How I hacked marathon training

[Editor’s note: this guest post was written and scheduled before the tragedy in Boston on Monday, however Ruth and I have decided to go ahead and publish it still, paying respects to Boston by being positive about the upcoming London Marathon]

In 2011 I ran my first marathon (Paris) in 4:52. In 2012 I ran three marathons in 3 months with my best time coming in at 4:08. So what happened during those 12 months in between? I hacked my training, that’s what.

In 2011 I followed a LSD programme. Mile after mile of training runs with the longest of them all notching up to 20 miles one Saturday several weeks before race day. I couldn’t shift the fat I was carrying round my belly due to the increased cortisol brought on by my pounding the pavements and putting more and more stress on my body.

I was tired and grumpy all the time and generally a bit cheesed off. I didn’t enjoy my first marathon experience at all whatsoever but the sick and twisted part of me wanted to give it another go. But, not content with one 26.2 mile monster I ridiculously pledged to run three marathons in three months in 2012 – London (April); Edinburgh (May) and an ultra in Cheltenham in June.

I called in the heavies at My Momentum working with StreTch on a CrossFit Endurance (CFE) Protocol. StreTch trained under the watchful eye of Brian MacKenzie,, the God Father of CFE, and was well equipped to ensure I was not only set to hit a desired PB of 4:30 across one of the distances but could bounce back race after race to ensure I completed my challenge.

The training

Designed to target each athlete’s individual weakness. CFE combines CrossFit strength training and metabolic-conditioning workouts with sports-specific high intensity interval and calculated stamina sessions […] ‘Constantly varied functional movements across broad time and modal domains’ is the methodology used by CrossFit to build the fittest athletes on Earth.

This is the definition of CFE. What this actually means is:

  • I joined a CrossFit gym
  • I attended 5 sessions there a week
  • I did 1 session a week with StreTch working on a 1-2-1 strength programme
  • I completed 3-4 running sessions a week (intervals of varying distances between 200m and 1k)
  • The longest I ran in 21 weeks (races aside) was 10k


So basically a CFE programme is all about intensity and building stamina. Read, hammering yourself into the ground for regular short, sharp bursts that leave you gasping for breath and drowning in pools of sweat. The real ‘highlight’ of the programme has to be the Treadmill Tabata.

Tabata – 4 minutes, 8 rounds, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. The treadmill is set at 12.% incline and the speed is that of your fastest performed 5k. Definitely not for the faint hearted. Almost guaranteed to induce fainting and a dash to the loo once you’re done. But this mere 4 minutes is probably more valuable than any 20 mile run you’ll ever do.


Given the slow plodding of 2011 and some post first marathon indulgence I’d been left with a bit of a belly. I was determined to lean out during 2012’s training cycle. I started out at 72kg with 20.7% body fat and 57.1 kg of lean muscle mass in January 2012. 6 months later I clocked in at 71.7kg , 17.8% body fat and 58.5kg lean muscle mass. Not bad, eh?

I taught my body to become a fat burning machine. I carefully controlled my blood sugar levels with protein breakfasts and good fats interspersed throughout the day such as avocado, olives, eggs, coconut and butter.  ‘Good’ carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, the occasional slice of rye bread) came after training and never before. Known as ‘carb backloading’ this a far cry from the traditional pasta parties attended by many long slow distance trainees.

I learned so much from tweaking my nutrition during this period I am now blogging over at


I relaxed my muscles with magnesium before bed, took vitamin d (to support my immunity) on waking and had a high grade fish oil (the powerhouse of supplements) at meal times.


Prior to 2012 I’d never really liked coffee. Now I can’t get enough of the stuff. Caffeine was not only an incredible fat burner during my training but it got me psyched before I set off, time after time. Nothing fancy, just some homemade filter once a day, before I worked out.


CFE pushes you. It pushes you real hard. It’s the most incredible preparation for blasting through a marathon pain barrier ever. I learned to bounce back time and time again. When the going got tough, I simply knew how to dig that bit deeper

The results

  • London 4:39:31 – I stopped to hug every single person that turned out to support me. Clearly had way too much energy that could have been put to better PB use.
  • Edinburgh 4:08:17 – An absolute triumph. One of my proudest moments to date. And, thanks to the level of training I’d done it was (relatively) painless.
  • Cheltenham – I finished it… Albeit in 6:20 but it was an ultra distance following the wettest June we’ve ever experienced. A definite test of mental will.

And now what?

I’m about to line up at the start of the London Marathon 2013. I’m carrying an injury that forced me to take 31 consecutive days out of training but I’ve thankfully bounced back ahead of the race to give it a shot. I’ve trained the CFE way once again and even with this time out I’m still running a strong 10k and a better 800m. Here’s to April 21st

[Editor’s note: Congratulations Ruth on achieving a time of 4:53m, despite an injury affecting the run from the 30k mark – a great time!]

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