So nearly the weekend – and a three day one at that! Cannot. bloody. wait.
Now, let’s talk marathons. I ran the Manchester Marathon in 2014. I always thought people were mad for running more than one marathon. I mean – once you’re run one, you’ve done it. YOU’RE IN THE CLUB. Right?
Well my marathon experience left me feeling like I’d failed. It just wasn’t the controlled race that I’d wanted to run. I was disappointed by just how hard I’d found it and I didn’t enjoy it. It’s left me really wanting to run another, to see what improvements I can make – not just to my time, but to my training and enjoyment of the whole experience. Watching the London Marathon has only compounded my marathon aspirations, but I couldn’t have a repeat of my experience in Manchester.
So – what would I do differently?
- No dieting. I was trying to lose weight as I trained for my marathon and this was basically totally at odds with my body’s need for fuel to run. I even went so far as to skip using gels – including for longer runs of 16+ miles – to avoid offsetting the benefits of running with “pointless” calories. What. A. Tit. If I run a marathon again, I will accept that I may gain a little weight. Ultimately, my focus should be on consuming what I need to run successfully.
- Race fueling. An extension of the above, as I hadn’t trained with gels, I didn’t take any on the day. I had one from an aid station at about mile 7, and that was it for fueling during the race. This is a quick win for any future marathon; train with gels, have a plan, stick to it.
- The build up to the race. I stayed with friends who were absolutely fantastic hosts, but I was nervous and I think I would have done better in my own space. I slept badly (three hours in total, what a farce), but wasn’t comfortable getting up, making a hot chocolate, watching some TV, having a bath etc. in someone else’s house, especially since they had a small child I would have no doubt woken. In future I will always try to stay at home or in a hotel so I can have total control over my pre-race routine.
- Don’t try anything new. The day before the race, we travelled up to Manchester and I bought a pasty to eat on the way. There was something about that pasty that knocked my sick for some reason. I could taste it all day, and it made me exceptionally thirsty and even a bit nauseous. There wasn’t anything wrong with the pasty I am sure – but on a nervous stomach, it went down badly. It was obviously quite salty which really didn’t help. People always talk about the importance of not trying anything new on race day, but actually it should be the 24 hours – or even 48 hours – prior to the race too. Next time I will follow a tried and tested (in training) routine for 24 hours prior to the race.
- Don’t set off to fast. I mean, FFS – how obvious is this one? And yet there I was, that massive idiot running a pace that I had never achieved in my long training runs for the first 10 miles of my first ever marathon. Sure enough, by the halfway mark, I was in a bad place. Matthew said he took one look at me at mile 15 and thought “shit, it’s going wrong”. I started out at 8:20ish mile pace, and ended up 11+ minutes. Next time, I will have a pacing plan that I have tested, and stick to it.
- Improve my form. My hips used to hurt an incredible amount when I ran. The pain would kick in as early as mile 6 or 7, and would just get worse and worse. I was in actual agony for the final six miles, and this really slowed me down. Since then, I have been to running school and even though I am not sure I stick to my new form, I have obviously improved something as I ran 12 miles last Saturday (my longest run for a while) with no hip pain whatsoever. When you look at the before and after video of my running, you can see the difference. Even a toned down version of the new form is obviously an improvement. In future, I will make sure I mind my form, and if I get a persistent pain which crops up every time, I will book in a few more running school sessions.
- Do strength work. I did absolutely no strength exercises whatsoever. One thing running school really taught me is the weakness of some of my key running muscles – in particular my glutes. I have just started to do some strength training, and the bridges still leave me with muscle pain in my arse for several days afterwards. I would ensure I do two strength workouts a week, to build my running muscles.
- Stick to a training plan. When I did the Manchester Marathon, I did the long runs religiously, but that was it. Many weeks saw me doing an 18-mile run at on a Saturday, and a five-mile run on the Sunday. I did no speed work, no hills, no intervals; nothing. Again, my priorities lay elsewhere. I cycle to work – something I really value as it’s free and convenient. After cycling home – in the cold and the rain, for the sake of this example – the last thing I wanted to do was go out for a run. I blocked out time for the long runs, but nothing else. This is where engaging a professional to develop a tailored plan for my lifestyle and schedule would be an amazing help. I need a plan that will work for my lifestyle and I also need to accept that marathon training will have an impact on my life. Next time, I will definitely be getting a tailored training plan, and sticking to it.
- Run with others. I found the long runs boring and isolating. I had no running buddies or forums to offer me support. I was a novice, just winging it on my own (resulting in this laundry list of mistakes). On Tuesday, I ran with City Runners for the first time, in the hope they might offer this sense of camaraderie. Sure enough on Monday, as I was perusing their Facebook group, their organiser posted the suggestion that people members might run the Budapest (Hungary) Marathon in October, or just to go along to cheer the runners on and drink beer. There were already 25 people from the club participating, and he suggested they could train during the summer. This is exactly what I was hoping for; that sense of community and enthusiasm. (Budapest here I come? Let’s wait and see). So if I run another marathon, I will ensure I find training buddies and a support network.
- Choose the right marathon. I have nothing bad to say about the Manchester marathon except that – for me – it was perhaps a bit boring. It is actually the Greater Manchester marathon, and doesn’t go anywhere near the centre. For a long stretch at about mile 19, there are no spectators at all – just when I could have really done with a good cheer. It might be hard work to fundraise for the London Marathon, or expensive to travel to another city, but on the basis that this isn’t something I will do all the time, that shouldn’t stop me. If I only run one more marathon in my life, I would be happy to personally pay £2,000 to secure a charity place in the London Marathon.
I think this is a pretty decent list of constructive things I would do differently. Basically, I screwed it all up last time and it was horrendous. I am still unsure whether I will do another marathon, but I will start chipping away at this list, and maybe even start following a marathon training plan to see how I go. There are a lot of steps above which come way before race day, so this seems like a good place to start.