Training Insight Series: Ben Johnson, 2:17 Marathoner & England International

Ben Johnson Marathon-Runner



I’ve known Ben for 4 years, mostly as a friend from the running club (Run-Fast) but he has had a few trips to see me at the physio clinic during this time. At a personal level, I’ve been in awe of the consistent focus that Ben has had since I’ve known him which has seen huge improvement in his marathon time and an England vest. Ben has been kind enough to answer some questions that provide an insight into his journey to a 2:17 marathoner.

Can you provide a short introduction of your key achievements?

My first marathon was in 2010 where I ran 2:56, and it took 9 years to get to my current PB of 2:17:33. I finished 12th running in Toronto Marathon for England in 2017. The progression was not linear… below is a summary of my marathon running hobby that got out of hand.

201002:56:37 – First Marathon, hard work! Set off at 2:50 pace, slowed a lot in the last 10k.
201102:35:52 – Big improvement, more structured training and better pacing but still low mileage. Based on this I was confident I could run faster
201202:33:43 – A couple of niggles in the build-up but a good run.
201302:40:57 – Over trained and paced it poorly, got fed up with running and spent the summer doing triathlon.
2014No marathon – I raced more over 10k (working in Scotland)
2015No marathon – I didn’t race much but ran a couple of 10k’s (working in Canada) moved to London in November
2016Much more consistent training, ran 2:28 at London Marathon in April and 2:26 at Amsterdam Marathon in October
201702:21:46 – big improvement in London, wanted 2:22 to get the England Development standard. Got selected to run the Marathon in Toronto.
201802:23:24 – trained harder but not smarter. Raced Manchester in April (finished 2nd in 2:25/ Raced Berlin for a time but faded in the last 8k.
2019Ran 2:20:03 at London Marathon in April then PB in Valencia 02:17:33 – got some more structured coaching.

How did you get involved in athletics?

I was quite a chunky kid but started a bit of running (2miles at a time) to get fit to play football. My Dad is a runner, so I had seen him at some local races and started with a local 4 mile Good Friday race.

Did you do any track?

Yes…It took a few years before I got a bit more serious and joined a club (Southport Waterloo) in 2009. I started training on the track most weeks from around 2010. I did a few track races, mainly 5000m for my club in the Northern League along with a handful 1500m/3000m races too. I generally did more racing on the road.

How did you progress/get into marathon running?

I always had ambitions to run London Marathon after seeing my dad go off to run there and trying to spot him on TV. With entries not easy to come by, I decided my best chance was to run a good for age time so I ran my first marathon in Chester 2010 (2:56) which got me a “good for age” place in London.

What would a typical training week in a build up to a marathon look like? (e.g. mileage/sessions etc.)

Monday – 2 easy runs (e.g. 6+6 miles as part of commute with a small backpack) and some core in the evening

Tuesday – AM Easy run commute (6miles) / PM after work jog to track for faster session such as 12×400 (45sec-1min recovery) around 5k pace + 4k tempo (11-12miles total)

Wednesday – AM 75-90min easy (10-13 miles) last 3miles with backpack into work.

Thursday – AM tempo efforts such as 3x10mins or a progressive run starting 7min mile finish close to 5min or a block such as 30min closer to marathon pace & Cool down jog to work / PM 45mins easy run & core

Friday – 45min easy run or rest (recovery day)

Saturday – 2 easy runs (e.g. 6+6 miles)

Sunday – 20-23 miles with some blocks at Marathon pace. E.g. 4x4kMP, 4x5km, or 10k+5k+3k

Weekly mileage varies from 65-70 miles on a race week to 105-110 miles in bigger weeks. I try not to get too caught up on it although it is hard not to.

What sort of races do you like to include in a marathon build up and how far out from race day?

When not in marathon build ups I will race a mixture of distances. Last year I ran anything from 1500m track to 12k cross country.

In the last 12 weeks before a Marathon the training is a bit more specific. I like to race half marathons so have included some in most marathon build ups. Previously I ran those 3-4 weeks before but more recently 5-8 weeks before the marathon, which I have found better. I have always raced as fast as I can on the day. I might not be totally tapered but I don’t like the idea of not racing in a race.

How much rest and sleep to you get when you are in a marathon build up?

As much as possible, particularly closer to race day.I am usually asleep before 10 then get up around 7am (occasionally earlier if I do a session before work).Sometimes I get in a 45min nap in the afternoon over the weekend.

Do you follow a specific diet when training?

No, although I eat a lot of food.

Do you complete regular strength and conditioning exercises (including mobility/technique drills and stretching)?

Yes, core exercises at least once a week but I don’t like spending long in the gym so it’s usually around 30mins once or twice a week.

I like to do some light static stretching after at least one of the runs each day. I’m not particularly flexible but feel it helps me to relax and identify if any muscles are getting especially tight.

What role does physio / massage /osteo play in your training?

Physio (Scott) has helped to put my mind at ease when niggles have cropped up. I’ve done more specific exercises which have been set to manage weaknesses but get complacent when everything is working. I’ve had taping and shockwave therapy which I feel have played a part to managing problems when they’ve cropped up.

I use sports massage around every other month, sometimes more if I have tightness (particularly calves and hamstrings).

Do you rotate your footwear for different sessions throughout the week?

Yes, I have several different pairs of trainers on rotation at any one time. If I buy a new pair now, my girlfriend makes me get rid of an old pair…

Do you have any mental preparation strategies/routines when you are racing?

I try to picture myself running strongly towards the end of a marathon.I do this in training runs and in the days before the race.

How have you adapted your training and goals with the current COVID-19 restrictions on place?

Yes…Once all the races got cancelled I backed off the marathon training as I didn’t feel the motivation or see the need to be super fit without the chance to race.

I bought a treadmill to do some runs in the garage. I’ve also been cycling and have been doing more regular core exercises. It’s been tricky not knowing when the races will be back so I’m just aiming to strengthen up some weaknesses, maintain a reasonable level of fitness, stay fit and healthy ready to crank up the training later in the year.

I hope that you found Ben’s training insight interesting, if you have any questions or thoughts then please get in touch with me.

If you’re having any niggles or if you’re interested in improving your performance and would like to be connected with a UKA qualified coach, then get in touch with me at [email protected]

Happy running and keep safe.