then on the weekend, the Sunday, how long are those runs?

LS: My Sunday long runs are between 15 and 18km at a very comfortable slow pace. I tend to do Mondays on my own a lot. I join the group now and then. Because of the long run I don’t want to commit too much to the early Monday mornings. So, I tend to do Mondays on my own, at lunch time or late afternoon. It’s about 4/5 km, also comfortably.

Then I join the group again on Wednesday, it’s about 9km. A bit of a challenge the one hill. I join them again on Friday which is about 4-and-a-half km. Also, where I push myself a bit but not too uncomfortable.

LP: Just a few quick observations from my side. Running 4 days a week, for most people, is enough. In terms of the training that you’ve done up to this point in time now, I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to run more. However, what you are going to need to do, and it can be a gradual process, it really doesn’t have to happen in a hurry. Increase the volume of the running, slowly over time.

The weekend run, while you’re running and trying to improve your half marathon time for the rest of this year. That long run on the Sunday, your stock long run, can be somewhere in the region of 18 to 22/23 km. And you’ll build up slowly. So, you don’t just suddenly start running 20km for that run. And by the time we get to the end of the year, which is more or less when you’ll be able to run some good times, or perhaps early into next year, when you start running good times on your half’s, that long run will be about 25km.

Gaining from interval work, hill work, speed work

Then your Wednesday run also needs to increase a little bit and I would push that up to somewhere between 12 and 15 km. I quite like what you’re doing on a Monday which is to take it a little bit easy after the long weekend, so keep doing those 4/5km. And then on the Friday we can start looking at adding in a little bit of intensity work. Or doing hill repetitions or some fartleks.

Fartleks is quite nice because you can still meet the group and run with them a bit and then you can run hard for 3 minutes and then jog back to the group for recovery. Then run hard. It’s also safer to run in a group. But you’ll want to start doing a little bit of interval work, a little bit of hill work, a little bit of speed work. Those are the things that are going to turn you into a much better 21km runner. Which will in itself will give you more confidence going for the longer marathon.

And then obviously, next year come February, you will then start to again crank up the kilometres a little bit more. Not a whole lot more, but a little bit more, because you will need that extra endurance so that you can get yourself from the 21 to the 42.

LS: Thank you.

Is your running form holding back your performance?

BB: Lindsay, that’s fantastic advice. Lulu, from an overall training perspective at the moment, what are you struggling with right now? What are you battling with?

LS: One of the things that I battle with is my running form. I tend to move forward when I run. I think it’s related to the posture. When I run I tend to get back pain especially after a long race, kind of a 21km. I think I need to improve on my running form. I need to find a comfortable posture or way of running.

LP: One of the things that is causing the pain in your lower back is, because with your training, every time you do a race, you’re actually getting to the outer limits of your endurance, strength endurance. And so, you probably lose form as you’re running. That slight forward lean that you’ve got that’s perhaps putting pressure on your hamstrings, your glutes and your lower back, that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Without watching you run it’s a little tricky to answer your question.

How you can improve your fitness

I do feel that by improving your fitness and by perhaps using that gym membership of yours. Take your lunch break to head to the gym twice a week, and do some basic pilates type of strengthening, and maybe a circuit for something like that. That will help you to give you the strength to help improve the muscular strength, that will then help to prevent that lower back pain.

But at the same time, also just gradually increasing your volume will also help you. The human body is like a constant experiment that is happening. The more you run, up to a point, if you overdo it you obviously risk injury. But the more you  run, the stronger each little unit becomes. Because your body is literally running like little diagnostics all the time. You slowly get more and more efficient. You slowly get stronger and stronger, and your body starts to look after you. And a bit of gym will obviously help that process.

LS: Okay, thank you.

BB: Lindsay, if I can just jump in there too. Lulu, you said you were running those 4 days a week with the Edgemead group, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Then on your lunch breaks on Tuesday and Thursday, you were saying you were going for a shorter one. Lindsay, would you advise that Lulu, I know you mentioned 4 days a week is enough, but would you advise that Lulu doesn’t do those lunch time trips up to Rhodes Memorial, or shorter runs? That she rather spends that time in the gym doing some strength and conditioning stuff?

Spend alternate day doing strength and conditioning work

LP: Yes. Absolutely. That’s what I advise. At the moment what she’s doing is 4 to 5 km very easy on a Monday at lunch time. Then I would say Tuesday is a good time to get into the gym. Wednesday back with the Edgemead group. Thursday back in the gym. Friday with the Edgemead group, and throwing in her little bit of intervals and a bit of something different. Saturday becomes her rest day and Sunday then becomes her long run day. That’s a very nice balance for a training program.

BB: Yes, absolutely. Lulu, any other questions you’ve got for the coach that you need help with?

LS: No. That’s it. Thank you so much. I think now I have a good idea. I wasn’t sure how to mix my goals. I didn’t want to let go of the group and also the Tuesday and the Thursday thing that I was doing. It felt that there was too much going on and there’s this club membership that I’m not using. Now I’ve got a brilliant idea in terms of how I can incorporate all these things.

LP: One of the things that I love about the South African running scene is that club structure. When you start training for the marathon and those Wednesday long runs really start to get a bit long, and the Sunday long runs really get long, you’re actually going to need your club mates. They’re going to be who you’re going to get up to see in the mornings.

So, when you start training hard for a race and getting more specific about your training, it’s important to find that balance between doing a little bit on your own that allows you to achieve your individual goals. But still being able to tap into that group and enjoy that social environment and motivation that you get from it.

LS: Brilliant, thank you.

BB: I think that pretty much wraps it up. Lulu, training programs, if you want to get your hands on some, all you have to do is head over to The links to that are in the show notes for this episode of the podcast.

Make sure you go check that out. What you can do as well is if you want to be part of the coachparry online community, make sure you go check out It’s a thriving growing online running community. Those programs are there if you want questions answered, if you need help, Lindsay is in there all the time. There’s forums, there’s other training programs. You can get all your questions answered there when you need those questions answered.

That’s pretty much it for today. Don’t forget if you are enjoying the podcast, please leave us a review and a rating on iTunes. It does help us hugely. We’ll be back again next week with another one of these. Let us know your thoughts. What did you think of the new format? Hopefully you enjoyed it. It’s going to get better. Obviously, slightly  different to the way we have been doing things, so a couple of hiccups, but we will get that sorted. So, to Lulu , best of luck to you. Thanks for joining us today. And to the coach we’ll catch up again next week.

LS: Thank you so much Brad. Thanks coach, I appreciate it.

LP: Absolute pleasure. Enjoy the road.

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