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12 things they don’t tell you about running the London Marathon

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Apply,” they said. “No one ever gets in,” they said. They were wrong. 

It was 8th Octo­ber 2018 and while my friends were What­sap­ping smi­ley faces along­side their rejec­tion emails, I was stood (bare­ly) with a pro­vi­sion­al accep­tance form in my hands. 

Your entry into the Vir­gin Mon­ey Lon­don Marathon to be held on Sun­day 28 April 2019 has been accept­ed sub­ject to pay­ment of your entry fee.”

I was in. I didn’t want to be in, but I was in. Forty-two (point one) kilo­me­tres. Twen­ty-six miles. A 62,926 step jol­ly around Lon­don. What had I done?

I term myself an unnat­ur­al run­ner. I’m fit and healthy, I go to the gym, and I can whip out a hun­dred lengths in the pool, no prob­lem. And I’m a run­ner, of sorts. I belong to a local run­ning club, I show my face at Park Run, and I’d run a few 10ks and one half marathon that I vowed nev­er to repeat. 

But, I don’t find run­ning easy. I’m the beet­root keel­ing over the fin­ish line, the per­son that’s nev­er select­ed for pro­mo­tion­al race shots and that huf­fer and puffer you can hear a mile back. I’m not a marathon run­ner. 

Like any­one faced with an exis­ten­tial cri­sis, I ran (walked) straight to Google. “How do I train for a marathon?” “How long should a marathon take?” “What’s the slow­est time they let you do a marathon in?” “Can you walk a marathon?” “How to get out of a marathon” And so on. 

And while Google was awash with infor­ma­tion, it was all infor­ma­tion from sea­soned run­ners. “I did my first marathon in three hours,” “you should train 4 — 5 times a week,” “sup­ple­ment your exist­ing iso-drinks with car­bo­hy­drates.” 

Where was my idiot’s guide to run­ning the Lon­don Marathon?

So, dur­ing my long (long) train­ing runs, I vowed to write a list of the 12 things they don’t tell you about run­ning the Lon­don Marathon. Either because every­body already knows, doesn’t need to know or is too afraid to ask. 

1. You’re not running a marathon, you’re recovering from 23

When you first pan­ic about run­ning the Lon­don Marathon, you feel over­whelmed by run­ning 26 miles around Lon­don. What you don’t pan­ic about (and you should) is the 583.4 miles you need to run before­hand. 

The amount of time, effort and pain you ded­i­cate to train­ing is humon­gous. 

But even big­ger, is the amount of time you spend recov­er­ing from that time, effort and pain. Long train­ing runs are fol­lowed by inter­vals, “recov­ery” runs, cross-train­ing and every­day life. And it hurts. 

As some­one said to me ear­ly on, run­ning the marathon isn’t the achieve­ment — get­ting to it is. 

2. It costs you (a lot)

I must admit feel­ing slight­ly smug when I paid the £30-odd entry fee — an absolute bar­gain price for 42K. In fact, I think I’ve paid that for a 5k before. Lit­tle did I know that this pur­chase was mere­ly train­ing for months of marathon-relat­ed spend­ing. 

New train­ers x3, tick. A run­ning belt to hold my water, tick. A larg­er run­ning belt to hold more water, tick. Gels, tick. Gels that didn’t taste as bad, tick. Iso-water, tick. Pro­tein shakes, tick. Mus­cle rub, tick. Com­pres­sion tights, tick. Foam roller, tick. Physio, tick. At least the pres­sure was on to fin­ish the bloody thing. 

3. You put on weight

As if I wasn’t already the most unluck­i­est lucky per­son I knew, I also put on weight while train­ing for the marathon. My one con­so­la­tion prize of “at least you’ll get real­ly fit and healthy” turned out to be null and void. 

I don’t know the sci­ence behind it all, and of course it doesn’t hap­pen to every­one, but I sac­ri­ficed my speed for dis­tance, my sal­ads for carbs, and healthy desserts for con­so­la­tion choco­late. 

4. You seriously consider a cotton wool suit

The day before run­ning the marathon is stress­ful. You col­lect your race pack from the expo and it all becomes a lit­tle bit real. And, while you can’t say you’re par­tic­u­lar­ly joy­ous about tomorrow’s 42K, you cer­tain­ly don’t want to have to do any of this train­ing ever again. 

You, there­fore, spend the rest of the day try­ing not die (or get a last-minute injury). You take extra time cross­ing the roads, you plan your evening carb fest around the pas­ta-chain least like­ly to give you food poi­son­ing, and you decide it’s safer to spend the day locked in your hotel room wrapped up in your fluffy white hotel gown. 

5. You become a emotional wreck

To say you get a lit­tle over­whelmed through­out the process is an under­state­ment. 

You’re strug­gling on a train­ing run when, all of a sud­den it hits you — you’re not even a third of the dis­tance you’ll be com­plet­ing on the day. You’re get­ting an ear­ly night, when you realise the big day is tomor­row. And you’re walk­ing to the start­ing pen, when you under­stand exact­ly what’s ahead of you. And let’s not even talk about the fin­ish line. 

6. You queue to pee

I’m a girl, so I’m no stranger to a long toi­let queue. But queu­ing for a tin­kle when you’re in the mid­dle of run­ning a world-renowned event is not the one. Luck­i­ly, I man­aged to hold on for a less pop­u­lar por­taloo. 

7. You get close to OD’ing on jelly babies

The crowds along the route are phe­nom­e­nal. Peo­ple cheer­ing you on, shout­ing your name, hold­ing up signs, and hand­ing out jel­ly babies — who doesn’t love free sweets from strangers?

Me, at mile 13. 

To say you get a bit jel­ly baby’ed out is an under­state­ment. I think I cried at mile 18 when, rumour had it, some­one at mile 20 was hand­ing out ice lol­lies. Kind stranger: thank you. 

8. Your family and friends help, a lot

I wish I’d told more peo­ple to come to Lon­don. I’m a girl of lit­tle fuss, so when it came to peo­ple cheer­ing me on in Lon­don, I placed zero pres­sure or expec­ta­tions on peo­ple. But it was tough see­ing every­one else’s girl gangs, fam­i­lies, and squads. 

Luck­i­ly, I did have a few super­stars who came along and strate­gi­cal­ly plot­ted them­selves in mul­ti­ple places (and pubs) along the way. And it helped tremen­dous­ly — not least because I couldn’t remem­ber which miles they were aim­ing for and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them see me walk­ing. 

(And of course, there were the peo­ple cheer­ing me from home, the fam­i­ly sup­port­ing me on train­ing runs and the true super­star who lis­tened to me moan for six months, cycled with me on train­ing runs, and cooked up the ulti­mate carb fests.)

9. Someone you don’t know will get you through

As men­tioned, the crowds are absolute­ly amaz­ing. Hous­es, pubs, groups and indi­vid­u­als hav­ing full on par­ties along the route — it helps so damn much.

But still, you’ll have a lit­tle wob­ble some­where along the route. Not a phys­i­cal wob­ble (although plen­ty did), but a men­tal wob­ble of “I’m not sure I can do this.”

And then some­one who you’ve nev­er met before, and will nev­er see again, says some­thing that gets you through. Thank you per­son at mile 22. 

10. You run longer than a marathon

At mile 13 I chuck­led to myself that they’d put out the wrong mile mark­er; my watch was def­i­nite­ly right — my legs could account to that. But that chuck­le soon turned to doubt at mile 14, and then at mile 15 it hit me. 

There’s a blue line along the course that marks the “marathon” — if you run along the blue line, you’ll run the full 26.2 miles. Obvi­ous­ly, unless you’re Mo Farah, fol­low­ing the blue line is near-on impos­si­ble — there are oth­er run­ners in the way, you’ve got kids you need to hi-five on the left, and rumour has it there’s anoth­er round of ice lol­lies com­ing up on the right. This means that you’ll run more than a marathon. 

For me, two kilo­me­tres more. That’s near­ly half a park run. 

At my ‘watch offi­cial’ 26.2 miles, I was done. I’d beat­en my goal, my legs were sore and my face was salty. Yet peo­ple were still shout­ing “only two kilo­me­ters”. Nev­er have I want­ed to flip a V more. 

11. Time doesn’t matter

Being an unnat­ur­al run­ner, I was so wor­ried about my time. My train­ing runs were slow and get­ting slow­er, I’d meet marathon vet­er­ans who com­plet­ed the route in my half-way goal time, and I let it get to me. 

I spent the whole of my train­ing and pret­ty much the whole of the marathon wor­ry­ing about my time. When I got to the fin­ish line, I realised it didn’t mat­ter. I’d run a marathon. 

12. You might not want to party after

Drinks after — maybe din­ner. In fact, I’ll invite every­one around for a mini par­ty!” 

I want­ed to do three things and none of them were those. Bath, sit, sleep. (But thank you to every­one who did come over to cel­e­brate!)

And the biggest thing they don’t tell you about running the London Marathon…

Boy, do those stairs hurt the next day. 

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