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Q&A: Training for half marathons and marathons

Training for a marathon or half marathon is a complicated business.  Which training plan should you use?  Can you adapt it?  What should you eat before, during and after your race?  There is a lot of seemingly contradictory advice out there.  It can all be a bit confusing.  We decided to ask Matt Buck, an experienced running coach and endurance runner, from Running Adventures to answer some questions from our Run Mummy Run community members.

Tips for fuelling long runs and races

Q  I am a bit confused about fuelling for a half marathon. I have previously used Tailwind but  I think I probably could have got round without it. What would you recommend?

A  Tailwind is great.  I think you would do well to carry some Tailwind and some plain water and alternate during your half marathon.

Q  At what distance would you recommend taking something on board during training runs? I’m currently training for a half marathon.

A  I would recommend starting to fuel anything from 45 mins onwards. You should consider taking on some water and food if you can.  It’s good to practice eating as well as running!

Q  I need advice on the best pre-run and post-run meals please? How long before you run do you need to eat?

A  It’s good to leave a good hour after eating before you run. Porridge is a good option; or toast, assuming its the morning!  Post run…I like beans on toast, chicken for protein, fish or a good smoothie.

Q  I’ve done two half marathons and just took on little water and no food. I just don’t like how it feels. I’m doing a marathon in May and I’m worried I’ll need to eat and drink. Will I? And what’s the best way?

A  I would say that it is very likely you will need to eat and you will definitely need to drink for a marathon. Use your training to practise drinking and eating as well as running.



Q  I’m planning on completing my first marathon by interval running. I’m currently up to 10k.  At what point should I look at my alcohol intake?  Do I have to completely give up?

A  Don’t run on a hangover! Or drunk!… seriously though total abstinence isn’t necessary – just be sensible.

Q  What is your favourite fuel for running marathons?

A   That’s a difficult one.  It varies.  Currently I am loving potato cakes and Nutella.

Q   Do you recommend vitamin and supplements when you start ramping up the training? If so which ones?

A  I don’t personally use them.  I think it’s more important to make sure you eat a good, balanced diet.

Q  Can you recommend any good quick lunches and snacks that are good for taking to work and ‘on the go’? Particularly if I am planning a run after work? 

A  I think things like Soreen, Pepperami, nuts, fruit, sandwiches, sausage rolls, and pork pies are an absolute winner!

Q  I’m doing my 1st marathon in May. Last week I ran 22 miles – my longest ever run. I had porridge beforehand, and then a cereal energy bar and 3 fruit pastilles, plus an electrolyte drink during. I felt fine and didn’t lack in energy but will I need more fuel in my marathon?

A  Wow you are flying with your training! That all sounds perfect, just keep up your intake of food and water for the final 4.2 miles and you will be fine.


Q  I’d love some tips on fuelling and water intake as I’m increasing my mileage for the London marathon. I’ve only ever run 10k so i’ve not considered fuelling whilst running so far.

A  I would recommend fuelling every 45 minutes and taking on water  at every aid station.  Just take a few sips if the weather is not too hot.

Q  What is the best thing to eat the night before a marathon? Is pizza a good idea?

A  I personally enjoy a good sized jacket potato.  You want to eat something with carbs in but that won’t be too heavy in your stomach.  You want to sleep comfortably the night before your race.
Tips for running your best Half Marathon

Q What is the furthest distance I need to run in training for a half marathon? And how long should I taper?

A  Your longest run should be approximately 11 miles if possible.  I would recommend tapering for two weeks.

Q  I’m doing my first half marathon in April.  I don’t have a plan at the moment because I’m really confused which one to go for.  Can you recommend one?

A  Obviously, my advice would be to go for a bespoke plan rather than one ‘off the shelf’.  That way it is tailored to your needs and time constraints, such as kids, life etc.

Q  If my club are running 6 miles but my training plan says 3, should I run by myself and miss out the club run?

A  Plans should be flexible.  Just swap it for a 6 mile session in the plan if you have one.

Q  What’s the best way to improve my half marathon time? I’m desperate to go sub 2 hours,  but my PB is 2.06. Also, how should I recover after the race?

A  Make sure you include hill and speed sessions every week if you can.  This will help your half marathon pace.  In terms of recovery I recommend taking a good walk the day after the race.  It’s vital to keep moving.  Make sure you eat well too.


Q  I’m doing my first half marathon in March and the first 6 miles are hilly. Any advice for a hilly half that is coming round very soon?

A  Hit hills as often as you can in training to increase your leg strength and prepare for a hilly course.

Q  I am about to start training for a trail half marathon and a road half marathon. I am a fairly inexperienced runner; should I expect my pace to be different for the trail? 

A  Yes, your trail will be significantly slower.  Make sure you do some trail runs as part of your training to condition your body for that type of running.

Q  I don’t have the opportunity to run outside at the moment. I have a half marathon booked in September. Will I cope if I only train on the treadmill before hand?

A  The honest answer is that you will get round, but it isn’t ideal.  Always choose outside over treadmill training if you can.

Q  I’m doing my first half marathon in March. Should I stretch before and after running?

A  Yes.  You should do dynamic stretches before you run and static stretches after.

Q  Would you recommend doing the full half marathon distance in training prior to the day?

A  It’s not necessary to run the full distance.  I would suggest your longest training run should be around 11 miles.

Q  The training plans for half marathons that I have looked at seem to start at quite low mileage. I’m already doing 12-15 miles per week. Is it necessary to drop back?

A  Nope.  As you already have a good base just pick up the plan from where it hits your current mileage.

Tips for running Marathons

Q  What are your three top tips for first time marathon runners?

A   1.  Stick to your training plan
2. Embrace the experience
3. Get a good coach 😉

Q  Is it enough to run regularly and just increase my distance on a weekly basis or should I follow a set training plan and adapt it around my shift pattern?

A  Follow a set training plan to get the best from your training runs. Definitely adapt it to fit around your shifts and life.  Make it work for you.

Q  What is the best cross training option to help with marathon training? 

A  Cycling, swimming or climbing are all good cross training options.


Q  How important is interval training during marathon training?

A  Interval sessions, speed work and hills are hugely beneficial in marathon training and will help your speed.


Q  I’m running Brighton marathon and London marathon this year. As they are only two weeks apart what should my plan be for the two weeks in between please?

A  Make sure you take it easy and recover well. A few easy  3-5 mile runs at a very slow pace are all you’ll need.

Q  I’m slow.  I run at 12 min mile pace. Will people laugh at me at London marathon? Will my pace gradually increase with training or do I have to do speed work?

A  Your pace will improve with training but don’t worry no one will laugh.  You are still running the same 26.2 miles regardless of pace. You will be surprised at the amazing support you will receive on the course.

Q  Where do you stand on the great training debate – as many miles as possible or can you get away with three runs a week? 

A  You can get away with three GOOD sessions a week but I tend to recommend more.

 Q  Any tips for sorting my head out? I need to believe in myself rather than listening to the negative voice in my head. I’m running Paris marathon and hoping to knock an hour off my PB.

A  I could do a whole hour Q&A on this alone.  You need to train your mind to be positive. It takes a long time to achieve. Positive thinking for the win!


Q  When training for a Marathon should I run 20 or 22 miles before the big day? How close to the race should the longest run be?

A  20 miles will be fine…22 miles would be awesome if you can manage it.  Your longest run should be around two weeks before your marathon.

Q  I’m doing multiple marathons this year. It will work out at about one a month between April and September. What should I do between events? I’m training to race the first one, then will have approx 4-5 weeks between each of the subsequent ‘fun’ ones. How many weeks should I use for recovery and how far should I run in between?

A  Take it easy for a couple of weeks after each marathon.  Then do a longer but very slow run before starting to taper again.  You need to make sure you are marathon fit for the first one then simply keep it ticking over from then on.


Why not do your longest marathon training run with Matt?  Running Adventures are leading a 20 mile training run for Run Mummy Run members on Sunday 2nd April.  Click here for further information and to book your place.  Limited spaces available!

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