As many of my close friends will attest to, I was very blasé about running my first marathon, even though the London Marathon is a race I have wanted to tick of my list for a long time. I entered the ballot eight years in a row with no success so took the plunge and took a charity place for this year’s race.
As a Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and Run Leader I felt I had the tools and knowledge to put together my own training plan and, indeed, I had a good understanding of the different running elements needed to give me the best chance of success on the day. However, success is an interesting choice of word for me, because what ‘success’ looks like to me wasn’t really quantified – I didn’t set out to achieve a time; my only goal was to run 26.2 miles on road and try to enjoy it.
I started running in 2012 and at that time I was all about the road running, but a serious ITB injury and some very bad physio advice took my out of the game for over a year. On my return from injury I avoided roads due to still being plagued by ITB niggles. I tried different things, including a triathlon and Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). I really enjoyed my first triathlon but OCR felt like coming home. Since 2014 I have done little else race-wise and Tough Mudder has become my favourite place to be. I quickly became used to running on trails and during my second season of Tough Mudder in 2015 my ITB injury disappeared for good. This goes a long way to explaining why my only goal for the marathon was to try and enjoy it rather than run for a time! I was fearful of re-injuring my ITB and putting myself out of action again, plus I thought 26 miles of road, road and more road would be extremely dull.
So, here’s what I learnt:
Even with my level of knowledge and experience, not having a SMART goal meant that I wasn’t focused enough during training. We all know the power of setting goals and the joy of achieving them so for my next marathon (yes, I will be doing another one) I will be sitting down and putting a goal together which is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.
For seasoned runners this one will be obvious but this is the first time I have properly incorporated speed, hill and tempo sessions into my training. The difference was amazing. I was lucky enough to have time to commit to three runs a week so Monday was a speed or hill session, Wednesday was a mid-distance tempo run and Friday was my slow, steady long distance run.
If you run junk miles in training you will run junk miles on race day. Junk miles are miles run that serve no purpose i.e. running every long distance run slower than your planned pace. Doing this means you could actually damage your running performance. After a few weeks I realised I was suffering on the long runs and so I got a bit smarter about pacing. I paced my runs differently, using my 10k pace as a base. Depending on the overall distance, my speed sessions were done 35 to 60 seconds faster than my 10k pace and my long distance runs were done 35 to 75 seconds slower.
So many people told me: “you’re running a marathon, you don’t need to worry about eating too much anymore, you need the calories.” This is a dangerous route to go down and often a main reason why a lot of inexperienced marathon runners overeat. No matter what your routine, it still comes down to calories in versus calories out and when putting your body through the stress of a marathon nutrition is even more important. Understanding your macro needs and making sure your body has what it needs to perform, recover and repair will massively enhance your training and race day outcome.
Also, plan your race day breakfast. I was a bit too blasé and didn’t consider this aspect too carefully. I was staying in a hotel, got up early to get to the start on time and didn’t leave time to find my usual pre-race meal. The day before we’d visited the expo and I’d scored a lot of freebie carb bars and protein snacks so I sorted through these and decided these would be my breakfast. This ensured I had an uncomfortable stomach for the first 18 miles of the race. If I do nothing else differently next time, I will sort this out!
I don’t usually run with music because I like my running time to be a time to clear my head and create some space. However, I was planning for boredom so I loaded my iPod shuffle with my favourite tracks from my spin and insanity classes and packed my headphones ‘just in case’. At mile 16 the course took a bit of a dull turn view wise so I decided to change things up and I felt like i bounced the next two miles. It was exactly what I needed.
As someone who thought they would hate every step and be completely bored I was entirely shocked to find that I loved every minute of it. Would I enjoy another marathon as much? I have no idea. I cannot say if it was the fact that it was the London Marathon that got me but I had an absolute blast running that course. There was not one part of the course that wasn’t well supported and that in itself was a great motivator. The last three miles completely sucked, everything hurt and I was running on empty but I knew that this was just part of the marathon experience. Marathons are meant to be hard. If they were easy everyone would do them, so I did what I tell all of my class participants and PT clients to do each week: I embraced the suck, I sucked it up buttercup and got the bloody thing done and it felt amazing. The last 500 meters were almost magical.
If you have even the slightest inclination to do a marathon my advice is back yourself and do it. Plan your training, training smart, eat right an enjoy it. You won’t regret it!