I made it! Despite a knee injury, a sudden influx of blisters a few weeks back, and only having run 18 miles in training…. 2 months ago (timing has never been my strong point) …. I can finally say what I was seriously doubting I’d ever be able to – I ran the London marathon! I got round the course in 4.47.32. And while I’m not going to be setting any world records any time soon, that was good enough for me. Here’s what I learned about getting through 26.2 miles in one piece….
1. Outsource your decision making The night before the race you can find yourself descending into decision-paralysis. Should you wear the long-sleeved top or the jacket? Should you pack 4 gels or 5? Is it worth carrying a Welsh flag all the way round just to unfurl it for 2 mins at the end? (Just me?) These decisions can grow out of all proportion in your panic swamped mind. So ask someone else to make them for you. My sister made mine (based on pretty much nothing, because at the end of the day most of these things don’t matter that much) to save me the torture.
2. Pack it in Obviously, you don’t want to be weighed down with heaps of stuff en route. But if you’re a nervous rookie and you’re not racing to shave seconds off a PB, then packing for the marathon like it’s a trek, not a run, can calm a nervous mind. In a fuel belt and a FlipBelt I carried: my mobile phone, 6 energy gels, 1 chew bar, 4 blister plasters, 1 antiseptic wipe, 4 pain killers, a lip balm, a spare iPod Shuffle… and a Welsh flag (which I was too tired to unfurl. Sigh).
3. Break it up If you think about the full 26.2 miles ahead of you, you’ll freak. Find a way to slice it up into chunks. My physio had suggested I walk through every water station to ease out my dodgy knee. Not only did this stop it seizing up, but it also gave me a moment’s respite to break the monotony of the endless miles.
4. Find a mantra Radcliffe counts, my physio repeats “light as air”. Most experienced runners have a mantra they can say over and over when the pain is getting the better of them. Mine came to me on the course – ‘You’re in a good place’ I started telling myself, every time my brain raced ahead a few miles and I started fretting about whether my knees/blisters/bladder/sanity would hold out.
5. Retain a sense of humour All the way along the course you’ll find good people trying to make you laugh to take your mind off the pain – for just a minute. There was the guy with the sign that read “I bet you thought this was a good idea when you signed up” and another that shouted over his megaphone “You’re doing really well. You’re in about 4th place right now.” Look out for them, listen for them, and allow yourself to chuckle. It doesn’t have to be so serious.
6. Take some slow beats Planning to pack your iPod/phone with upbeat tunes? Fine. But be sure to put some slow, quieter songs on there too. In London the crowds are phenomenal (I can’t imagine anyone gets through it without shedding a tear for the wonderful display of humanity) – but at times it can feel a bit relentless: cheering, horns, clappers, megaphones, sugar, sugar and more sugar. It’s dizzying. Sometimes being able to retreat into a quiet song or two can keep you on an even keel.
7. Get a cheering team When my family and friends said they would come to cheer me on, part of me wanted to say “No, no, don’t!” I was worried I’d do badly and be embarrassed. But I cannot stress how much of a difference it made to see them en route. The random strangers calling your name blow your mind, but there is nothing quite like seeing faces you know and love standing out in the sea of people.
8. Take photos, photos and more photos I got to the start a bit late, was too focused on running en route, and my phone had died by the end of the race so I didn’t take any snaps of the marathon myself. Afterwards my friends and family took a few but we were so busy catching up (and crashing) that we didn’t take that many. Even if you’re a little delirious get some snaps in (or tell someone else to be chief photographer and remember to for you).
9. Know your post-marathon plan. I’d agreed to meet my friends and family at the Shelter reception (the charity I was running for) at the end. But I was so spent, I couldn’t remember the address. My phone was dead and I had no money or keys on me, so I was staggering around in desperate circles. Luckily, I bumped into someone from Shelter who showed me the way. Make a plan, write it down, and keep some spare change for an emergency call in your bag.
9. Don’t undersell it Whenever you’ve achieved something it instantly seems easy. Now I’ve run a marathon, I’m convinced it isn’t that hard. Remind yourself what a challenge you thought it was at the start line. Praise yourself like you would someone else.