How To Run A Stress-Free First Marathon
The London Marathon. Iconic for so many reasons, not least the 26.2 miles packed with landmarks, Lucozade Sport and the LOUDEST and BEST crowds in the world!
Marathons take a lot of prep work, there's no doubt about that. As someone who had never run more than 5k before I was asked to run in late-January, it's been one massive, uphill curve of sprints and learning. If you've been inspired and are thinking about entering the ballot for the 2017 London Marathon (open until Friday 6th May) - or any other marathon for that matter - have a read through these first-timer tips that will get you over the start line and, added to a little (!!) bit of training, over the finish line as well!
Lesson #1 - Stick to what you know
Normally, we LOVE trying new stuff: kit, tech, shoes, hydration techniques. Not for the marathon you don't! Practice your long, slow runs in kit you might wear on race day, and pick things that give you sufficient support/don't chafe/have good pockets for your phone etc. Get your hydration sorted well in advance too: there are Lucozade Sport drinks and gels on the course so it's wise to practice with them beforehand to get your body used to the way they work. In the lead up to race day you might also want to stick to fairly safe foods: maybe save that extra-hot curry or tuna ceviche until after you've run...!
Lesson #2 - Don't underestimate yourself
When you register your predicted finish time, don't sell yourself short. That's exactly what I did and I ended up spending the entire four hours (and an extra half a mile) overtaking people. The London Marathon is BUSY and you can expend a lot of unnecessary energy dodging around people! You can avoid this by being realistic - even a little ambitious if it's your first - about your finish time. Once you're there just be confident about your planned pace and stick to it (I highly recommend using a Garmin Forerunner and a pace band to help keep you on track) and don't worry about being surrounded by people running faster than you. You're there to run your own race, not theirs.
Lesson #3 - Stockpile sleep
Let's face it: you're going to be nervous, especially if it's your first race. I got 3 hours of sleep the night before mine (despite being in a hotel where I normally have the best night's sleep) and although adrenaline - and the incredible crowds! - gets you through, it helps if you've slept plenty in the previous week. I had a power nap two days before the race and I'm pretty sure it saved me!
Lesson #4 - Get your name on your shirt
This is the best piece of advice I can give you. Simply put, if you have you name on the front of your t-shirt, people will shout for you - PERSONALLY. A few hundred metres over the start line I heard two girls yelling my name, as though they really, genuinely wanted me to do well - and I can't even describe how amazing that feeling was! The cheering continues along the entire course and it really does make a difference to your pace. Get some iron-on letters, a fabric pen or some fancy embroidery - whatever you do, make sure the crowd knows your name. They WANT to cheer for you!
Lesson #5 - Don't stress about travel and accommodation
I live some distance from London and was panicking about finding a hotel and getting to the start line, particularly as I was booking quite late and all the hotels near Greenwich and Blackheath were £200-£300 and fully booked. I actually wanted a bit of a sanctuary the night before the race - somewhere I could relax and put the nerves of the marathon out of my mind. I stayed at the M by Montcalm which is like a sleek slice of heaven in the middle of Shoreditch. Apart from taking me just 40 minutes to get to the start line (with the crowds), it has the best spa with jacuzzi, pool, and steam room to relax your muscles; large, peaceful rooms with beautiful views over the City; and even a Nespresso machine in your room with takeaway cups in case you want to make your coffee and (literally) run with it. I love this hotel and the only thing I'd change is that next time I'd stay the night after the race too, for ultimate relaxation!
Lesson #6 - Trust in the process
You've done the training. You're well hydrated and you haven't had alcohol for way too long. You're a bit nervous and the adrenaline is flowing (this is a good thing). Trust in yourself: you're ready, you can do this. Get in your zone, stick to your pace, and enjoy the atmosphere. You've got this!