Marathons – Never say never!
I started running in April 2004 when I signed up for my first GNR to prove to myself I could do it. Since then I’ve always said I would never run a marathon. However, this year something changed. I filled in the application form, handed over a fair few euros, booked flights and a hotel and a few months later I planned to do the Amsterdam marathon. So, after 16 weeks and 518 miles to get me marathon-ready, here’s what I learned along the way.
Run by time, not by miles;
I read this somewhere and actually it really helped me during those long runs and my half-marathon training run. Quite often I would forget how far I had ran and would be pleasantly surprised that I’d ran one more mile than I thought I had done. Amsterdam was marked in km and because I ran by time, I had absolutely no idea at times how far I had ran!
Things to think about;
It’s funny when you’re running well you just run on autopilot and you don’t have to think about anything to keep you moving. When it starts to feel tough though, you think about anything and everything to keep you going. I tried all sorts – mindfulness, visualisation, even counting to 100 in Italian and back down to zero. It helped to a point but positive thinking is hard to do when you have already hit the wall.
Marathon training keeps you focussed;
At the beginning of the year I had definitely lost my running mojo. Having a plan made me run and train even when I really didn’t want to. I did sometimes have to jiggle my runs around but I always ran what I had planned in a given week. I even made myself do some 6am pre-work runs and I managed to do some solo sessions when I couldn’t get to the club.
Blisters, no one told me about blisters!
In all the years I’ve ran and all the miles I’ve covered, I’ve never had a problem with blisters till I started marathon training. In fact I’ve always been proud of the good condition my feet are in for saying I’m a runner. It was only my right foot that was affected and I kept getting blood blisters on top of blood blisters. I know Anna French told me not to pop them but I had to (sorry!) and I do still have all five toes on my right foot. I invested in a Second Skin Blister Kit which seemed to do the trick up to a point. I also bought some expensive 100% full proof anti-blister socks. They gave me blisters in places I hadn’t had blisters before and on marathon day my toes actually bled for the first time. The socks have now gone in the bin!
Compression socks are your friend!
I wore my compression socks after I finished each long run till I went to bed. My legs recovered really well each time. I even put them on straight after the Vale of York half and I had a three and a half hour drive home. My legs recovered so well and on the Tuesday after the half, I was able to do a club session and my legs felt great.
I made small gains;
Other people who have done marathons seem to have got faster over shorter distances when they’ve been marathon training. If I’m honest, I was a bit disappointed that I only matched my half PB for the Vale of York and didn’t get a PB. I ran 22 miles the Sunday before the club championship and ran 10 seconds faster than last year. It was the first time that it felt really comfortable. In the grand scheme of things 5km compared to 26 miles is actually quite easy!
My thighs got fatter!
I have never had chafing until I started doing longer runs. On one run I had to run for about five miles till I got home as if I was riding a bike! The Vale of York was the first time I had chafed during a race. Three weeks before the marathon I changed my running kit even though you’re meant to train in your race day kit. It worked though and compression shorts saved me!
Alcohol and marathon training do not mix well!
I like a drink or two and I’ve always drank a few on a Saturday night before doing a 10 miler on a Sunday. I know it probably sounds naive but I soon realised I couldn’t still drink on a Saturday and go out and do longer runs on a Sunday. I was getting really bad cramp in my feet and calves so I cut down on my alcohol intake considerably. The first beer after the marathon did taste so good!
There’s probably never a good time to train for a marathon.
This year for me work has become even busier and crazier. The kids that I work with are becoming more and more complex. Most days I’d come home feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. The training probably hasn’t helped and I probably didn’t realise how much those long runs would take it out of me.
I run because I can;
I run because I can. I run because I’m (reasonably) fit and healthy. Two weeks before the marathon the husband of a good friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumour a few days after his 50th birthday. It really put my marathon experience into perspective. Marathon training was hard. I knew the marathon would be hard and on the day it was really tough. Paddy told me that when the going got tough to dedicate each mile of the last 10k to a person. I thought about Debra and James for the whole 26.2 miles. A few hours of pain, discomfort, tiredness and bloody toes are nothing compared to what they’ve been through. The marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I finished it and I’ll always be part of that illustrious 1% of the population who’ve ran a marathon.
Maybe the most important lesson I learned came towards the end of my training. It will be tough but sometimes you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone because life’s too short!