The magazine informing expectant hopefuls of their 2018 London Marathon fate dropped on a few hundred thousand doormats a couple of weeks ago.
Were you one of the lucky ones? And will it be your first marathon. Well, looking back to my first, in Paris in 2008, I can give you some valuable tips as to how to get it horribly wrong. From experience……
- SHOE CHOICE – particularly important this. Is the specific model you’re training in repeatedly giving you blisters on any run over half an hour? Are they banging into your toes as your feet get hotter and hotter? Do you find your feet throbbing, and the material above the little toes is actually tearing? If you can answer yes to all of these, and you’d really like to have the same experience as me…. then BUY ANOTHER PAIR THE SAME. Yup, and then race the marathon in them. Worked for me. My mate, who had travelled to Paris to support me, nearly fainted when I peeled my sock off afterwards. Nice. A fist sized blister, covering the entire arch of my foot had burst and rubbed and was a (literal) bloody mess!
- WEAR THICK LEGGINGS – This is particularly important if it’s warm, raining, or you are (like me) a prolific perspiring machine. What you must NOT do, is heed the warnings from last time you wore these leggings. When it rained. Hard. And you were quite literally holding them up by the time you finished that 10k. So in Paris – my inner thighs looked like they’d been caressed by an industrial sander!
- TRAINING GUIDE – Again, some key points here……. I decided to pick an arbitrary time to pretend I was capable of running. I then worked out how many minutes per mile this equated to and then hardly ever ran a mile that quickly in training. Oh, and only get to 20 miles once in the build up – and be a cramped up, shuffling mess by the end of that run. BUT, don’t let that stop you still believing you can hit that goal time come race day.
- GO TO A HOT COUNTRY – This is optional, obviously time and budgetary constraints wouldn’t normally allow this but I found 10 days averaging 34 degrees with 100% humidity particularly crucial to depleting me about a month out.
- FIND SUITABLE ACCOMODATION – Paris is great for this, I reckon I walked about 8 miles to and from the Expo on Marathon Eve, and then probably 4 on the morning. Combining this with the training guide above is fabulous for that crucial pre-fatigue needed for the race.
- NUTRITION – I went for taking gels, you know, the thick and sickly sweet gunk in those foil tubes. I didn’t do what I did with my shoes though, I went for a different brand to any I’d tried before, with spectacular results……
- FIND AN OFFICIAL PACER – he or she might be carrying a flag with your target time on. If you ignore them and decide, 30 minutes before the race, that you’ve become Mo Farah then push through the crowds to stand behind a pacer going 30 seconds per mile faster than your (already hopelessly optimistic) target.
- KEEP PUSHING AS HARD AS YOU CAN – Especially in those early miles, your mind, body and soul are going to really thank you for it later on……. I went through half way bang on my target pace, blowing really hard and having to dig deep already. Really deep.
- STAY ON YOUR FEET – Now, regular readers will be more than aware that I’m shuffling back from injury right now (Read all about why HERE) and probably not surprised to find a bit of a tumbling history…… Yup, went to ground TWICE in Paris. The first time I ran into one of those tall kerbs that separate the bus lanes from the road. The second time I glanced up at a stunning building, didn’t notice that everyone had slowed in front……. (I was REALLY popular amongst my fellow runners after the second one as took out about a dozen people!).
- EMBRACE THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS – Or, as I did, grumpily ignore them, obsessed with having ‘failed’ at my pointless time goal (in the words of that great cannon-straddling, hair flicking goddess of ROCK… “If I could turn back time…..”) Actually, I was staggering so much in mile 25, a guy jogged alongside me and encouraged “At least you’re going to finish…….” He was right of course and being extremely kind and generous. I, unfortunately, was neither.
My life was very different back in April 2008. The Paris Marathon was an obsession with time. My personal life was in a dark and dangerous, lonely place. My lovely sister was still with us, but terribly and chronically ill and I was making too many poor choices.
I’m (the more I look back) extremely proud of all my running achievements and that first marathon taught me so much. Not JUST about running. But, yes, a LOT about running. A running coach, friend and supporter (Eddie) offered me two key pieces of advice as the marathon day neared – firstly that you can’t really train or prepare for a marathon until you’ve ran one, and secondly that the ridiculous long baggy football shorts I regularly sported were acting as a parachute!!
In later years, when I trained for a while in Eddies group, he also (famously) described me as running like “a drunk man herding cats”… I’m not sure it was a compliment……
Anyway, to anyone building up to their first marathon – seriously now – go and enjoy it, be as fast as you feel like being on the day and take pleasure in every step.
I’ve managed to reach 35 marathons (and longer) now, many of them in muddy countryside or hilly moors, mostly alongside my amazing running partner (who I’m also so so lucky to be able to call my wife) and I genuinely try and treasure every moment of them. The full list HERE.
Keep on keeping on people, let’s not let THEM grind us down…….