Six years to reach sub-three-hour marathon success

I met Kate Carter the week before she went to Seville and reached her goal of running her first sub-three-hour marathon. At the time of the interview I had no idea she had planned to take on the challenge just four days ahead. As Editor of the Guardian Running Blog and with a high-profile on social media, she understandably chose to go under cover!

‘As a Guardian Life and Style Editor I became aware that running was becoming a  huge thing about seven or eight years ago, before I started running myself.  Parkrun was gaining in popularity and more people were taking on challenges like couch to 5K, including my then editor, so when I suggested starting the running blog at a meeting, it was a case of perfect timing.

‘My own running started at about the same time as the Running Blog, back in 2012. I had done a bit of running before, there was one 10K which my husband had entered me into, the Nike North versus South event. It was horrific. I trained from zero to race in six weeks, and ran it in just under an hour, and the last mile was endless. I also did a triathlon in 2006, but running had never been a focus. I was cycling to and from work, there was a pool next to my office, but the run bit I really didn’t like. There was no structure to my training, I just added in a run. So, I was quite surprised when I managed to run 48 minutes for the 10K as part of the London triathlon. But none of it inspired me to continue, until I had children.

Timing it Right

‘I think running is something that you have to find at the right time for you. And I believe that’s why so many women come to it after they have had children. After breaking from work and having young children dependent on you all day with no adult conversation, many women need to find time to themselves. I didn’t start running properly until I was on maternity leave with my second daughter (Kate is the mum of two girls aged six and nine). One of the reasons I started was simply that I wanted to lose weight and get fit again. And running was an easy way to do this and much more time-efficient as there was no time spent driving to a gym or pool and getting changed. I just needed to get out the door.

Kate Carter and her daughter Lily attend the weekly 2km fun run at Wimbledom park for juniors aged 4-14.
Photo by Souvid Datta
Commissioned for DO SOMETHING

‘As well as getting fit, and giving me time to myself, I discovered I was good at running. In the first few months you gain so much, so quickly and that keeps you motivated to keep going. I started with my friend who had been a runner when she was young, and our goal was to run 10K in sub 50 minutes. I followed this with a half marathon, and managed to run it on small mileage in around 1.45.

‘My husband recognised I was getting good at this and as a birthday present he bought me a package with a coach. I met with him and he watched me run, and then for the first time I had a structured plan to follow. I also joined a running club, and even though when the girls were young I couldn’t get to all the sessions, I loved being part of a club.

Marathon Mum

‘Soon I had my eyes set on the goal of running a marathon and had planned to run Seville in February 2014, but a calf tear (the only injury I’ve had) meant I had to wait until the London marathon​ in April. My training consisted of around 40 miles a week, and I worked runs into my day, as my girls were only two and five. I often ran part of the journey to work to save time, or I’d fit in a lunch-time session. They say if you want something done, get a busy person to do it. I say if you want someone to do marathon training, get a parent to do it. It’s not easy when your children are young. I remember those long runs were so exhausting, and I’d come back from a 21-mile run to a crying two-year old and the demands of a young family.  When it came to the race, again I remember the last few miles felt like an eternity, but I wasn’t worried about it as I didn’t have a time goal and I was very pleased to finish in 3.25.

‘Running adds to our family life on so many levels. I go on holiday and run early in the morning which some people think is crazy. And I’ve been known to get off a long-haul flight and run (such as after a 24-hour flight to New Zealand)  because it freshens me up and helps me beat jet lag. I know that when I run, I’m happier, and a happier me, is a better mum. And now that the children are older we run together. In the summer we go to the track and they might time me doing laps, or do some laps themselves and then play. We also do our own circuits, and crazy yoga/dancing – they’ve learnt that exercise is fun and it’s not a transaction that’s just about calories in and calories out.


‘As I got more serious about running I started to up my mileage. I learnt early on that my body absorbs mileage and I’m lucky that I don’t seem to get injured. I’ll run at least 70 miles per week when I want to achieve a bigger goal. My progress continued and in 2014 I ran another marathon, this time in 3.11 in New York, which is a hard and slower marathon than ​some ​others.  Then in 2015 I ran 3.03 in London and finally got tantalizingly close to sub three, running, 3.00.07 in Berlin – so close –  in fact a friend told me I should just call it 2.59.67.

‘After this, in 2016 and 2017, I ran another five marathons (two in 2016 and three in 2017) some for fun, and  some that didn’t go to plan. In preparation for London in 2017 I had achieved PBs at every distance: 5K, 10 mile and half marathon. But  on the day of the race it didn’t happen for me. I think I’d peaked too soon and the timing was just off. In a marathon you can see saw between feeling great and feeling awful, and if you have a bad day, it’s not like you can go and repeat the performance the following week. But the good thing about running marathons is that it makes all other distances seem easy psychologically and physically. And things are on the up again as last week I was absolutely delighted to run a 10K PB of 38.32.

Power of the mind

‘When I’m racing, I try to focus my mind. I think about what my muscles are doing and make sure I check in on my posture. I tell my mind to shut up, especially in the first 5K, or at 16 miles when there’s still 10 miles to go. It’s important to be in control of your mind and break down the distance into manageable blocks, and to simply stay in the moment, and avoid trying to plan for what may or may not happen. I will have an internal dialogue and will always ask myself if there’s more I can give, I definitely do not want to finish a race feeling I may have left it out there.

‘When it comes to training, I’m very good at doing what I’m told. My husband likes to point out that I’m not like this in any other area of my life, But if my coach tells me to do a session, I do it. I don’t question it. I’ve learned that with running it’s a straightforward equation: you get out what you put in. And it’s worth doing. Running can add so much to  life, for busy parents it’s a great way to get much-needed head space – as well as a sense of feeling in control of life. I remember when I first ran the marathon I felt like superwoman, as if I could do anything now!

Men V Women: the race is on!

‘Long distance female runners are much closer to their male counterparts than in other sports, and the further the distance, the smaller the time difference between men and women. I often find when I’m running to and form work, a man will run a long side me and race me. Recently, a guy even decided to give me some unasked for advice about how I could improve my running stride. It was very satisfying to stop at the lights and then destroy him by running away quickly.

Getting Faster

‘I’m going for sub-three hours at the marathon again in April and then after the marathon I’d like to see if I can get faster over shorter distances and dedicate training to improving my 5K and 10K times. But first, it’s the marathon and I really hope I can do it this time.’

Now read what happened just four days later:

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