Two years ago I threw away my trainers. I remember it clearly. I said to myself that I don’t exercise nor did I have any interest in exercising and I would never need them, they were just taking up room in my wardrobe and I threw them away. Fast forward to a week ago and I was sprinting across the finishing line just having compete 26.2 miles in the London Marathon. It’s amazing what two years can do and my body has never felt better.
You may have seen my youtube video following the ups and downs of my 12 week journey getting my body and mind prepared for such a huge challenge and now I wanted to share with you the tips and tricks I learnt whilst training which will hopefully help you should you decide to take on an epic journey. I also recorded a video with the same tips plus a few extra which you can watch below.
If a tiny bit of you is considering apply for the marathon just do it. Don’t even think twice. If you get a place then it’s meant to be. If not it just means that it’s not your time to do it.
Find a training plan which suits you. There are so many out there and you need to find one that is achievable, fits within your busy life and is within your ability. Martin Yelling’s 16 week beginner plan was perfect for me. It involved running three times a week, built slowly and measured in time for example 10 minute run, 5 minute walk, 10 minute run. I also kept to my body attack, combat and pump classes on the days when I wasn’t running however as the miles built around the half way stage I stopped going to classes as I wasn’t giving my body enough rest and my legs were so sore. One thing that really helped me keep me focussed was buying a diary and cutting out my running schedule and sticking them in the days I need to run on. Every week I would see what I needed to do and it was a satisfying moment ticking them off. Another thing I did was to start my training a week early. A friend suggested that I get up to running 10k before Christmas then in January I started my official l training a week early incase I got poorly so it wouldn’t put me too far behind. I’m not a person who is poorly often but a couple of weeks in I felt so incredibly poorly I took 2/3 weeks off. I think if I started my training on time this would have really panicked me but luckily I just went to the correct day in my diary when I was better and carried on.
Listen to your body. I was extremely lucky I didn’t pick up any injuries whilst training or even on the day and I believe it was because I listened to my body. As I just mentioned above as my training became more intense I stopped attending my fitness classes. I found this hard as I really love them but listening to your body is so important. If you feel a little niggle, you’re tired or really can’t face a run then it’s ok to miss a training day…trust me I found out the hard way when i pushed myself and gave up because i was too tried. After I completed my longest 2 hour run I began to have a few issues with my IT band so saw a sports therapist who gave me the most intense massage I have ever had. It was one of them things where you want to run but you know it is doing good. And it did, it really helped and gave my leg a new lease of life. A week before the marathon I also saw her again so she could get both of my legs marathon ready. Seeing here not only helped my legs but helped me understand my body more and how to keep it in better condition.
As the weeks go on you’ll start learning what you like to wear whilst running. For me I wore long sleeved tops whilst training because it meant they had a pocket in for my phone which allowed me to play my music and long leggings as it was pretty chilly outside. As the weather got warmer I switched to 3/4 leggings and thinner long sleeved tops. It was only 2/3 weeks before the marathon I realised I would probably need a short sleeved top and settled with a Ron Hill top recommended by a friend. There is a massive gap in the market of short sleeved running tops with pockets in and as I didn’t want to wear a band around my arm for my phone it meant I only got my top a couple of days before the marathon and had never worn it for a run which isn’t recommended at all but luckily it was fine! I also invested in a pair of Saucony Ride 9 trainers after my knees were becoming a little painful. I still remember my first run with my new trainers which felt like I was bouncing along and it gave me a new lease of life. I went to a proper running shop and tried on about 15 pairs until I found the right pair for me.
Fuel. Finding the right fuel to get me through my longer runs was extremely tricky for me and worried me the most, even more than the actual distance. I tried Gels and I really didn’t like the taste or texture so did a lot of research to find alternatives. In the end I went with Cheddars, flapjacks, jelly babies, jelly beans, nuts and raisins, fruit poaches and malt loaf (I had them all with me but didn’t eat them all) I know what you’re thinking you sound like you are going for a picnic and it would have been a lot easier to just take gels and I agree as another worry was how am I going to manage to take all of that with me but some how I managed. Everyone worries about the dreaded runners trots and this was always on my mind especially as people kept telling me how they knew someone who it happened to. As long as you test out your fuel on your long runs and take an equal balance of sugar and savoury then you should be fine but it’s always best to take a change of clothes just incase! So the plan was to have a couple of jelly beans about 50 minutes in, then some cheddars or nuts another 50 mins then some more sugar at the next time check. That was the plan but it always seemed to be a bit like ‘quick I’m feeling a bit tired but not sure what to have and when’ they always say take fuel before you need it and I agree but I never quite got it right or at least wasn’t always confident with it. During the marathon the only time I felt sick was when I stopped around 13 miles and as soon as I did I felt really sick meaning I didn’t fuel properly. After I took some fuel I found myself feeling a lot better and was able to carry on running. My advice would be to practise with fuel as soon as you can.
Have a number of running routes to choose from and an awesome playlist. As the miles got longer I used to get so bored of the routes I was running so I decided to mix it up a little bit. I started to dread the beginning of my runs and end as I didn’t enjoy the route so I drove my car to where I liked running and it was straight and flat which meant I started my run feeling fresh, energised and happy. In the beginning of my training I listened to celebrities audiobooks, I think I got through about 4 and I found they distracted me from the task at hand. When my runs got longer I found my favourite songs got me through. There’s nothing better than struggling then an awesome songs starts playing and gives you a new lease of life. I had a panic at one point when I thought you couldn’t listen to music on Marathon day but it turned out you could and actually I only listened to about three songs as 1 the crowd was so loud I couldn’t really hear and didn’t want to miss friends and family shouting me and two I found it distracting.
Don’t panic. No mater how much training you do sometimes you will hit the wall when training. My three hour run went ok because all I was thinking was run 1 and half hours there then run back. I got myself in such a state for my three and half hour run I had a massive panic and gave up twice. This was the first time I really wanted to give up even though I was so close to finishing. I had lost my confidence and doubted that I could run the marathon. After work one evening I knew it was my last chance to run the distance before the taper was about to begin and when I went out to run I knew i wasn’t going to give up without completing the distance. That determination and inner strength got me through and it was such an amazing feeling after knowing that it was ok to have a bad run because the next time you run you’ll be able to use the disappointment and frustration you felt to push yourself through. It’s also important to point out that it never seemed to get easier, I know that’s not what you want to hear but the first 40 minutes always felt like a struggle for me and only after that did I seem to get into the running flow. Sometimes you’d run for an hour which went ok and then a couple of days after struggle to complete 20 minutes which never seemed fair but it might be that your body was still recovering from the last one.
Nutrition. Something which I could have improved on to ensure I was properly fuled before each run. Porridge became my best friend and now as a result I’m fully put off it, pasta again I can’t even look at it and I can no longer eat bananas. It is a good idea to have a good variety of food. I’m not an expert on nutrition but will say do your research, eat a good amount of vegetables and keep hydrated.
Embrace the running community. There is a fantastic twitter hashtag called #runchatuk which I wish I discovered earlier. It allows you to network with others who are embarking on the same journey as you along with getting tips from the more experienced. You realise you aren’t alone and everyone is feeling the same concerns as you. I also watched Martin Yelling’s live Facebook chats which occurred every 2/3 weeks on the Virgin Money London Marathon Facebook page. He always made you feel relaxed, reassured you not to worry if your training wasn’t going as planned and you felt like you had a friend there to give you advice.
Have a look who is there a few days before so you can schedule seeing the people you want to see. For me it was of course Martin Yelling. I wasn’t too bothered about anyone else but ended up seeing a man who had ran every single marathon since it started, Adam Woodyt whose character is Ian Bill in Eastenders, a nutrition lady, Paula Radcliffe who signed my marathon number for a spot of good luck, Scouting for girls and a couple of the elite runners.
The night before
Pack your kit bag, put your tag on your shoe, number on your top (i did this in the morning and it got me stressed as I couldn’t pin it straight) and get your fuel out. Work out your train times, decide what time you need to get up and lay everything out ready just to pick up. In the morning allow for more time to eat your breakfast. Because I was so nervous I could barely eat my porridge. I was eating it so slowly as I felt sick and because I hadn’t left enough time I didn’t eat as much as I should have or we would have missed the train.
Take an audiobook or something to keep you focussed on the train and to keep you occupied while you wait. When I was on the train everyone looked so fit around me and I could hear them saying they had completed 2/3/4 before. This made me incredibly nervous and it wasn’t until I got to the Blue Zone I started seeing people of all abilities and I could tell everyone looked apprehensive. When I got to the blue zone I had a walk around to familiarise myself with where to drop my bag, where the toilets were, drink stations and where my start pen was. Taking a book or magazine to read would have definitely calmed my nerves more and passed the time quicker.
Arrange with your family where you will meet them along the course or you may miss them. I was luckily enough to see my family twice and friend once along the course but I did miss them at mile 18 and I didn’t see another friend at all. The best advice I can give is for your family to stand by something which is obvious to see for example on the left/right hand side after a mile marker or by a sign. My mum made me a flag which was easier for me to find them but on the occasion I missed them it was because it was busy and the road was so wide I wasn’t too sure where they were. Also if you have your name on your shirt get them to shout your first name and surname so you can distinguish the crowd apart from your family.
Look where you are running. None told me this tip so this is why I am including the obvious. Don’t run against the curb as this is where everyone throws their water bottles and it is easier to trip and get stuck behind people. Don’t run in the middle of the street as there are raised curbs and bollards which are easy to trip on and if you are taking sweets from the crowd look what is ahead of you on the floor as one girl tripped right at the start and fell ever along with a massive gasp from the crowd. The person handing her the sweets must have felt awful!
Enjoy the atmosphere. Everyone says the crowd will get you through and they do. They make you forget about the aches and pains and they are there to give you a boost. I got my name on the back of my top because it wouldn’t fit on the front and a few people shouted my name but if you get it on the front literally everyone shouts it – a little bit annoying when you’ve got Dave running behind you and all you can hear is ‘come on Dave’ I wanted to ask Dave to run past me as it was getting repetitive or wanted to say ‘What about Emily?’ For me I think having it on my back suited me more as to be honest after half way the crowds became a little too much for me. The whistles were so loud and I’m not great around a lot of people and loud noises but when I was approaching the finishing line it was great to hear them all cheering.
Your fellow runners are amazing. We are all in it together. We are all feeling the same pains and are there to help each other. When I got to roughly half way I started to really feel it. There is a tunnel which is super dark, has no crowd and you can see everyone halting and beginning to walk with me included. I started feeling really fed up and wanted to quit when a man called Spud walked with me and we starting talking then eventually running together. It was only for about 10 minutes but the kindness of another runner gave me a brilliant boost which then allowed me to keep running for a few more miles. Another guy also tapped my back and said ‘You can do it Emily’ at the time I didn’t realise who he was and what amazing things he has achieved. I noticed on his top it said #The401challenge and once I finished I googled him to realise that he had run 401 marathons in 401 days which was incredible and I felt special that he had noticed me.
Mile 15 will be awesome and make you want to cry. Knowing that there is just one mile left gave me a massive boost of energy. I started to sprint and the power in my legs was amazing. The aches and pains disappear and you only have your eyes set on the finish line. Look around you and absorb it as for me that’s the only bit that I can’t really remember and I wish I could.
As soon as you’ve finished keep walking and look above as they are taking your picture. There are also people on the ground who are taking your picture who I didn’t wait for and wish I had although you can take a picture against the winners wall!
After you’ve finished eat what you fancy and don’t worry if you can’t eat it all. As you’ll have a few snacks in your finishers bag. I was quite hungry after but all of a sudden I went in to a tired daze staring into space and really needed to sleep. I think my body caught up with me and was telling me I needed to rest. The walking after that is prettttty painful but don’t worry you’ll be back home before you know it.
If you are travelling back by car and not driving take some pillows so you are comfy and don’t worry when it takes you 10 minutes to walk from the car to the house.
You may wake up hungry in the night so keep something by your bed and try to keep your legs moving a little during the night to ease the pain
Check the twitter/instagram hashtags to see everyones pictures from the big day. Watch the highlights on TV and remind yourself you were part of a massive occasion. It’s weird when you are running the marathon you don’t really realise it because you don’t see the group of runners around you. It isn’t until you watch it back you start to feel emotional and it hits home.
Exercise when you are ready and foam roll. If I could have ran or exercised the next day I would have. It is 1 week ago since the marathon and today I went to the gym but I should still be resting as my IT Band is hurting me. It is important to still listen to your body, foam roll and book a massage as a treat. The sports therapist gave me a light massage two days after the marathon to realise lactic acid and it felt amazing and well deserved!
ENJOY THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE. Throughout the whole of my training I used to tell myself as soon as it is over it will feel like ages ago. And it does. Running in the rain and cold, struggling to reach longer distances and the aches and pains seem like a blur but I have my amazing medal hung up in my room as proof of what I achieved. I never thought I would ever run a marathon, neither did my friends and family but I did. I ran the 37th London Marathon. 26.2 miles in 5.37 hours.