How to run a marathon faster – with James Dunne

For the third edition of the “How to run a marathon faster series” I wanted to bring you a different focus. Running faster is more than just the act of speed work, and pushing your body. Strength and conditioning is very important, and this is something that James Dunne is well placed to talk to us about. James is a coach for runners of all levels from beginner to pro, with a focus on the strength and conditioning side of their training, and helping them improve their running form to overcome injuries and run pain free.
On top of the world after Berlin Marathon

Advice about strengthening and conditioning is certainly something that I, and others, can benefit from. As part of my ambition to get faster, again, I took part in parkrun a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t done speedwork for the last few months, so decided to give it a blast. It was hard, and I suffered from knee pain, followed by hipflexor pain, and since then I have spent days with such sore and tight hamstrings. I’m thinking about what went wrong. I’ve not stretched, well ever really, and I tried the day before parkrun. Also I’ve gone from only doing long steady running, no training in between, to short and fast. I think I pushed to quick too soon.

Parkrun, but didnt feel great

I asked James to tell us a little about himself. He said he sometimes jokingly (but half seriously) describes himself as the rugby guy who accidentally become the running guy. Having graduated university with a degree in sport rehabilitation, he went to work for three years in a clinic that specialised in working with runners. James told me he was fortunate enough to learn “on the job” from some fantastic physios and has contact with some great athletes.

James in his Rugby days
Whilst working at the clinic, James was playing rugby at semi-pro level, having previously played professionally. He had to step-away from rugby due to injury in his mid 20s, and decided to also step-out on his own coaching business – the running rehab/coaching business we now know as Kinetic Revolution.
An unexpected area of the business that has boomed in recent years has been James’s blog, which he started as a resource for runners. The most popular resource is the Transform Your Running 30 Day Challenge.

How long have you been running, and what is your marathon PB

Having called myself “the rugby guy…”, I have to admit that I actually always used to love supplementing my training on the pitch with running. In fact, my coaches always used to tell me off, because they thought it made me slow. I’m not blessed with top-end speed!
So, technically I’ve been running since my mid-teens, but I’d say I’ve been taking my running more seriously for the last ten years, since my mid-20s.

My marathon PB is currently 3:26, which I ran in Rotterdam in early 2018. I’m hoping to get closer to 3 hours in Liverpool next year!

Putting the training in

Have you always been fast, tell me about your first marathon?

Fast is relative…
The story of my first marathon, the Helsinki City Marathon in 2011 is funny now… but was pretty painful at the time.
At that point, I’d run various half marathons, 5k and 10k races. I was working with a couple of injured Ironman triathletes, helping them overcome calf problems. In both cases, time was pretty tight ahead of their A races for the year, and the reality was that while we were making good rehab progress, they were probably going to end up racing with very little running in the legs. Running a marathon off the bike with little-to-no run training was something I really didn’t like the sound of. But they were both up for it!
In a rather masochistic self-experiment, I wanted to know roughly what that would feel like, so I decided to run Helsinki marathon having starved myself of mileage for what (if I remember rightly) was about 10 weeks prior to the race. For this whole period, I was just running a couple of 5k runs per week to keep the legs ticking over.
Long story short. It was a tough day. I had little idea how I should pace this distance that I’d never run before, and had not trained for! After a strong first half – too strong – I run/walked my way to a 3:54 finish at the Olympic stadium in Helsinki.

No injuries. Not even a blister.

What did you do to improve your marathon time?

I trained!
Haha, ok I guess you want more than that.
The biggest improvements I’ve ever seen in my running, marathon pb included, have come as a result of:
a) being consistent with running (for me) relatively high mileage week after week

b) learning to slow down, and run the vast majority of my weekly mileage at a conversational pace.

Berlin Done…

Tell me your top tips to running a marathon faster.

I think most marathon runners will agree that an important tip has to be avoiding injury in training.
Pacing on the day is important – nudge nudge Paul – but you have to get to the start line in one piece.
Easier said than done I’m sure many readers are saying right now. True, to a degree, but when you see that so many running injuries come as a result of training errors, you’ll appreciate that the majority are avoidable. So:
a) Give yourself an easier week ever 3-4 weeks during your training plan
b) Prioritise recovery, and make sure that you don’t run either very hard or very long training sessions too close to one another

c) Make sure that you’re running your easy mileage easy enough. So many runners run their long runs too fast, and end up placing excess strain on their bodies. Once you learn to slow down, the post-run niggles often decrease significantly! As the old coaching adage says – keep the slow runs slow, and the fast runs fast.

All smiles at the end

I had the pleasure of running with James in Berlin 2017 for most of the marathon, before he pulled away and had an interview. At this stage I didnt know him, but now always look forward to seeing him. Check out his Facebook group and the Transform Your Running 30 Day Challenge

4 thoughts on “How to run a marathon faster – with James Dunne

  1. I have been doing 5k and 10k and did one HM(2:55) so far.want to tun half marathon under two hours.can you guide me please
    Especially regarding breathing while we run


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