The Scottish record-holder tells Katy Barden how she is learning all the time when it comes to marathon training
A Scottish record and Olympic qualifying time of 2:26:40 in Frankfurt in October transitioned Steph Twell from a marathon hopeful to a serious contender, but the former world junior 1500m champion is the first to admit she is still learning the event.
“I’ve got quite a limited number of marathon sessions in my training,” she admits. “That’s something I’m looking to explore this year.”
AW: What are the essential components of training at this time of year?
“I typically see winter as a real window of opportunity before my specific marathon build-up starts,” says Twell. “It’s about tackling all the little bits that help see you through the year; making sure you’re doing the strength and conditioning, the yoga, and for me, hills…I keep that up my sleeve and can really capitalise on it at this time of year. It gives me a strength and resistance base but with no impact on my performances.
“I’ve also had to learn how to recover from a marathon, so that’s looking after my arches, my single leg loading and single leg exercises, just to get me robust enough to take on the mileage.”
She adds: “I’m learning that singles (running once a day) in marathon training can sometimes be productive for the recovery window before another bigger volume the next day.”
AW: Favourite session at this time of year?
“My favourite marathon session so far is Mara Yamauchi’s ‘killer’ session (as previously featured in AW and available to read here) – 3x5km. I use her blueprint and I love that it’s about rhythm and relaxing. It’s only three reps but they’re big ones and within it you’re looking at the pace you’re hitting for each mile. I love my long runs, too – as long as I can make them social and bribe people with brunch afterwards!”
AW: Least favourite?
“Recovery runs. They’re just so short and slow. I prefer to get the big base work done.”
Working to increase confidence
Twell’s primary focus is to remain happy and healthy, but to train with the confidence that she’s ready to give even more.
“I’m definitely still on the cautious side,” she admits. “I know that I can do the distance, but after two marathons I still haven’t managed to do the long runs really fast, so I’m just trying to extend the efforts and I have to do that before I can lay on the additional layers of quality. I’m basically trying to keep the units of training the same, but now it’s time to ramp it up a little bit.”
A TYPICAL JANUARY TRAINING WEEK
Twell’s generic base work through December and into January included three sessions per week – one hill session, one tempo session and one e.g. 8km session – to slowly build up quality while maintaining a good average mileage. She’ll then start to focus on marathon-specific training, which changes to two sessions per week and one slightly faster longer run.
MONDAY: am – 8-10 miles; pm – 4-5 miles plus gym/conditioning. “I might not run in the afternoon – it depends on my morning run and how I feel. Monday is more of an active recovery day as I listen to my body after a big weekend of work.”
TUESDAY: Interval session – 10km focus; pm – possible second run (depends on recovery)
WEDNESDAY: Midweek longer run building up to 12-13 miles
THURSDAY: am – 6 miles approx.; pm – 6 miles approx. (will include strides, 200m reps or short hill sprints in the evening). “The emphasis here is to go a bit faster after the midweek longer run.”
FRIDAY: Session day (with mileage built on warm up and warm down) – marathon session building from 15 miles up to 18 miles eventually, including for example 3x5km
SATURDAY: 8-10 miles recovery run
SUNDAY: 18-22 miles run
In addition to her core training, Twell does yoga once a fortnight as well as sand drills which she believes have strengthened her feet and helped with the transition from track to road.