Traviss' Suicide Pacing Plan

The traditional method of training for marathons or ultras is a series of runs, tempo runs, recovery runs, long slow runs, hilly runs, fartlek runs, intervals and so on. But for those who like to run lots of marathons I'm not so sure that this is the best way to get any faster at running marathons.

When I first got in to marathon running I was told by several wise folk that you couldn't run lots of marathons and get faster. So I didn't really try to, however after a period of time and observing other runners and my own running results and experiences I discovered that this "old adage" had one minor flaw in it.

It was bollocks.

I and others I know have both run lots of marathons and gotten quicker... and this is my methodology. I would point out I have a sample size of one for this. Me. I have no scientific data, no training or formal understanding of anything. I just decided this was a good idea.


  • Training. Most of the guys running lots of marathons don't do much, if any training, we're too busy recovering, drinking cider and eating cake. In 2011 I set the Guinness World Record for marathons in a calendar year by running114 marathons and ultras, and zero miles training, zilch, nada, nothing. Even I realised that I needed to do some. So in early 2012 I stopped making excuses and started getting out the door. I don't really do different types of training (though I should, especially hill work, I hate hills!) basically they're all tempo runs, no easy runs, no recovery runs, no long slow runs. Five or six miles at some kind of tempo, usually marathon pace, sometimes quicker if I can. Nowhere near flat out tempo runs, but always try and do moderate effort, there is no messing about at 13:00 pace. If I am out the door, minimum of 5 miles, reasonable effort.
  • No streaks, rest is important. Whilst I know I should be working hard, both physically and mentally I need days off, typically the day before a marathon (taper!) and the day after (recovery). I'm not that convinced about tapering either...
  • Weight. Want to get quicker? Lose weight. Its the simplest, quickest method to be able to run faster. I've chopped off about 20 pounds in 2013, my average marathon time has dropped like a stone. I still eat too much rubbish I know, but I like crisps, cake, cookies, cider and cheesecake. The 5 C's of running... but count calories. Eat less than you burn and it'll come off. All these fad diets, nutrition and all that stuff is basically just nonsense half the time, you cannot beat physics. Count calories. Count calories. Count calories.
  • Be prepared to fail. Time and time again. I have blown up in more marathons than I care to remember, just make sure you get something constructive out of every run. Anything. 3 miles at a decent pace is better than no miles at a decent pace. 13 miles is better, just something decent, wandering around at no kind of pace isn't going to get you anywhere fast. I know, I've done it a lot!
  • I believe the key to running quicker marathon times is progressively longer tempo runs. At least as fast as you want to be running your marathons at, normally quicker. Sometimes much quicker.
  • Who wants to be running lots of tempo runs when there are so many marathons to be done?! Not me, so this is the methodology I have adopted. Let's say for arguments sake I want to run a sub 4:00 marathon. That's 9:09 pace for 26.2 miles. That's pretty daunting when your PB is 4:30... so over a minute a mile quicker.

    Marathon 1) 5 miles at 8:30-8:45 pace. Forget the rest of the marathon, walk, hobble, limp, anything. Just make sure you finish the marathon one way or another and get in that initial tempo effort.
    Marathon 2) 8 miles at 8:30-8:45 pace. Same thing, forget the rest of the race, just finish and get in that hard tempo effort.
    Marathon 3) 11 miles at 8:30-8:45 pace.
    Marathon 4) 13.1 miles at 8:30-8:45 pace. That means you're now half way in 1:55 or less. Now you can start to think about holding on for the rest of the marathon. You've got 2:04:59 to do the second half, that's 9:30 pace. So you can ease off. Walk a short while, eat something, walk through aid stations if you have to.
    Marathon 5) 16/17/18 miles at 8:30-8:45. Now you just have to hold on for say 10 miles, or 8, at nearer 10:00 or even 11:00 pace.
    Marathon 6) this would be the all out effort, hold on at 8:30-8:45 as long as possible, and then just survive to the end at 9/10/11 pace.
  • The exact paces and times and distances aren't that important, its the concept, you'll need to adjust to what your running speed and goals are. What is important is that you're setting out faster than is comfortable and you're building in a long tempo effort into marathons. It doesn't always work, I've often not been able to hold on and its ended horribly, walking along, giving up and typical "wheels falling off". My splits have at times been dreadful, but that's my plan. Build up a buffer early, allow a fade later on. Far from the traditional "even pacing" concept. I have set PB with a split of 1:33/2:08... it wasn't pretty.
  • The benefits of this suicide pacing of going out faster than you plan to run the marathon are several.

    1) Build a time buffer, if I need a break, to walk, wee, eat, drink, puke then I can do that without thinking about the lost time. I can afford it because I earned it earlier in the run.

    2) It's mentally much easier later on, say at mile 20, to think to yourself, I've got a PB if I can just do 10:00 pace from here, rather than "I don't know if I can hold on..." you don't need to because there is a decay built in.

    3) It's much harder to speed up later in the run than it is to set off quicker when you're fresh, keen and being pulled along by other runners and the excitement of it all.
  • The disadvantages are that you'll fail and you have to write off marathons basically whilst you work on long tempo runs within them.
  • Traditional approach runners will view this methodology with horror no doubt. Sacrificing marathons, deliberately setting off far too fast and so on. If you're actually a really good runner then I am sure the traditional pacing/training concepts are best. But, for those who run lots of marathons - simply lose a bit of weight and try to run faster. If you want to get quicker, then you have to run faster!
  • Since I've adopted this kind of strategy my PB has gone from 4:34 in February 2012 to 3:28 in December 2013. I'm about 20 pounds lighter and 65 minutes a marathon quicker... during this period I've completed 124 marathons and ultras, including 12 100 mile runs, and I'm 100% convinced the improved times have come from cutting weight and running faster, there is no magic bullet, I just run faster, especially at the beginning of marathons and accept that I will fail. Even on my most worn out legs on the third day of a triple marathon I'll try to do SOMETHING productive speed wise. 5 miles at 9:00 isn't great. But its better than 5 miles at 10:00...

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