Whether it’s your first of your 50th go at running the London Marathon, you want to do your best at one of the world marathon majors. So as well as doing all the right prep training-wise, here are 10 things to consider when running the London Marathon by a someone who has jogged around the 26.2-mile route a few times.
Make the most of the London Marathon Expo
The London Marathon Expo is a right of passage for anyone taking on the 26.2-mile course and also a wake-up call to just how congested the London Marathon can be (especially if you head there on the Saturday). It’s hot, difficult to navigate and packed full of stores trying to sell you everything from the latest turbo-charged fuel to go faster trainers. That’s not to say you can’t pick up a good deal and some of the seminars are worth hanging around for. But as with all things, have a rough plan. Tick off what you want to see and remember you may feel the time spent on your feet on marathon day. I prefer the ‘grab and go’ approach as in grab my number, sample a few Trek bars and get out of there as soon as possible.
The London roadmap
Before I ran my first ever London Marathon in 2009, my partner and I cycled the route stopping off for lunch down by Tower Bridge and a drink on the Isle of Dogs. It was an interesting way to see London, spot landmarks and also helped me gage the kind of distance I would be running. Now I’m not saying you have to cycle around our capital city but it is worth having a look at the route beforehand to spot key landmarks and also pinpoint areas for your supporters to stand. Honestly, there’s nothing worse than having to search through the crowd for your loved one because they said they would be hanging around at the pub just over Tower Bridge.
Eat the good stuff
There is nothing worse than turning up to a race feeling shattered because you haven’t been looking after yourself properly – believe me. It will not only affect your mood but your performance will seriously plummet. Just be kind to your body. Make sure you eat enough of the good stuff in the week before the race as in healthy fare rather than junk. This is not your green light to go crazy for doughnuts or shovel plates of white pasta down your throat. You want to turn up on the start line feeling light and full of energy so think about the types of food – grains, veg, fruit – that will help you can achieve that.
Sleep can make or break a race – so try to get between 6-8 hours a night in the run up to the race. Not only will this make you feel better and more alert come race day but you’re also giving your body a chance to repair and restore itself. If you’re going to be disciplined about anything in the run up to a race, it has to be sleep. Set yourself an alarm for bedtime and stick to it.
Prep your kit
Make sure you’ve tested your kit out at least once so you’re not faced with any nasty surprises on race day. Something I didn’t do back in 2009 and suffered as a consequence. If you’re planning on taking your phone, put it in a see-through bag to protect it from water damage. Charge your MP3 player and lay out everything you’ll need on your bed the night before the race.
Know your start
There’s no getting away from it, getting to the start of the London Marathon is not the easiest even for those of us who live in London. As with your kit, plan your journey the night before leaving at least half an hour for loo stops because once the nerves and adrenaline kick in, you’re going to need it.
Check the weather
It’s April, in England, so anything can happen weather-wise. (Sometimes I think that Crowded House song “Four Seasons In One Day” was penned about Blighty.) Make sure you check the weather throughout the day because the temperatures can rise pretty rapidly. You may start feeling rather chilly but once the sun comes out, you’ll feel it. Be prepared by taking a black plastic bag to wear at the start and don’t forget your sunscreen.
Work the crowds
With an estimated 38,000 runners undertaking London this year (2016), it is going to be busy both on and off the course. You may find yourself in a jam when the starts merge together so a little patience is needed as well as a reminder of the rules around racing etiquette. Another thing to consider when it comes to crowds is the amount of people supporting the race. Some runners love it but if you’re one of those who find it hugely overwhelming and distracting, work on a plan pre-race to ensure you can keep focused on the main goal.
You’re going to need to drink at some point but don’t just rely on water – add electrolytes into the mix, especially if the weather is really warm. When you sweat, you lose both water and salts and if you don’t replace them both you won’t be able to perform at your optimum level. Take it from me, it’s important to keep your salts topped up (I had to DNF at London once because I didn’t have enough salts). I tend to drink maybe one bottle of water with electrolytes to every two bottles of water.
Decide on your finish before you get there
You’ve completed one challenge aka the London Marathon and now you’re faced with the task of having to track down your supporters among literally hundreds of people hanging around St James’s Park. Oh, and your phone is kerplunk. What’s the best approach? Well, have an idea of your finishing time, ask your support to get there half an hour before and go for a less obvious letter of the alphabet. I always ask my support to meet me at letter ‘R’ for ‘Rebecca’ rather than ‘B’ for ‘Becs’ because there seem to be fewer people there.