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.

Dublin Marathon - Top 10 Tips

10 Tips for the Dublin Marathon


As with all running, or any sport for that matter. Enjoy Dublin, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the race, the marathon, take it all in. You can run anytime but the Dublin Marathon is a once a year event, so make the most of it... say hello to people and don't put yourself under too much pressure that you miss all that is going on. At the end of the day, it is just a race. Perspective


Don't eat anything or wear anything you haven't tried before. Be weary of hotel breakfast, is that what you normally eat? or when you would normally eat it before a long run? Be careful of gels, not all gels are the same... if it is not the exact same one, be safe don't try it. Wear what you normally wear for a long run, mindful of weather conditions... do not try new shoes for the first time unless emergency. If you don't know what top you are going to wear, then put your marathon number on your shorts, that way you can change tops at last minute before race or during race and it won't matter. Don't listen to what others eat before a marathon. They are not you and before your first marathon is not the time to try!

NB: Write your name on your t-shirt, makes it much easier for people to shout your name and support you. It works!


Wear the black bin bag (cut head and arm holes) this will help to keep you water-resistant (better quality black bag the more 'water proof'). Throw it away at the start, ditto for old t-shirt if you want to bring it. You may be at the start for 30-60 mins before race starts, and it may be wet. It won't be too cold but you do need to try and keep dry/warm as long as possible.


The wipes are for if/when you need to go the toilet. There'll be a lot there and you want to make sure hands are clean... last thing you want is toilet without toilet paper or handwash. There will be long queues for the toilets and you may be at the race 30-60mins before the race starts (experienced race goers will sometimes try to get accommodation near the race start for this reason). Queueing close to the start time, creates panic. So try to plan ahead as best as possible. Unfortunately men have more 'toilet options' so be weary of alleys on way to race start.


Pack old sweater/fleece, t-shirt and track bottoms that will keep you war. Include a poncho or pac a mac (or waterproof) that will keep you warm and dry. You will be tired at the end of the race so plan properly beforehand. You may not feel too cold when running but you will when you stop, so get warm clothes, keep dry and get some light food/energy into you as soon as possible. You'll thank yourself after the race. 


You've been building up to this for months, the adrenalin is going, you're looking at the watch, your phsyched up... race starts, but the crowd makes it slow to start, you think you're behind you need to get out, you've a time/pace to keep and you feel good (all that tapering)... so you go out to fast. But what odds, just means you're in good shape. WRONG. Go slower than you think and check pace at half-mile or mile marker. You'll surprise yourself. Even experienced racers often go off too fast, with lots of people running fast(er) than you all around, you'll think you're running a lot slower than you are. Settle yourself, go slow and you'll be very grateful later.


Go slower than you think the first few mile. Ideally runners want to do a negative split... you'll pass many people the last 6 mile who went out too fast. If you want to make time do it the last mile not the first. Most new runners will lose time over the last quarter, this is when times are won and lost. If you go out fast, it's very hard to make that back. Plan to make time/PB over the last 6 mile not the first 6 mile. Also, importantly you want to finish the race strong rather than in a terrible state, as then the whole day is tainted. So stay positive and enjoy the last 6 mile of the race, plus getting near the finish and passing people is a great motivator.


Don't look at your watch every 2 mins. Just make sure you go slow first 1-2 mile and then trust your training. Use watch every 2-3 mile as benchmark that's all. NOT EVERY MILE IS GOING TO BE EXACTLY THE SAME SPLIT. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE. So don't beat yourself up. If you're tired you'll start looking at your watch, it doesn't help you and just uses up valuable energy. More and more runners including international athletes Ed McGinley and Marty Rea run marathons without their watch. Trust your training, enjoy race and the goal is to enjoy and finish the race. Don't worry about PBs, if it's your first marathon whatever time you will do is going to be a PB.


If aiming for a time. Go with a pacer. Now pacers vary from race to race. Go for an experienced pacer, but give them space. A pacer will get you under the time, but each mile may be different and you may be 1-3minutes under the time so don't panic about exact splits. Other than that have  rough idea of the time and per minute mile you want to go and check every few mile. Each mile of the course is different and you may stop for water etc so don't be looking at the seconds. Be within touching distance. If you feel good last few mile, push on. (One caveat is, if you'v done a few marathons and feel good, try going hard from the start and ditch the watch, see how it goes. Sometimes it's good not to play safe and test yourself. Use only if do a few marathons a year and feel good). 


Anything can happen on the day, good or bad, no matter how much training you do... at least 50% is how you feel on the day. So don't put yourself under stress. Some days you feel better than before, some days you just don't have it or something happened and you didn't sleep, eat etc as usual. This can happen novices right through to veterans. It's all part of the learning experience. Just remember the biggest goal is to enjoy the race/atmosphere, and finish not completely injured. Start slow, be sensible and ENJOY

ps try and go for an hour walk that afternoon, the legs will be sore and you won't want to but it will help with recovery.