Five tips for first time marathoners

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.

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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.

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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.

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Race report: Paris marathon 2014 (part 2)

Just look at how gorgeous it was! The skyyy was so blueee…

Okay, not too much gushing about the beautifulness of the weather reflecting perfectly the beautifulness of the day… let’s talk about the race…

After Steph sped off into the distance approximately 0.23 seconds after crossing the starting mat (such an awesome one, she is), Leah and I were left to savour the fact that OH MY GOD WE ARE ACTUALLY RUNNING A MARATHON.

Start-10k

For the first 10k, me and Leah ran together. We didn’t plan to, but we found ourselves falling into the same pace for this first section, as had happened for the first 7 or so miles of the Brighton half marathon. Within this first hour we saw Leah’s boyfriend Jason, had an interesting near miss and synchronised squeal coming through the first water and snack station and quickly saw Zoë too. We were definitely having a lot of fun…

Leah’s photo

As expected, I needed the bloody loo from about two miles onwards. I managed to internalise this thought until just before we got to the first park (Bois de Vincennes) at mile 5, but was glad when I saw loads of people running off behind trees, bushes and fences.

We passed over both the 5k and 10k mats within one second of each other, in 32 mins and 1:06.

My resolve to hold on was pretty damn rubbish, and straight after the water station at 10k, I seized the perfect opportunity and joined about 3 other runners for a communal wee in a bush. My new short shorts made this all a lot simpler!

10k-21k

This brief interlude into the foliage meant I lost Leah. I don’t really remember too much of this next stretch, other than it being the hottest part of the race. The sleeves soon came off after this picture and I was even more glad I opted for shorts (which I had only tested on one four mile run, five days before the race – not usually advisable, but in this case worked out okay).

I made sure I was getting through a 500ml bottle of nuun every 10k and also took a Torq gel at 5 and 10 miles. I don’t know if it was the heat, because I’d trained with both nuun and Torq and had been fine, but this combination made me feel really, really sick. Like I actually threw up in my mouth 2 or 3 times during the race kinda sick. NICE. (I cannot promise you this is the last mention of bodily functions.)

From around 10-11 miles I started to struggle a bit, and promised myself that when I hit mile 12, I could put a headphone in and start listening to my playlist. Despite being an ardent ‘I don’t run with music’ type for the past 18 months or so, this really did help and I couldn’t have got through the race without it.

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As the ‘SEMI’ arch came into view, this song came into my ear. It really was the most brilliant, beautifully timed moment as the chorus broke as I crossed the mat and the words IF YOU GAVE ME A CHANCE I WOULD TAKE IT, IT’S A SHOT IN THE DARK BUT I’LL MAKE IT just felt so absolutely perfect.

The fact that I was halfway felt like a huge pressure had lifted – I had to run less that I had already run from here onwards.

21k-35k

Somewhere shortly after halfway, me and Leah found each other again! We crossed the 25k, 30 and 35k points together. I loved that this happened, it was so good to share so much of the race experience with someone I’d shared so much of the training experience.

My memory of this part of the race is hazy at best, but here are a few of the highlights (not sure you can call all of them that):

  • I noticed my first group of spectators drinking red wine at the side of the road. Feeling as sick as I did, even the sight of this almost made me do a little puke.
  • The seemingly neverending up and down along the main road along the Seine, including lots of small tunnels and the one SUPER LONG WEIRD DISCO TUNNEL FROM HELL. It was dark, noisy, humid, for a while I couldn’t see the light (literally) and it was the only point of the whole race I felt even remotely panicky. And then you had to climb a pretty sharp slope to get out of it.
  • My second wee/first portaloo stop. For a while, I had considered just ducking behind a parked car. But after a small tussle with a steward who tried to use the portaloo ahead of me (I wish I knew how to say ‘I don’t think so, lady!’ in French), I regret not taking that option. Seriously people, if you ever run this race, trust me when I say the bush/tree/sign/side of the road is always more preferable than using the portaloo. I’ll say no more.
  • Running past the Eiffel Tower. Being impressed that Leah had the energy to take a selfie, because I was more than a little indifferent at this point.
  • BANANAS! Thank goodness for the bananas which meant I didn’t have to rely on anymore gross, sweet, hot tubes of gel!

35k-42k

After this a few amazing things happened…

I hit mile 19, the furthest I’ve ever run before the race. And I felt better than I did when I had run 19 miles.

I hit 20 miles and for some reason as soon as I passed the marker, I just knew I’d be able to do it.

And I stopped for a quick selfie at mile 21, imagining that all my Run Dem family were there, but also knowing they were all cheering virtually.

The final 5-6 miles felt surprisingly and overwhelmingly awesome. I didn’t even get a hint of hitting any kind of wall. From 20 miles onwards, I worked out that I still could have a stab at a sub 5 hour time. It was going to be really close, but it was possible. This thought (along with knowing that I just really, reeeeeally wanted it to be over now) was what kept me running. I ended up only walking through water stations for the whole thing. The last 5k was relentless – all in a park, everyone else walking, spectators all over the place.

42k-FINISH!

It wasn’t until I turned out of the park after 42k that there were barriers in place and thick crowds lining the street. As I got to the final straight, I threw my water bottle off to the side and (what felt like) sprinted (looking at the video, it wasn’t) towards the finish line, arms in the air.

I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget those last few hundred metres. Steph was at the sidelines SCREAMING my name and I felt like I was flying. I came in at 5:01:00. In a way I’m annoyed at that one minute. But I also know, if I’d done something to lose that one minute, my race wouldn’t have been the same. And I can honestly say I loved every single one of those 301 minutes.

I finished feeling strong, proud and happy.

That is all I could ever have wished for.

Race report: Paris marathon 2014 (part 1)

The Friday evening before I travelled to Paris I was a complete mess. I had packed earlier in the day, I had eaten my carb-filled dinner (it involved pizza, rice AND sweet potato) and all that was left to do was to get a good night’s sleep ahead of getting to the Eurostar in the morning. It ended up being the most nervous I was the whole weekend – literally pacing up and down my (tiny) room, I spoke to a couple of unlucky contacts in my phone book, forcing them into giving me a pep talk whether they wanted to or not.

After far too little sleep, the next morning I met Steph and her boyfriend David at St Pancras. On the train we had a runner’s celebration breakfast of non-alcoholic bubbles and cupcakes (provided by Steph’s lovely parents) as it was Steph’s birthday on marathon day. I was finally getting properly excited.

Once we got to Paris, we headed straight to the expo, and after a short wait basking in the sun in the queue outside, the pickup process was quick and painless (note: I don’t think there’s any way you could get away with picking up someone else’s race number – they checked medical certificate, convocation (or confirmation) and ID pretty thoroughly). The rest of the expo was fairly crap – I also was lugging my my case around with me and knew I didn’t want –  or indeed need – anymore running kit!

The rest of the day flew by – back to my hotel, watched Pitch Perfect and took a few selfies on the iMac (I made a very good hotel desicion!) and then headed out for dinner with the most of the guys from Run Dem Crew that were also running. Nerves were running high, but it was also calming to hang out with so many others going through the same spectrum of emotions. Lots of pasta was consumed and then we all headed our separate ways for early nights.

I had a brilliant night’s sleep before the race. I had text my parents asking that if they happened to be up with their greyhound at 0515 UK time (quite likely – he doesn’t like to let people sleep!), could they just make sure I was up. I awoke at 0615 French time to 4 (FOUR!) missed calls and a text from my Mum. But I was awake…

After force feeding myself the usual cereal I eat and had brought with me in my hotel room, I headed to the start line and although my hotel looked like it was the other side of Paris, it was actually only one half hour Metro ride away. The location of the bag drop was fairly obvious – everyone with a bag was walking in one direction, everyone walking in the opposite direction didn’t have one. I just got swept along by the crowds. Bag drop was relatively close to the start pens given the size of the race and the number of runners and I was soon wandering right through the middle of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout (no idea if it was meant to be closed to traffic or not – but both runners and cars were ignoring either instruction) back down towards the pens and into the rather long portaloo queue.

There are some loos there… right in the background

About 10 minutes into my wait, Leah and Steph appeared in the queue just behind me and we realised that the loos back towards the bag drop now had no queue – hooray for being in the very last start (we started almost an hour after the first wave set off)!

Peeing done, fetching turquoise joggers ditched, we headed to the pen. Using the ‘dance through the crowd so people can’t get mad’ method, we went from the very, very back of the field to somewhere nearer the front of the ‘rose’-coloured wave. There was a bit of having to jump around discarded plastic poncho things and little mountains of hoodies, but nothing too arduous. The atmosphere in the pen was really quite electric. And then Leah let out the most genuine, hysterical burst of laughter I have ever heard. It really cracked me up, it was HYSTERICAL in every sense, it really summed up the madness of what was about to happen.

And a few of minutes later we were off down the Champs Elysees, towards to inflatable green arch and taking our first steps of 26.2 miles…

Paris marathon heroes: Laureen

You know what makes training for your first marathon really enjoyable? Other people. I don’t think I would have got this far without having so many brilliant people also taking on the craziness of 26.2 alongside me.

Some I’ve run with, some I haven’t, but they’ve all been there to share stories, moan about aches or even just remind me to get a damn medical certificate (which is now firmly packed in my case!)

So, with race day practically around the corner, I just wanted to feature some Paris marathon heroes of mine. I am in total awe…

Today, it’s Laureen. I met Laureen through a group of ladies called ‘Team Naturally Run’. We were originally put together by Leah to run We Own The Night last summer, but since then, we’ve grown into a community of running, brunching, holidaying and supporting friends. We get There’s 8 of us who’ll be running in Paris, and I’ve run at some point with pretty much all of them over the last four months.

Towards the end of our training, me and Laureen have run quite a lot together – we did both our 18 and 20 milers in each other’s company. She is so chilled out and a total badass – none of the training or a recent injury has phased her. She’s also very funny – running the whole of our 18 mile run with her backpack on, then being delighted half way round the 20 miler when she realised being without it was why it felt so much easier!

Everything that Laureen has talked about below is exactly how I feel, I’m so glad to have met her and the other TNR girls and I can’t wait to see her smash it in Paris. Can’t wait for the post race Champagne!

Why a marathon and why Paris?

I have been flirting with the idea of a marathon for the past couple of years. I have been entering the London marathon ballot since 2009 and was disappointed and mega relieved at the same time for each rejection.

When I saw that Leah signed up for the Paris marathon and that there was no ballot, I started considering it. Then more of you girlies starting signing up and I knew that I would not be alone and that I would get the support I needed to get me through the training via the TNR community. One afternoon I just signed up for it (I blame it on my fever that day).

What are you most looking forward to on race day?

I am looking forward to being done and crossing the finish line haha!

How is your training going?

It is going OK. There have been some tough times but I had a plan and almost followed it to the letter. I am still amazed by what my body can do. The TNR team delivered amazing support both online and in person during our long runs. At this point, I know that I can run the distance. I am just realistic that it might not be as fast as what I hoped when I first signed up.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known before starting training?

I wish I had carried on with my cross training. I was good at going to a pilates or yoga class and do a bit of strength training at the beginning of my training but then gave up. I know that I could be feeling a lot stronger right now had I continued.

Perhaps my plan could have included an extra run per week to be a bit faster. However, I would probably have gone a bit crazy from the overwhelming training while my plan kept my life balanced.

All in all, this has been an incredible adventure. I have learnt a lot about myself, mainly that I can achieve much more that I thought I could if I put my mind to it. I have also discovered that I have a great support system and I have made some great new friends.

Follow Laureen on Twitter and read her blog too.

Paris marathon training update: (less than) 1 week to go

I’ve taken all this week as annual leave to ‘prepare’ myself for the weekend. It hindsight, work might have been a good distraction.

I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘running is a journey’ cult and all this time I’ve now got on my hands is allowing me far too much space to think. A lot has happened to me over the past six months (new big girl job, newly and surprisingly single, new house and housemates in a new part of town). I think to a certain extent, marathon training has been the glue, the focus, the one constant thing, whatever you want to call it through all of these things. It’s been the one thing that’s always been there, that I knew I had to keep ploughing away at whilst everything else was changing around me.

And on Sunday it will stop.

I’m terrified of the race, but I have also accepted that I can be no more ready than I am. I’m more terrified of the anti climax.

But I’m so glad for everything that training for this race has given me before I’ve even done it. I needed the distraction. I needed to know I was strong enough to do it. I needed the truly dear friends I have made. And I’ll still have all of these things AND MORE after Sunday.

Paris, I am ready.