Today is London marathon ballot day (it’s already closed, so if you haven’t already entered, well, then soz). Every year, it seems to get more and more silly, with people staying up until midnight refreshing the website, panicking they won’t be able to get their entry in before it’s full. They may have had a point, it was all over by 09:50. I know I am surrounded by a lot of other runners, but this time around it seems that 99% of my Twitter timeline/Facebook newsfeed/people sitting near me in the office have thrown their name in the hat.
And in a few weeks, marathon madness will kick in again, as those that have chosen to run an autumn marathon will begin their 3-4 months of training. The day after Paris, I found myself Googling ‘Berlin marathon charity places’, but I’ve come to the conclusion that one marathon is enough for me for this year – although if you see me thinking otherwise either on here or on Twitter, please stage an online intervention!
With all this marathon hype around, I think it’s important to actually think through the decision properly. So, if you are thinking of signing up to your first marathon, either this year or in the future, here are some tips I’d give to all first timers (all purely based on my own personal experience, of course)…
1. You have to really want to do it
I got a ballot place in the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francsico last year. I paid my $100+ and posted on every social media channel that I’d got in. But as soon as I put that training plan up on my wall, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. The training terrified me, going to the US on my own to run a marathon terrified me, training through the summer terrified me. I didn’t really want to do it.
A marathon is a MASSIVE commitment, I really can’t stress this enough. Yes, some people are better at slotting it into their lives than others, but it will still have a huge impact on the lifestyle of you and others around you. Think about how you will fit it in around work, holidays, partners, parents, dogs, cats or anything else you also need to prioritise. Long runs are called long runs for a reason, they pretty much take up whole days. If you’re good with this, then excellent – go for it.
2. Pick your race carefully
Personally I know that I’d really enjoy running the London marathon. But I know that I prefer big races. I like the security of knowing that they’ll probably be a fair few people running slower than me. I like running with lots of people around me, I like running on roads and I like running in urban areas. I wouldn’t enter a small, rural, trail race because I know I wouldn’t enjoy it.
So, think about what you want from a race and find it. If it’s a race you’re not excited about, you’re not going to enjoy training for it.
3. Be realistic, be sensible
If you only run a couple of short distances a week at the moment (as I did), going straight into a 4 runs, 25+ miles a week training plan is not going to go down well with your body. Don’t be a complete slave to the plan, and don’t beat yourself up about not sticking to it. I think I only managed to run 4 times a week on one or two occasions in 4 months. I still survived. To start with, I planned to do some of my training runs before work. Then I never did them, and felt incredibly guilty. As soon as I realised there was absolutely no point trying to train on weekday mornings (because it just didn’t work for me), I felt so much more relaxed. I found other, better times.
Be honest with yourself about how much and when you can actually run. Don’t run injured, don’t run when you’re completely knackered, and don’t run unhappy. None of these will help your training.
4. Do yoga, buy a foam roller, get sports massages
I was doing a lot of yoga before marathon training started, and although it dropped considerably as the mileage increased, I made sure I went to at least one class a week as well as doing some home practice. It’s brilliant strengthening and strectching without feeling like it’s a chore.
A foam roller is your friend (especially in the evening of your long run day) – stick on an episode of Sherlock and get yourself on your living room floor.
I swear that getting regular sports massages were one of the reasons I stayed completely injury free through training. I went originally when I had a problem, but continued getting them every 3 or 4 weeks or so, and in increasing frequency as race day got closer. And if you find a brilliant one, like Simon, it’s also a good opportunity to chat running with an incredibly knowledgable nice bloke.
5. Have a damn good time
As much as training for a marathon is tiring, expensive, time consuming, lifestyle altering and potentially really boring for all the people who have to listen to you talk about it constantly, it is also an amazing, challenging, strength building, confidence boosting and fun thing to do. It will all be worthwhile when you cross the finish line – just remember to enjoy (as much as possible of) every single minute.