I often get messages from friends asking similar questions on running, and especially in the lead up to a marathon (I’m more than likely their weirdo mate that likes to run ) so I’m hoping that this ongoing project will answer many of them and maybe prove a little useful along the way.
You may have signed up to the London marathon ballot this year, waited in trepidation expecting an email rejection and read in astonishment as you were one of the few to gain a place. You may have chosen on one of the hundreds of other amazing spring races around the world. But either way, if you’re reading this you are already on the first step to becoming a marathoner. (You could also be reading this if you’re really bored, or you’re my mum – if so, hello!)
December is an important month in your preparation towards this end goal. It is about plotting your route to the finish line, gearing yourself psychologically for the weeks of training ahead and making sure you have the right tools to reach it. Most training plans for a marathon stretch from 12-16 weeks so January is often a great starting point, especially if you’re like me, the type to let your hair down over Christmas & new year.
The training has already really begun though, as the race becomes the daydream you have when sat at work, the butterflies in your stomach when your friends mention it, and the anxiety when hungover, unable to move off the sofa. All these elements play a part of the mental preparation process. A process that kickstarts even before you go out on your first training run.
Its going to be adventure. If it’s you’re first time, you’re going to learn a lot more about yourself mentally and physically then you thought you knew. You will feel euphoria, dejection , camaraderie, loneliness.
You will make mistakes along the way too. Nobody is perfect for 4 months. I can vouch for that.
Whilst i’ve completed 6 marathons now, I haven’t completed a 4 month training plan without slightly falling off the wagon. Whether it’s illness, lethargy, work-life imbalance, poor diet, injury or just pure stupidity. It’s cool, it’s part of the process. The more organised you are though, the more understanding you are of your own body, it will put you in good stead when you hit the inevitable speed bumps in the road.
So here are my tips to your December early preparation ahead of setting out on your training plan. These are the same principles I will stick to ahead of starting my training for the Brighton Marathon next year.
Run to Enjoy
Let’s start with the most important one first. If you’re going to hate every training run along the way then you’re starting off on the back foot, you need to make it habitual before it becomes a necessity. I see December in the build up to the marathon as a month for me to relax whilst maintaining a fitness base. I will generally run without a watch (I will often reference this as a ‘naked’ run – do not get the wrong idea!)
If I am wearing a watch (if it’s not on strava, it didn’t happen…) then I’ll keep it in my shorts or not pay attention to times. It’s also a good chance to explore routes in my area whether 5km, 10km or 15km loops that will form the basis of my runs in future months. Which routes are fast & flat? Which route avoids traffic and stoppages?
MapMyRun is pretty awesome tool to support this. If you’re not ready to head out just yet, you can see existing routes other users have planned, as well as having a cool plotting feature which you can make maps for yourself. (https://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/create/)
There will be runs you have to grind out by yourself, but mixing it up by finding others in a similar position to you to train with, can make the journey a little more palatable. My running group gives me routine, I have days where others drag me along, and I’m sure there are days where I do the same for them.
In 2018, there is an abundance of free run groups and social projects. (I will do a blog on my favourite ones at a later date) but in the mean time a good starting point is checking out your local parkRun. If you’ve not heard of it (where have you been?!) Its a free, community based 5km every Saturday morning with an emphasis on participation, not performance. Running this regularly is a great way to meet people in the area a similar pace as you and as the weeks progress you can wedge a parkrun into the middle of some of your longer runs to break them up a bit. Find your local parkrun here and sign up (http://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events/)
If you’re looking for something a little more structured then it might be worth seeing what running clubs are in your local area. England athletics have a great initiative with DW & fitness first which helps you connect with local groups through a simple search function. (https://runtogether.co.uk/groups/) They also do women’s only groups and cater for all abilities
Race before the Race
One piece of advice I believe in thoroughly is being race ready. Whether it is a half marathon in February, a 10km in march or something a little shorter, going through the process of preparing the morning before a race is well worth it. Aside from working out what to eat before, how many times you need to queue for the port-a-loo or what gear doesn’t start to chafe, it’s great feeling and will fill you with confidence to achieve a smaller goal along the way.
Also you can take advantage of early bird discounts for spring races, maybe even ask for a race as a Christmas present? (too keen?!) You can find what races are in your area by checking out (https://findarace.com/) It’s a simple, easy to navigate site as it takes into account the less publicised races that are a little less pricey and you get a bit more for your money. I’ve also written a separate article on my top 5 half marathons in Spring so check it out and let me know what you think?
If you’re going to start training then you need to be running in the right equipment. Dusting off your old knackered trainers you do the gardening in may feel comfortable but after hundreds of miles it may expose niggles and injuries that are totally avoidable. How do you know if you should replace them? MapMyRun have a great blog for this (https://blog.mapmyrun.com/need-buy-new-pair-running-shoes/) that isn’t too spammy and has some useful info.
In terms of which shoes to buy? my only advice is to go and try many pairs on, you need to find something that feels supportive, yet comfortable. If you want to narrow down your options to start with, I really like the feature on Running Shoes Guru. It narrows down options through 5 simple questions (https://www.runningshoesguru.com)
In a congested online marketplace through I am an advocate for supporting your local independent running shop, you can find this by following the link here: (https://www.runnersworld.co.uk/health/the-runners-world-independent-running-shop-directory) Yes, you may pay a little more than buying it on sports direct. But often independents are a great fountain of knowledge and impartial advice. They are also a hub for local run clubs and events, and great for popping in to top up on run socks and gels!
The last tip is to be thorough in your planning, flexible in your approach and realistic in your goal setting. Even if your goal is ‘just to finish’ the structure of your training needs to be set around even a loose time. If you start to pick up injuries then you need to re-adjust your expectations. If you’ve never gone sub 90 minutes for a half marathon, perhaps a goal of under 3 hours is not achievable. How we take this information of how we are currently feeling and what we hope and believe we can achieve will form the basis of the next feature blog so I won’t rattle on too much.
Enjoy this festive month before the real work begins. Dream big, look after yourself and be ready to hit the ground running in the coming weeks. Do get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or social (@pewtsrun) if you have any feedback, questions or want any additional advice.
Main Photo credit @martyrowney / @paceathletic