However, before signing up to run a marathon, you need to think why you’re doing it. For some it may be a long-held dream or another tick on your ‘bucket list’, so the most important thing is simply getting round, especially if you’re supporting a charity. For others, it might be a chance to fire up the competitive mojo and target a specific time. Yet whatever your goal, careful preparation is vital once you find the one you want to run.
“Find yourself an online training plan – these are usually 16 to 20 weeks long – which will break down what you should be doing each day leading up to the race,” explains Stuart. And he should know – he already has Edinburgh, Paris, Boston and three London marathons, among others, under his running belt. “These plans are a mix of speed and endurance sessions, which usually peak with a 20- to 22-mile-long run two weeks before race day. It’s a good idea to join a local running club or an informal group as it can be more motivating doing varied sessions on new routes,” he adds. “It’s also more sociable than always training alone.”
Whichever you opt for, if you’re keen to give it your best, you’ll need to prioritise training. Try to encourage your family and friends to support you too. As well as keeping you focused on your challenge it will help maintain household harmony if they understand why you’re doing this, given that you’ll be out running quite a lot!
Because you’re clocking up all those miles, expect a few niggles and aches along the way. But if anything is causing serious pain or discomfort, get it checked out by a physiotherapist who is experienced in dealing with runners’ injuries. Ideally fit in a bit of strengthening work alongside your running to help your core muscles. (You can find many easy-to-master exercises in CSSC life, our health and wellbeing platform, as well as stretches to do before and after your runs.)
Kit, caboodle and fuel
All that training will mean you’ll need a variety of kit for different weathers. There’s nothing more miserable than being cold and wet or far too hot – and with the sheer volume of gear available there is absolutely no need to be. Find clothing that doesn’t chafe against your body and cause soreness, and wear it in before marathon day.
Among your key investments should be a decent pair of running shoes. Many running shops can analyse your gait to find the best pair for you, and this is important as blisters or other foot issues stop even the best runners in their tracks.
To fuel all your running, you need to consider your nutritional requirements. Although carbohydrates (in foods such as pasta, bread and potatoes) will give you plentiful energy, you also need quality protein (for instance, fish, eggs or lentils) to help your body repair itself and recover after running. Experiment too with energy drinks, gels and bars which can give you a real boost by fuelling tired muscles during your longer runs. But make sure you try these out during training. (Some people find they can cause an upset tummy – and you don’t want to find that out during the marathon.)
Less essential but often useful kit includes GPS watches which record how far you have run, in what time and at what pace along with a whole host of other data; these are now very popular with runners. If you do enjoy techie stuff, various running apps can be easily downloaded to record your runs and more, which will help keep you motivated. “Consistency is key to marathon training,” Stuart points out. “It’s all about making progress, so if you can run much further than you ever could when you started training, that’s hugely motivating.”
Remember to check our CSSC savings and My Active Discounts for all our best deals on clothing, equipment, tech and nutrition.
The main event
Race day itself will inevitably conjure up some worries before reaching the start line, from a poor night’s sleep to missing that last-minute toilet stop, to take two common examples. However, most of these can be overcome without turning into a full-blown disaster, so don’t get too hung up on them.
“Someone once told me a marathon is really a 20-mile run followed by a 10km race,” says Stuart. “It’s therefore a case of preserving enough energy to get you to that point with six miles to go and then seeing what’s left in the tank. For many that final stretch will be a massive struggle, but if you block out all the emotion of the day and instead concentrate on what you need to do, you will cross that finish line. You can then proudly say you’ve run a marathon.”
MY MARATHON STORY
Lewis Gilbert, 27
“When lockdown began, my girlfriend suggested I find a new activity, or I might become a couch potato. So I began running most days before deciding I wanted to run a proper marathon. Knowing less than 1 per cent of the population has run one, it seemed a cool thing to do.
“I chose the Brighton Marathon – partly because it’s a fairly flat course – and in May (the race was in September) I began a 14-week training plan with the aim of finishing in four hours. Being new to running, I soon learnt all about tempo runs, hill reps [repeats] and speed sessions. I enjoyed the escapism of running and once did a training run over Salisbury Plain where I didn’t see another person for over an hour. Luckily, I stayed injury-free, which I think was due to sticking to the rest days on my plan. As for nutrition, my appetite became enormous, and I would eat four bowls of pasta while my girlfriend had just one.
“Knowing I was fundraising for a charity was a constant reminder of why I was doing it and what a privilege it was to be able to run a marathon. I did suffer some pre-race anxiety and experienced impostor syndrome and felt I wasn’t a real runner, but I think that’s normal.
“On race day I remember walking to the start and feeling really excited seeing all the other runners. After weeks of training, the day had finally arrived. I set off too fast as most beginners often do; I reached halfway much quicker than I expected, which I did pay for later. Although I knew I could physically do it – I’d done all the training – I had to convince my mind I could do it too. Towards the end, I simply put one foot in front of the other and finished in 4 hours 3 minutes, which was slightly over my target time but I was still really pleased with what I had achieved. I know I’ve a got a short attention span, so getting through all the training and the race was one of the most impressive things I’ve done in my life. I now want to do more marathons.”
*Lewis is digital content coordinator at CSSC Sports and Leisure.
Which marathon to pick? Here are three top choices:
London. With 40,000 running on the capital’s streets at last October’s event, it’s been a draw since its debut in 1981. You can try to enter via the race’s ballot system, or, if you have set a fast time elsewhere, go for a ‘good for age’ spot. An easier way is supporting a charity, but you must agree to fundraise a certain sum. Visit tcslondonmarathon.com for more information.
Manchester. Regarded as among the UK’s flattest courses and as the fourth largest marathon in Europe, it’s a hugely popular springtime one which welcomes all abilities. See manchestermarathon.co.uk for more information.
Loch Ness. It’s part of a weekend running festival which also includes 10k, 5k and junior races. Your route passes stunning Highland scenery along the shores of Loch Ness before heading back into Inverness. Go to Lochnessmarathon.com for more details.