Mid-life: it’s the age of the physical challenge, the time of your life when you want to prove you still can. Run 26.2 miles, for example. To name but a few UK marathons, there’s the Edinburgh, Belfast, New Forest, Robin Hood, Snowdonia, Liverpool and – biggest of all – the Virgin London Marathon to be trained for. So for all first-timers with a place on the London start line this April, here’s a survival guide to the next two months.
Why now? Well, they are by far the cruellest months. This is when you start doing the really long training runs, just at the moment when a cold snap blows in from the Steppes, your knees start playing up and you feel as if you have to be prodded out of the front door by pitchfork.
The trick is to make sure you’re properly kitted out. Long run survival kit should include the following: lightweight windproof jacket, thermal top, running tights, gloves and hat, because you lose heat through your extremities.
What to carry?
A good waistpack is essential; you want one with room for a water bottle. Inov-8 is worth a look. Pack energy bars and gels to give you a boost along the way: two of my favourites are PowerBar and Nuun. Take money with you, in case you want to make a refuelling stop. A note rather than coins will be lighter, but put it in a plastic envelope, even if rain isn’t forecast, as you will sweat a lot and end up with a soggy tenner. The same goes for tissues. Take a toothpick, because a bit of energy bar will inevitably stick to your teeth.
Music or not? There are two schools of thought about ambulant listening. One is that running with an iPod makes you oblivious to traffic noise, and should be left at home on safety grounds. The other is that you need something beyond moral fibre to motivate you into continuing to put one foot in front of another after two hours of steady plodding. If you go for the latter and need inspiration, try Running Music Mix. On the subject of inspiration, About Running has a nice stock of motivational running quotes.
An attractive route that provides plenty of visual stimulation can make the miles fly by and keep your mind off the aches and pains and weariness. The Good Run Guide lists several. Incorporating some hills into your route will build your stamina, and if the climbing part is all in the first half then you have the downhills to look forward to when you start feeling tired. And if possible, do factor in at least one McDonalds on the way round for a loo stop.
On the day, you may just want to get round, no matter how long it takes. Even so, it’s important to complete at least one really long outing, because a lot of the marathon is in the head and 26.2 miles seems an unimaginable distance if you haven’t done it before. To get it into perspective, try one of the LDWA off-road challenge events. You can walk or run, or a bit of both.
These are sociable and relaxing because they’re not races, you’ll experience being on your feet for several hours and you’ll have access to food and water at checkpoints. A test run like this helps to overcome the infamous wall, which hits people around the 20-mile mark. You will know it’s happening when you are suffused with a feeling of near-suicidal despair at being overtaken by a six-man caterpillar, or when you want to machine-gun the winsome child who steps out of the crowd to offer you an energising sweet.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. Six times. This year, I’m concentrating on off-road ultras with the intention of doing (another) 100-miler in 2014. So while I’ll be doing marathon- and double-marathon-distance events during the year, they’ll all be in the sticks and I’ll be covered in mud, not glory. To the rest of you, though…
Further reading Marathons: a run on holiday sites