Martin Rea's Marathon Training - Top 10 Tips

Martin Rea, is an Irish international ultra-runner who finished in top 50 at the World 100k Championships in 2014. He recently completed the Amsterdam marathon in 2:43 (PB 2:36) but his first marathon was 4:30 in Belfast…

International ultrarunner & marathon pacer Martin Rea talking to BRC members

He’s come along way since but it’s good to remember we all have to start somewhere. Martin came down recently to give a marathon training workshop to Belfast Running Club. Marty tells it like it is and was full on great tips, anecdotes and stories. Martin runs with a wide group of people, paces 3hrs for the London Marathon and has experienced hundreds of races. He also ran under Matt Shields - the legendary North Belfast Harrier’s Head Coach, who has coached several international athletes... so he knows his stuff.


Marty’s top 10 Marathon Training Tips:


1. Training is about quality, not quantity. You’ve got to be sensible and realistic about it. Avoid junk miles or robotically following a plan.

2. Two quality sessions per week (one reps, one tempo) are the base of his plan. Everything else is a bonus

3. As you get older, the man difference is it takes longer to recover. While you can run a long run on tired legs, you need to be recovered fully to do the two quality sessions per week

4. Marathon training plans are normally 16 weeks, but for spring marathons that can mean a Christmas/New Year start. So start preparing a few weeks in advance to make sure you at least maintain your level of fitness (especially over difficult December!) to start the training plan. NB Marty assumes you can run 13-15 miles before starting this plan.

5. Training is split into three phases. The first 10 weeks covers two phases 1-6 weeks and 6-10 weeks. These are about building strength (short hills) and then strength endurance (longer hills). Before finishing the last six weeks focusing on pace (no hills, as getting used to marathon cadence)

6. Long runs should be between 2-3 hours, no matter what time you are expecting. So even if you are aiming for 4-6 hrs, the maximum long run should be 3hrs. For the first 6 weeks, long runs should involve hills (eg Belfast Hills). In the long runs, Marty says not to use gels and try to reduce sugar, as you want them to have maximum benefit on race day. If your body gets used to them every week then they will have less impact on race day.

7. Long runs should be taken sensibly, if you miss it after a half-marathon race… “don’t freak out”.  Whilst Marty finds it good to run after doing half-marathon the previous day (gets used to running on tired legs) he’s mindful that the goal is to be fully recovered for the two quality mid-weeks sessions and therefore will cut short, run slower or cut out long run altogether if need be. 

8. Apart from dedicated quality - hard - sessions (2-3 a week), all runs should be at a slow pace. This is at least 1 min slower than your expected race pace. Marty may run 5:50 - 6:15 minutes per mile during a marathon but most of his runs are closer to 8 minutes, a good 2 min (30%+) slower than his race pace. 

9. One quality session a week for the 16 weeks should be a tempo (3-6 miles), which Marty describes as being at half-marathon pace. After the first 6 weeks Marty suggests racing a variety of distances every fortnight to get used to race environment and simple enjoyment. When racing replace the tempo session with the race, i.e. don’t do both

10. Recovery is important. Make sure not to over do it, add in pilates/yoga and strength if you can but you should only have 2 hard sessions per week (optional 3rd during weeks 6-10, to add in Long Hills, but these are almost more for mental preparation than physical). Go by how your body feels, and not by your watch. You need to learn to know how your body feels, take rest and look after injuries.


Marty has agreed to come back in April to provide a few tips and answer questions with regard to race day preparation itself, especially for London and Belfast marathons. We’ll keep people posted via Twitter. We’re very appreciative of Marty for taking the time to help out other runners and wish him the best of luck as a debut master in 2016.

NB There are lots of advice on marathons, and training plans available online. With all plans and tips, be sensible about them and always remember to enjoy running and don’t always run alone.