Don’t do it! Just kidding. If you are um-ing and ah-ing (something I did for about three years), bite the bullet and do it! There is no time like the present.
Here’s a(n ironically) short guide to prepping for, running and surviving a marathon.
I won’t make out it’s not a massive commitment to run a marathon. It is and there’s really no getting around it. I’ve run a fair few half marathons. Half marathons in my experience are actually quite nice. Seriously. They are long enough to push you, but not so long as to seem insurmountable (although I concede they might initially appear that way to some). You train but it doesn’t take over your life. In Autumn, on a crisp day, next to a river and under a sparkling blue sky, they are especially appealing. The Royal Parks half marathon was perfect (albeit there’s no river). I’ll say it again, half marathons are nice. Believe me. When you’re at mile 22 of a marathon, you still have over four miles to run (/hobble), you have nothing left in the tank, you can’t pick your legs up and you’ve never run that far before but feel like there is an eternity left to go, you will think longingly back to mile 13 and think, yes, half marathons are the way to go, a half marathon would have been nice. You will very probably wonder why you wanted to do anything other. Why would you run 13.1 miles again? I promise you you’ll wonder this. More than once. You may even think about stopping. Please don’t.
A marathon though. It’s a different kettle of fish. Hard? Gruelling? To channel Ed Miliband, hell yes! But, if you want something that gives you an incomparable sense of achievement and pride, there is nothing I would recommend more. All the best feelings; happiness, pride and ecstasy are there for the taking. I loved the Berlin Marathon even though parts* of it were, I won’t lie, hideous. And I cried. At least three times but I dug deep (such a cliché but so true – marathon running is 20% running mixed with 80% stubbornness) and never stopped running. I wouldn’t change the experience for the world. Crossing the finishing line was a BRILLIANT feeling and five months later it still makes me smile.
*only miles 14 to 25 (inclusive) – something went in my knee and hip that I just couldn’t run off until I got to mile 25 when I thought, right, I’ve had enough of this and pegged it as fast as I could wobbly-legged to the finish line.
The Berlin Marathon route and my splits
Marathon running will not give you the body of your dreams
If’s that your motivation, I’d take a step back and really think about it. It’s simply not what long distance running does. Although it may well give you the feet of your nightmares. That’s probably not selling it to you. In fact, you’ll probably put on weight and your thighs and bum will get bigger as your muscles respond to increased use. I guess now I’m really might not selling it to you. Marathon training is rarely a conduit for weight loss. Your body is a machine that needs fuel. Fuel to burn and fuel to repair and recover. By the same token it’s not a licence to eat what you want.
Think about the location of the marathon
Think about where you want to run your marathon. They aren’t all the same and each one has its own personality. Do you want to run it in your home town so that it’s super easy for friends and family to cheer you along? Or somewhere you know your family will go with you? Do not for one second underestimate the importance of support. Someone calling out your name and saying “well done, keep going, I’m so proud of you” has a rather intense, emotional effect.
Support at mile 10
Do you want to run where there’s lots of charity runners? If so, I’d recommend the London Marathon. Running for a charity seems to be quite an UK-centric thing. Every other country’s runners I’ve seen tend to be uber serious, not running for charity and often in matching club gear. Do you want to go abroad to somewhere you love or somewhere you’ve never been to make a trip of it? Do you want to be in the town or countryside? Do you mind an undulating course? I did – I wanted something as flat as a pancake and Berlin is about as flat as you can get.
Find more effective ways to train
If you are time short, let’s face it a lot of people are, and you don’t have the time or don’t want to work out before work (the idea of showering post run at work has never appealed to mr) or run in your lunch “hour” then look at running home, either from work or getting off the train/tube/bus early and running from there. That way you can kill two birds with one stone and you get to go straight in the shower and into your pyjamas. This is an especially good tip for the winter as dragging yourself out into the cold and dark once you’ve work into your warm home is often excutiatingly difficult. Remember though, the hardest part is getting out the door.
Training will take over your life
That’s something you just need to accept. You can’t do a marathon if you train fewer than three times a week. You really need at least four. To train effectively you can’t be out all the other nights especially as runs become longer. A marathon has to be a priority because there’s no getting round that it’s tough. Mega tough. If you are going to do it you might as well do it properly. To counteract the stress it puts on your body and the waves of FOMO (feat of missing out) you might feel, indulge yourself at home. Run yourself a bath, add in generous handfuls of Epsom salts with some drops of your favourite oils. Read your book whilst you’re in there too. Snuggle down in a fluffy dressing gown with a film. When you are running 20 miles on a weekend, it is more than acceptable to fall asleep during said film. And the one after.
Teehee – so immature of me but its name still makes me giggle. Intense short bursts of running followed by recovery. Then repeat. And again, and again, and again… This really works and has been the only thing I have done which has improve my splits.
Check beforehand if the water given out at the drinks station is in bottles
This sound weird but it’s very important if it’s not and it can really throw you if you are not expecting it. Berlin didn’t have bottled water. When my brother ran Vegas they didn’t either. Instead the water was in small plastic cups. This presents a minimum of three problems:
One: How do you drink the water? Answer: Not easily. It sloshes out the cup and goes everywhere but your mouth.
Two: What do you drink between water stations? Answer: Quite. And there may be quite distance between stations.
Three: The water stations are so slippery and when your legs become tired you have to use a lot of energy and concentration to navigate the sea of cups.
Motto: Take a bottle with a screw top. I tend to do this anyway as I drink so much whilst running and if you are taking gels they often state that you need to drink a certain amount of water with them. You can fill the bottle up with water from the cups at the water station. A bit fiddly but better than having no water on a hot day for 5km.
Yuck! A necessary evil. The best ones are Torq gels which don’t quite make your teeth stand on edge as the same way as the other ones. Flavours include Strawberry Yoghurt, Black Cherry Yoghurt, Rhubarb & Custard, Raspberry Ripple, Apple Crumble and Banoffee (with Guarani). Take at least six with you on the day – better to have more and not use them than the alternative and use them in your practice runs too. Don’t start changing your diet/routine on the day.
Things to take to the finish line
Take a pair of flip flops to wear after the race. Once those trainers come off you won’t want to put them back on. Baby wipes too. A little cash.
Things I ought to have done
Ah, hindsight. But, let’s face it, life gets in the way and if you start work early/get back late/both there’s a line that has to be drawn somewhere. However, were I to do it again I’d try to have made more time make time for:
- A sports massage – expert fingertip manipulation of muscles or at least the foam roller which I found incredibly painful but that’s probably more an indication of the state of my muscles and the fact it works.
- More protein shakes post run. Men love protein shakes. You always see them post workout shaking their plastic flasks. There’s a reason for this. Protein post workout is good.
- Yoga. Weights. Swimming. Any of them, even if just a little. To mix it up and use other muscle groups.
Good luck and let me know how you get on!
Alcohol free beer at the finishing line