In three weeks I'll be one of 35,000 runners taking part in the London Marathon. As those thousands of people will attest, just getting to the start line is 90% of the challenge. Here's what the past three months of training have revealed..
1. You know more about your running buddies than your family or colleagues
It's amazing how well you get to know people during three hour + training runs that push you to the point of exhaustion, on a weekly basis. A more regular and lengthy period of time than you spend with your nearest and dearest, sometimes it becomes a bit of a therapy session. You move beyond the pleasantries of getting to know each other, goals and aspirations of the upcoming race and into the more involved aspects of life. During our long Saturday training runs, I've been privileged to hear the stories of those I'm training with, putting that day or that week or the world to rights, and sharing my own thoughts. All this and we've never even seen each other out of lycra - just imagine what would happen over a bottle of wine.
2. Running up to 22 miles on Saturday morning becomes normal behaviour
Last weekend I got up, ate my porridge and headed out into the London sunshine for a 22 mile run - by myself. I ran all the way from Battersea to beyond Tower Bridge, wove my way through the tourists along Southbank, past Westminster and round St James Park, Green Park, and Hyde Park. Then I got lost on my way back through Kensington, made it to Battersea Park, ran two extra laps to make up the distance and got home bang on 22 miles. After refuelling and putting my feet up for a while I had a fairly normal Saturday. I went to watch the boyfriend win his rugby game, Ireland win the six nations (whoop!), before heading out for drinks and dinner that evening. When people asked me what I'd been up to that morning and I told them, they looked at me like I was completely mad. While I didn't see what the problem was (and felt quite smug, actually), it's fair to say that not many people outside the 'running bubble' understand why on earth you'd want to run for three hours on a Saturday morning. For fun.
3. Training with other people is vital
When you've made a commitment to train or race with others, you're forced to bring the best version of yourself. Numerous times I would have given up after 10 of 14 hard interval sets (nice even number, 10, who needs another four anyway), but wasn't going to stop when everyone else kept going. It's a competitive thing - you don't want to lose face by pulling out of the session early, but you also know every run counts and it's those last sets when you're fatigued that really help your fitness.
4. For Goodness Shakes make all the difference
I can honestly say that part of the reason I've been able to continue with normal weekend activities after a long run is because For Goodness Shakes recovery drinks are so brilliant. I've tried a few and these are The Best. There's a 3:1 carb:protein shake which is very good, but my preference is the 1:1 carb:protein mix which seems to do the trick. A sweet, frothy milkshake that comes in all the best flavours (vanilla, chocolate, berry or banana) really hits the spot after a long run.
5. Do yoga. It helps.
After a knee injury 18 months ago I imposed a self-enforced running ban and replaced running with bikram yoga. Three months later I was still fit, but much more flexible, supple and strong - and my knee injury had healed. I can't praise yoga highly enough as an essential part of any marathon training regieme. It's intense stretching, lengthening and opening all the areas running causes to tighten: hips, glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings etc, and is also excellent for core strength. Tara Stiles' You Tube yoga videos are free to watch, short enough to fit into your day and cater for all levels. My marvellous friend Kate Stirling just ran her PB half-marathon actually, after four months of bikram yoga and very little running due to a hip issue. Case and point!
6. Pit yourself against your fastest self, not anyone else
After completing my first 20 mile training run the other week, I felt thoroughly pleased with myself. I messaged a friend in Australia also training for London to tell her so (she is safely inside the running bubble). She messaged back, encouragingly. Then she messaged again, to say she'd also run her longest distance so far that morning. Well done, I replied enthusiastically, delighted that we could support each other from afar. Until her next message, which explained her long run was the full 26.2 miles (not widely recommended before the race), which she'd completed in a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, including water breaks and a toilet stop. THREE HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES. It was hard not to feel utterly deflated with my mere 20 miles. I had to remind myself that she's had a lifetime of coached running behind her and that the average Joe Bloggs can barely run five km. And that ultimately, the best person to race against is your fastest self. It's all relative.
7. Runners love to talk about running
Obvious, right? From shots of beetroot juice as an endurance boost to the virtues of rest vs running days; from how to deal with upsetting stomach situations, or the virtues of guinness as a recovery drink to the benefits of yasso 800s, our combined knowledge could form a lengthy book on what to do and what not to do when marathon training. I'll spare you the details - and stop talking about running now.
Except to say - good luck everyone competing in marathon or other races over the next month (Brighton, Paris, London, Hamburg)! Enjoy the taper and let the hard work pay off.