After eight and three-quarter marathons, I’d like to think that I know a little bit about going the distance. I’m not by any means near Olympic standard but I have felt the pain and exhilaration of going the distance. Yes, I’ve had my fair share of great moments and times when this-hurts- like- hell but that hasn’t stopped me from signing up for my next big challenge. While I know that there is no perfect marathon formula, it may be worth casting your eyes over this for some last-minute tips.
1. Find your own rhythm
If you’re aiming for a particular time, then try and stick to it. Don’t, whatever you do, get so excited that you “sprint” the first half, only to find that you’re somewhat unsurprisingly lagging in the energy department during the latter stages. I always think of my favourite children’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. I’m not exactly a tortoise but I know that I need to keep it steady. You may think that you can give the fit bloke next to you a ‘run’ for his money (and perhaps you can) but a marathon is as much about running 26.2 miles as it is proving your speed. Pace yourself during your training so you know when you have to slow down and take time to find your own rhythm.
2. Don’t overdo it with the water
There’s no denying that you put your body through a hell of a lot when you run a full marathon. You’ll certainly feel it for days afterwards. Drinking and refueling is a given. Go easy though on the water front. It’s pretty obvious that if you drink too much, you may feel the call of nature on the way round (and there’s nothing worse than trying to find a portoloo during a race). But more seriously, drinking too much water by itself can affect the salt balance in your body, leaving you feeling weak and unable to carry on. I always add a few zero salts – Berocca-style tablets that aren’t the best in the taste department but have a good balance of electrolytes – to a bottle of water and drink before I go. These also help to stop the dreaded cramp in bed late on post-marathon night.
3. Think about your outfit
Now you don’t have to colour coordinate or channel the latest sports luxe look from the catwalk (but if Richard Nicholl is listening, I’d totally do your look for the London Marathon 2013), a little bit of thought behind your outfit however can make or break your performance. You want to feel comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing. I remember one year I wore short shorts and the chaffing on my inner thighs post-race was pretty painful and not pretty. I soon invested in a tub of Vaseline. Also watch out for rubbing under your arms, the dreaded cracked heels, blisters, bruised toenails, the list goes on. If you can afford a splurge, buy some high-tech compression socks. I’m not going to recommend any as I stand by my Boots’ flight socks. They may grannify my outfit but they sure do help during the last stages of the race. And don’t think it’s a good idea to trial out your new trainers on race day. Your feet and legs will not thank you for it. Remember to take clothes that you can slip into easily afterwards, including a dry T-shirt. Struggling into a pair of tight-fitting jeans when your muscles are on fire is not the best.
4. Make arrangements prior to the finish
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro or a beginner, it’s always a good idea to have someone to meet you at the end. You never know what state you may be in. It was super-tricky trying to find my boyfriend and folks after my first-ever marathon because I didn’t realise that half the entrants surnames began with the letter ‘B’ (or maybe they didn’t but it certainly seemed that way). The phone networks were also down and I was so glad I spotted my dad in the crowd as I was feeling a little bit worse for wear. At the busy marathons such as London, my advice would be to choose a letter like ‘X’ or ‘Y’ to meet your supporters.
5. Don’t eat curry the night before
For obvious reasons. Stick to something plain like pasta with sauce and forgo the alcohol for one weekend. There may be some truth behind the urban legend of a runner who had ten pints the night before and then skipped around the course but I wouldn’t follow his example. Alcohol dehydrates the body and causes your blood sugar levels to drop so you will not be able to function at your full capacity, that’s if you can function at all. I don’t really change my diet pre-marathon and I’m not one of those who can gobble down a full-English pre-race. In fact, I can barely eat at all (shock horror). When it comes to food, everyone has their own regime and gets to know what works best. It’s worth considering what you’ll take with you on race day in terms of fuel. Try a range of different fuel such as bananas, gels, sweets, bars etc… out before the big day to find your magic ingredient. Mine happens to be jelly beans and I pop them in a plastic easy-to-open bag for when I need that extra burst of energy.
6. Have fun
You may be aiming for a PB or sub 4 hour time but don’t forget to absorb the atmosphere and the surroundings. Granted, London isn’t the prettiest marathon of them all but the crowd really lift your mood. Get your name written on your vest so people can shout it out and spur you on. City marathons really put on a show so enjoy it. From the African drums down near Bermondsey to the brass band over at East India, it’s really a big party and you (and 38,000 other runners) are the special guests. Embrace it!
7. Remember failure makes you stronger
The photo at the top of the page was taken the day before my second London Marathon. At the time I was psyched, feeling stronger than ever and all ready to beat my PB. And then I made all the wrong moves, including eating curry the evening pre-marathon. Cue a big disaster waiting to happen. From the moment I woke up, I had a niggling feeling that it was going to be a struggle, and it was. By about mile 10, I was running on empty and my legs were heavy. And at mile 18, I had to give up for the sake of my health. After months of training towards this day, it felt like the world had come crashing down on me and I was both mentally and physically crushed. So what did I do? Well, I signed up and completed four more marathons that year. Don’t let one bad run break you completely. Learn from it and you’ll be a much stronger and more confident runner.
Well, that’s it for now. Let me know how you get on if you’re joining me next week at the London Marathon.