Q&A: Training For Sprint Triathlon & Marathon

Question From Anna

I can qualify for next year’s London marathon if I run a sub 3h30m before 1st July this year (it might actually only be 3h50m, I need to check after this year’s race is run).  Next year may be my last year in London, and I’d quite like to do the London Marathon before I leave town for good.

There is a flat marathon in on 1st June (one month from now) that I could enter. Based on online race predictor calculations from my 10mile race yesterday (1h15m), I am currently on track to run a marathon in about 3h32m, in theory.

I have two questions…

  • My ‘A’ race this year is a sprint tri in September (5k run), so if I enter the marathon I’m planning on doing 3x weekly runs: 1 x intervals  & 1 x tempo (focusing on improving my 5k time) and then 1 x long run (focusing on the marathon)… after 1st June I’ll revert back to 100% focused on the sprint tri / 5k run.  Does this sound feasible?
  • If I achieve a time around 3h30m in the marathon on 1st June, how realistic would it be to get this to around 3h00m for next year’s London Marathon?

In terms of my marathoning background, I’ve run 5 before… 3 as part of Ironman races (all around 5 hours) and 2 as stand-alone races but with injuries / snow and slow finish times.  My quickest half-marathon is 1h42m six months ago. I’m on the way back from a chronic Achilles injury, but this seems to be successfully healing.

Response From Coach Neil Scholes

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the great question. I’ll try and keep my answer succinct although I suspect there may be a few ifs, buts, maybes and possibly a potential definitely possibly 🙂

Let’s start with qualification. If you are under 49 then you have to run sub 3:50 to get a Good for Age slot at London. This time then increases through the age groups in batches of 5 years maxing out at 70+ where you need to run a 6:30.  In fact as a woman if you can run sub 3:15 you can get an Elite or what they call Championship Start!

I wrote a piece on predicting your marathon time (here) that maybe of interest to you, but if we stick with one of my preferred resources, that being the work carried out by Professor Jack Daniels and looking at your times specifically we can potentially make some comment.

You ran your recent 10 miler in a great time of 1:15 which is 7:30 per mile pace. IF you could have continued that pace on for another 16 miles you would have run a marathon in 3:16:38. The “if” is deliberately in capital letters. I read however that you may have been nursing your achilles to ensure no flare up and potentially you could have run the 10 miler faster. So the correlation between this time and how fast you could run a marathon may not be accurate.  However it is unlikely on this performance alone that currently that you could go faster than 3:16.  I say currently and unlikely deliberately.

Having completed a number of Ironman distance races and a few marathons outside of this your endurance should be good although I note a significant (in the scientific use of the word) drop off in your Ironman run times. This is very common. With appropriate training I expect my athletes to be able on a good day to run approximately 30 mins slower in an Ironman that they would do in a stand alone marathon. Ones first attempt at Ironman is the exception – I think until you do one you have no idea what it is like. Just finish and stay out of the medical tent are great goals – they are goals that I myself have failed to achieve once. So for you if you can run 3:30 a good day at the office would be 4:00 for an Ironman!

If we take a half marathon PB (your current proven time) of 1:42, then Daniels predicts that with the right training that you are physiologically capable of a 3:32 marathon. If we take your 10 miler time and keep this pace to give a half marathon time of 1:38 then Daniels predicts a marathon time of 3:24. These tie in with your own online calculator. Both times would give you a London Marathon good for age slot, also allowing for some drop off in the last few miles to comfortably come in comfortably under 3:50.

So London Marathon 2014 is extremely likely to be achieved and I’d be very surprised if you did not achieve this.

Before we leave marathons and look at your training let’s look at the target of 3:00. Firstly no one wants to run 3:00… 2:59:59 is the goal!

So, what does it take? Well these goals are the absolute simplest ones to aim for; ALL you have to do is run 6:51 pace for 26 miles if you run 6:52 then you fail. Can you run that fast? I don’t know. What does it take? It will take 1 to potentially 2 years of run training for you to get to your best. That means running 6 times a week over 5 days with 2 rest days. Will your swim and cycle ability drop if you don’t keep them up? Yes. Can you still cycle and swim on top of this? Yes – as long as it doesn’t stop you hitting the run numbers and detailed paces and as long as you are recovering. Running as you well know causes the most impact on the body compared to cycling/swimming so the potential of injury is higher.

Your marathon on 1st June is less than one month away. Regardless of that, you are physiologically capable of running a London Marathon qualifying time. But as I don’t know what training you have done I don’t know how much this will take out of you!

Training for the short distance does not necessarily equate to being able to hold specific speed endurance or having the muscular endurance over the longer distances. Iwan Thomas who is still the GB 400m record holder used to train at our track and subsequently has run the London Marathon a number of times. As an Olympic Silver Medallist and still a very fit man you might expect him to perform relatively wel. However I do often remind him that even me, a very soon to be 50 year old, can beat him by about an hour in the marathon! You can see that short course performance does not necessarily equate to long course performance.

Looking at your training you 3 runs look a reasonable balance. If we start with the assumption that you are looking to achieve around 3:30 for the marathon (8:00 per mile pace) then your “long run” should be carried out at no SLOWER than 8:30-8:45 per mile pace. As Emil Zatopek said “I don’t need to run slowly I already know how to do that“.

Your tempo run I would suggest could be something like 10 mins easy, 30 – 40 mins @ 10k pace, 5 mins easy. In terms of an interval session then something like 10 mins easy, 5 x 1 mile @ 7:30 per mile pace, 10 mins easy may be appropriate.

It is difficult to be very specific as I only have limited information but based on my assumptions above these would be a good mix. It is the ability to hold a specific pace for a length of time that you require; so pace endurance (ie the ability to hold that pace for 26 miles) and muscular endurance are what you require.

Lastly, and I apologize for the length of the response, but I didn’t want to give you you half an answer – it’s not my style! I want to come back to the question of running 3:00. The truth is I don’t know and neither do you.

I do however know what it takes and that is progressive development over a period of time. We have just under one year until London Marathon 2014; is that enough to see a significant MARATHON improvement – yes.  Is it enough time to get close to sub 3:00 – possibly not – that may take a couple of years.  Potentially you would go 3:10ish after a year and close to 3:00 the year after given the right course (incidentally I do not think personally the London Marathon is the right course – I’d go Berlin, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, even smaller races) and of course you need luck and the right conditions.

Hope this helps. Please don’t hesitate to give me a shout if you need any more coaching advice.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.


  1. Hey Coach

    Love this website! I too am coming back from an achilles injury. Have had various instances of tendonitis for 20 years! Would you be able to review my running form and let me know if you think it could be contributing to my injury? You’ll find it here:

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks for commenting, and for your kind words about the website 🙂

      If you send me an email via the ‘Contact Us’ page, telling me a little more about your running, I’ll see if we can help in any way. This video seems to imply that you’re a sprinter – is this so? If not, and you’re a distance runner, I’ll need to see you running at your various training paces.

      Many thanks,


  2. Hi, coach

    I’m so glad that you guys are having Q&A for us. Thank you so much for it.

    I am going to have my 1st marathon this year. I’m now suffering on shin pain. And I really hope to get rid of it ASAP. I’ve switched to Vibrams five finger around one and a half year. I’d had several injuries during the switching. And now I’ve already adapted to the switch. But recently, I increase my running mileage gradually, and I’ve developed shin pain. I feel sharp pain on my shin bone when I do strectching or when I press on it. I’ve never had shin pain before throughout my running experience. I really need your advise.

    Here are my concerns:
    Am I having shin splints or stress fracture?
    Could the shoes be the cause of my shin pain?
    Is it necessary for me to switch back to the traditional running shoes?
    And I’ll be having my 12k race this Saturday. Shall I run the race through the pain?
    If I run through pain, does it worsen the condition?


    1. Hi Kate,

      Great question. It’s interesting to hear about your transition to VFFs and the several injuries you’ve experienced in during the first year in these ‘barefoot style’ shoes. Although you say you’ve already adapted to the switch… you’re also currently suffering with this shin pain. It appears that you body isn’t ready for running any significant milage in the VFFs – certainly not marathon training. My gut feeling is that you’re probably not one of the small minority who can comfortably run marathons in VFFs.

      I’m all for the use of ‘barefoot style’ footwear as a training tool for the majority of runners, for use during short, technical sessions to promote good form, but (in general) not for the serious milage involved in marathon training.

      To answer your questions specifically:

      The symptoms you describe certainly could be the beginnings of ‘shin splints’ or medial tibial stress syndrome. I have known runners who run through the pain of these symptoms to end up with tibial stress fractures.

      Your VFFs could well be part of the problem. I say this particularly as you state you’ve had numerous injuries in the last year or so since running in them.

      I wouldn’t say you have to switch back to traditional running shoes per se, instead perhaps take a look at some of the many available minimalist options with a ~4mm drop. These often provide a great middle ground.

      Running through the pain is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. I’d book in to see a good running focused physio as a matter of priority.

      I’m sorry not to be more positive with my advice this time… You really need to get this injury looked after.

      There are a number of exercises you can do to strengthen your feet and shins: http://www.runningshoesguru.com/2013/04/build-strong-feet-for-running/

      Many people choose to try running in VFFs to prevent running injuries. If this was initially your motivation, given your injuries since the change, I’d suggest not persevering with them!

  3. I am doing the slateman tri in May, my current training prog (which I hashed up myself) is –

    Mon 1hr cycle (fartlek style session)
    Tue Swim (500m)
    Wed 45min bike followed by 4.5mile run
    Thu Swim (500m) followed by 45min bike
    Fri Run (fartlek) light weights
    Sat Rest
    Sun 1hr steady cycle.

    With 12 full wks of training left, is there anything else I can add/change to improve my chances? Race distance is 400m swim, 20k cycle, 6k trail run.

  4. Hi Simon

    Without knowing the classic questions of background both sporting in general and S/B/R specific, nor goals, nor ability, nor training opportunities and looking at your schedule in isolation I would say to start with your swim is light. If your swim fitness is low the impact it has on the bike and run is huge. No matter your speed or experience level, if swim fitness is high it allows you to access your bike and run on race day. If you come out of the water and its impact is too high on you for your total day then you aren’t going to have the race you could.

    The swim is high stress; you want to have very high fitness level to handle the stress. Pace on the bike and run are directly impacted by swim fitness.

    Logging swim metres is about more than just improving swim times. A common mistake I see people make is when they getting frustrated with their swim ability because they don’t see big changes in pace. So they swim less, with the attitude of, “Why bother? I’ll bike and run more.” Then when they go to race and they are dead on the bike and run because they couldn’t handle the stress of a long swim under pressure they are surprised.

    You must train your body to handle the distance, the intensity and the stress of a race swim in order to access your bike and run!

    Three simple, key sets:

    The long swim – A continuous long aerobic swim to handle the distance. Preferably open water for you up to 1500m continuous with a building effort.
    A threshold set – Such as 15 x100 at pace on 10 seconds recovery.
    A short fast set: 40 x25 fast on full recovery.

    Hope this helps and let us know how you get on.


  5. Thanks Neil. You have confirmed my fear that I’m not swimming enough, it is my weak point. When I started training in Aug ’13 I could barely swim 50m. I come from a middle dist running background, and I have been cycling for 4years, both these elements are strong. As a shift worker in a physically demanding job I can’t do any more sessions, so I guess it is a case of just building on my swim distance. I am currently swimming in a pool, but hope to do a few outdoor lake swims from next month. I am covering the 500m in the pool in around 10mins. My min per mile pace on the run is around 5.30 feeling fairly easy and due to the weather my cycling is mainly on the turbo trainer right now. My aim for the tri….., I would love to win the vets 40 catagory…….!!!! =)