Sarah Millac's Nottingham Marathon 2000

One April Tuesday evening during a track session I was discussing Marathon training. I mentioned, according to the theory in Galloway's Book on running, that is should be possible to train for a marathon on 3 or 4 days running a week. Sarah immediately decided that this was what she wanted. With a husband, two children and a job, time was at a premium.

Research has shown you need at least 3 days running per week for sustained improvement. 1 or 2 days do comparatively little for you. At 3 days the improvement curve rises dramatically. Over 95% aerobic capacity is gained in training 4-5 days a week. Over 5 days there is much greater risk of injury, so 5 days or less is ideal.

The marathon training was to be similar to that which I have used for others in the club. 4 weeks of hills followed by a combination of long runs and mile reps. The basic club speed work was also to be done. To keep running interesting, club races were included in the program. Others previously had filled the gaps in the program with other runs but Sarah was to do the minimum.

During the first 4 weeks hill reps were done to build leg strength for the speed phase to follow. These started at 8 x 1 minute and increase by 2 each week to 14. Sarah could not get to the club for the first 3 sets so she did them on a treadmill.

After years of running mile reps I find them relaxing. A set of 13 takes about 2 1/2 hours. I tend to run with a radio which helps. This was the first time Sarah had built up reps so she did a second set of 11 rather than the final 13. The first set of 4 miles was done at the beginning of May. These were followed by sets of 5, 7, 9, 11 and a final set of 11 in September. On the later sets we both listened to the radio, Sarah to Radio 4 and me to Mercury FM.

Other club members did part of the long runs with us. This helped pass the time especially on the longer runs. The runs up to 20 (3 hours) went without problems. Both of us would rather race hard over shorter distances than plod on for hours. Because of this we both started the 3 1/2 hour run with negative thoughts. We probably went too fast to start especially considering how hot it was. We had had enough at 2 hours and we only managed the 3 hours because we had to get back. The training had to be adjusted so we decided on a final 3 1/2 hour run rather than 4. We went off slower and with a more positive attitude. We completed this but both decided we would concentrate on distances less than 1/2 marathon in the future. The long runs were 12, 16+, 17+, 21+, 21+ and finally 25+. The reasoning behind running near to or over distance is so the body is ready to run 26 miles in the race. The race is not the ideal time to do your longest run. Those who hit the wall at 20 are usually the ones whose longest run is 20. I equate it to running 5 mile long runs to train for a 10k.

During the period Sarah did 7 races, Stevenage 10k (41.21), St. Albans 1/2M (1hr31min), St. Albans 7 (47.30), Race for Life 5K (21.20), Club Champs 6K (25.09), Golden Mile (5.47) and Verlea X/C relay. Over the years many runners have refused to race as they had to do another long run. These races are useful time trials necessary if the runner wants improved times.

At the end of the training period the only important runs are the last long run for endurance and the last set of mile reps for speed. The others before were a tool for building up. The key marathon sessions were 6 long runs and 6 sets of mile reps. A long run and a set of mile reps was done approximately every three weeks.

During the last 2 weeks you cannot improve fitness. You can, however, tire yourself out by running too much. Continuing with the minimalist approach Sarah only ran 4 times during the Tapering period.

The work is done during the months of training before the Marathon. The race is to prove the training. Sarah's aim was to run under 3:30. She started comfortably and ran the more interesting first half in 1:43. The second half is flatter but with long boring straights. Without the company of the half marathon runners it was just a case of concentrating on keeping going. Sarah said that at 24 miles she started to feel tired but she kept strong to finish in 3 hours 27 minutes 30 seconds. The second half was done in 1:44.

Sarah had done a PB by about 15 minutes. She also said she felt better after the race than on previous Marathons. Although tired she did not feel the need to collapse on the sofa for the next week. Sarah on average had run 3.25 times a week, with a maximum weekly mileage of about 35. Since the Marathon Sarah has got back into training and has had 2 excellent runs in the Met X/C league, a PB in the first Stevenage 5K (19.50) and a PB in the Stortford 10 (69.20).