Marathon Mondays: Chasing the Marathon Barriers

With 14 full weeks to go until the SSE Dublin Marathon kicks off at 9:00am we have decided to try and help you on your way towards that looming goal. Last week we looked at the idea of lactate here and a week has gone by very quickly since.

Emmett Dunleavy of is back again this week to speak to us about how lactate profiling can give you goals, performance indicators and a pacing plan for the big day.

Emmet Dunleavy (Sligo AC) has won 5 National senior track medals as well as National Novice and National Intermediate cross country titles. He has represented Ireland on a number of occasions and is an eight time winner of Athletic’s Ireland’s “Best Dressed Man in Athletics” Award.


Shoot for the stars. And if you fall short you will land among the clouds…

Fine advice in many aspects of life, not so in the marathon. Taking such an approach may well result in walking up Roebuck Hill around midday on the last Monday in October, wondering why it went all ends up.

With approximately 3 months to the autumn marathon season, it’s the time of year when many runners begin to turn attention towards the 26.2 mile distance. Setting a realistic and achievable target in advance can save a lot of hardship down the road.

Are your ducks in a row?

When selecting target times for a marathon, make sure all of the PB Ducks are in a row. In short, pick a marathon time that is in line with previous (and recent) runs over 5k, 10k and half marathon.

There are many running calculators available online, McMillan is the best in class. Using a PB or recent race time over one distance as an input, the calculators provide a reasonably accurate estimate of equivalent ability over a variety of other distances.

As an example, for many club runners, one of the bucket list items is a sub 3 hour marathon. The equivalent times over 5k, 10k, and HM are 18:28, 38:22 and 1:25. For any athlete who has not already achieved those times over 5k, 10k and HM, chances are that sub 3 is a bridge too far.

The table below lists equivalent times for some other major marathon barriers. While there are always exceptions to the rule, in the majority of cases, if the shorter times are not achieved beforehand, the marathon equivalent is rarely attained. The same time principles apply to male and female

Marathon Target 5k Equivalent 10k Equivalent HM Equivalent
Sub 2:45 16.56 35.10 1.18
Sub 3:00 18.28 38.22 1.25
Sub 3:30 21.33 44.46 1.39
Sub 4:00 24.38 51.09 1.54
Sub 4:30 27.43 57.33 2.08

Athlete Profile

Reading this with a smug grin you are thinking, 5k – check, 10k – check, HM – check… put the cork back on the champagne. While ticking those times is a requirement for a realistic attempt at a given marathon barrier, it’s by no means a guarantee of success.

Knowing the profile of the athlete is another significant piece of the jigsaw. By this we mean is the athlete more predisposed towards the longer or shorter distances. i.e A speedster or endurance monster. There are a number of ways for establishing same.

Simply analysing the athletes PBs is a great starting point. Do those times trend progressively faster or slower as they go up or down the distances? Taking the example of the runner with ambitions of a sub 3 marathon. They have run 17:59 for 5k, well under the equivalent time of 18:28. At 38:30, they are marginally slower than the 10 k time of 38:22. Finally the HM time is 1:27, well outside the required 1:25. The PBs are getting relatively slower as the distance increases, suggesting this athlete is relatively weaker at the longer events. Therefore the marathon target time will need to be adjusted accordingly. In this instance, 3:05 would be a more achievable marathon goal.

The opposite is true of other athletes, getting relatively faster as the distances increase. These runners tend to be predominantly slow twitch athletes with a “diesel engine” type profile. They have strong endurance and are blessed with endless ability to utilise fat as an energy source. Born to run marathons.

For those willing to go an extra step, a lactate test provides the most comprehensive method for profiling an athlete. Lactate profiling removes much of the guess work and provides an insight into what is really going on “under the bonnet”. In addition to providing precise training zones the lactate profile gives the best possible indication of metabolic efficiency at each pace and effort level. Is the athlete predominantly fast twitch or slow twitch? All of these factors have a major bearing on the training structure of the athlete as well as the target times on race day.

ducks in a row

In summary

Using shorter distance PBs or lactate measurements will not pinpoint exactly what an athlete can do on marathon day. However they will often indicate what you cannot do.  A valuable piece of information in itself.

Do not simply pick a target marathon time. Use the available tools and calculate what you are capable of. Then train accordingly.

And for those shooting blindly and ambitiously at the stars, be warned. There is a skeleton bus service on the 46A route from Roebuck Rd into town on October Bank Holiday Monday.

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Bittersweet: The Irish junior women's relay squad of Roisin Harrison, Sharlene Mawdsley, Ciara Neville, Phoebe Murphy and Gina Akpe-Moses just missed out on bronze
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Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan is an athlete, coach, athletics fan and, most importantly, was once named Bandon AFC's under-12 Player of the Year. He was once a promising athlete but is now a promising coach, teacher and part-time athletics writer/broadcaster. While an 800m runner himself, Ronan has coached everything from pole vault to 10km with varying levels of bluffing. He has regularly been threatening to do something for years but is yet to deliver. He is regarded as our expert on the American running scene, though has yet, to prove his knowledge in this realm.

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