Is it possible to achieve marathon success at this year’s London Marathon when focussing on a wider goal?
Martin and Jane Gannon are a couple that regularly train and compete together across the world. Martin got on the podium with an impressive fourth in the 60-64 division at the IRONMAN World Championship’s last year in Kona. Jane also competed last year, finishing 12th in the F55-59 category.
Martin and Jane are both running this year’s London Marathon as part of their IRONMAN training plan and, if Martin’s adapted training schedule continues to go to plan, he’s hoping to improve on his current PB of 3:11 which he achieved 18 years a go.
We caught up with Martin after a swim session at our local gym to discuss how he and Jane are using London to improve their IRONMAN run and to ask him the secrets of their success over the years...
So, Martin, why build a Spring marathon like London into a season where your main goal is the IRONMAN World Championships in October?
Well, knowing that we'd be doing Kona in October, we wanted to focus on improving our run performances. London was the obvious choice as we both have automatic Good For Age places and it’s such an iconic event.
Whilst the London Marathon is an interim goal, we still want to perform at our best. The trick is not to get over fatigued. We want to finish London in good condition and build up the volume of training for the IRONMAN Worlds in October.
What does a typical week of training look like for you when you're in the immediate build up to a marathon?
My training plan is very consistent and structured. I swim three times a week, ride the Wattbike at high intensity twice a week (one hour sessions) and then I run four times a week.
My runs this week have included 2x interval runs (eg. 14x 400m hard on the treadmill), marathon pace run for 1 hour 15 mins (during a 1 hr 45 min session) and a longer slower run at talking pace. My long run will only ever get up to 20 miles before a marathon.
And how is that different to the immediate build up to an IRONMAN?
Training for a marathon is very different to training for an IRONMAN.
Firstly in IRONMAN training, the swims are much more intense and we would do 5 sessions a week.
The bike work, albeit at moderate intensity, is for longer periods, up to 4-5 hours at a time. We use the Wattbike for complete consistency and this helps for pacing. We also do a lot of bike-run brick sessions.
We naturally become very fatigued with IRONMAN training because the volume is increased across all measures.
Interestingly, my nutrition doesn’t tend to change much throughout the year. We both eat a very balanced diet and don’t exclude any food groups. We naturally lose weight as the training volume increases (usually the closer we get to an event) because we don’t tend to vary the quantity of what we eat but we’re obviously using more calories.
How do you fit the high volume of training that you do in around being a busy doctor and dentist?
We have a split training schedule. We like to get in the pool early morning (usually 6am) and then, if time permits, we bike or run after but often we have to head straight to work.
We often see members of the PH team at those early swim sessions. I had hoped I might absorb a little of their magic just by osmosis. However they each swim so fast compared to us - and create so much wash, particularly James ‘the boy’ Phillips - that there's not as much of that as I'd like! On the plus side though the waves, wash and splash help prepare us for the start of the IRONMAN swim!
Then, after work we hit the gym again. This works well as we’ve had the majority of the day for our bodies to recover before the next session. We don’t tend to schedule in rest days but do listen to our bodies if they're telling us to rest or reduce the intensity.
How much training do you and Jane do together as a couple?
The majority of our training is at the same time but we’re not necessarily doing the same thing. We don’t have capacity to train much with others as fitting it all in is hard within the constraints of working.
Our agenda is very specific to us. We are quite self-contained and enjoy the companionship of training at the same time, but often doing different things.
Marathon running and competing in an IRONMAN are both very personal things.
How much faster do you think you could run a marathon if you completely dropped the cycling and swimming training?
I think the fitness from swimming and cycling complements our run training and helps us avoid injury. Consistency is key with the cross training and also managing fatigue.
The danger with just running is that you overdo it and becoming injured. Sustaining any form of injury sets you back much further.
My current run volume is only 6 hours a week, but it's all very structured and relatively intense. For me the balance between swim, run and bike training is working really well at the moment.
Who coaches you and how do you think having a coach is beneficial to amateur athletes?
Will Newbery (an experienced & successful triathlete) has trained us since 2013. This relationship has been crucial to our progress. It’s very hard to know how far to push yourself when you’re making that decision on your own.
Our coach helps steer us in a better direction or sometimes talks us out of something we shouldn’t really be doing!
Will is also competing with us in Kona this year...
How do you cope with the pressure on a big race day?
Coping with the perceived pressure is actually really interesting. When I look at the start list in Kona and see 15 people that I think are better than me, it’s all about changing that mindset.
I actually think it doesn’t matter who’s competing as we all have to perform the best we can on the day and it’s up to me (and only me) to be better than them. It’s your own race. You’re racing for the best time over three disciplines, which is more of an overall process and a mental game.
There will come a time close to the end, like my experience in Kona 2018, when you need to step up a gear and really dig deep to stay ahead.
What's your hydration strategy for the London Marathon?
Interestingly I sweat A LOT, but after taking an Advanced Sweat Test about 5 years ago, I was pleased to discover that my sweat contains a low amount of sodium. I found the test really useful and reassuring. It was good to adopt a fluid/electrolyte replacement plan that was both achievable and also beneficial to my performance.
Jane, by contrast, sweats very little but loses a much higher level of sodium in her sweat. She previously suffered from severe cramping a lot in races, but is pleased to report that by using SweatSalt Electrolyte Capsules during her racing, she's now able to keep the cramps under control.
Then for recovery, Jane and I both grab a cold and well deserved beer...
Do you have any advice for people running the London Marathon for the first time?
Enjoy it! It’s by far my favourite road race. Follow a sensible training plan that you feel is achievable within your lifestyle.
Then on the day, don’t get stressed – soak up the atmosphere of the crowds and enjoy what will be a brilliant event in an amazing city...
Sound advice! Thanks Martin and we wish you both the best of luck for London and for Kona later on in the year...
Running the 2019 London Marathon?
The PH team will be there on Stand 183 if you need any last minute hydration advice or electrolyte supplements. Plus, if you'd like to do what Martin and Jane did and fully dial your hydration strategy in by finding out how much sodium you lose in your sweat, you can book in for an Advanced Sweat Test at the Expo.