Marathon Lessons From The Past 16 Weeks

Opening Titles for the BBC Sport Coverage

I started my 16-week training journey on Boxing Day (26 December) and it culminates on race day on Sunday. Over that time I’ve run, read and eaten all I could to prepare myself for the day. I’ve done that whilst sporting a chronic tendonopathy in my knee, holding down a full-time job, commuting and coping with a bathroom renovation in a one-bathroom house. I’m not saying that this is amazing by any stretch – thousands run marathons each year and many do so with far more obstacles in their life – but frankly it is because my life is so ordinary, so middle-class, so typical that I thought I could share a few tips. It’s not arrogant to think that at some point friends and colleagues might attempt the same and might come to me for some help (as I did with others) so this is pre-emptive:

Start with a running base. I started a 16 week plan that already required the first Sunday run was about 30-40 minutes and even with slow progression in volume it built to an hour+ quite quickly. If you can’t yet run non-stop for 40 minutes or run for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week then that’s your first port of call before you start marathon training. So, if you’re doing London in 2012 then perhaps building your running base through November and December would be wise.

Budget-for and find a good sports rehab specialist. Plenty of places offer ‘physio’ and plenty offer ‘massage’. Look for a local person that understands your work obligations and – importantly – understands running. I’ve had 4 or so sessions of deep-tissue massage both preventative and curative at a cost of about £50 each time. Consider it a monthly cost for an otherwise stupidly cheap activity. Even if you don’t feel sore then have one anyway.

Listen to Marathon Talk. Honestly, as much as I read Sam’s book cover-to-cover, the weekly delivery of fresh news, genuine trials and tribulations of fellow runners and the sense of community that they build is inspiring. It reminds you on a run why you run. It’s a podcast but that doesn’t mean you need to own an iPod, see the Marathon Talk site for full details.

Run your long runs s..l..o..w..l..y, or at least easily. This was something I really struggled with. A siginificant reason for this was my obsession with logging each run on Nike+ & Runkeeper. By sharing the data on Facebook/Twitter it meant that I was reluctant to show slow times. This was stupid. Running 2-3 hours at close to marathon pace each week puts a lot of strain on your body for little gain. I got plenty of niggles in my calves, achilles and knees – so much so that I regularly missed my Monday runs in the middle parts of my training. Psychologically the feeling of extreme fatigue after those runs makes you fear them more too. If I’d treated them as easy sessions and run them at the 5’30″+ pace I should have done I’d have covered less miles on those sessions but more miles overall and progressively I would have seen more than the 400 metre improvement between my 11-week and 13-week 3hr runs. I ran my long runs alone or ahead of my wife but next time I would run with friends and talk along the way to keep the pace easy.

Sam’s training for beginners urges you to run to time in your long runs. That is, run for 3 hours rather than shoot for 21 miles. This was fine for me up until the final few weeks when I started to realise that three hours was not getting me (even at the faster pace) close to the 22 miles I really believe I should have covered on my longest of long runs. Her ‘experienced’ training programs do cover miles, I guess it’s fair to say that after 13 weeks I just didn’t feel like a beginner any more (and to some extent I never was).

It could be that post-event I find even more things that I’d like to talk about but I’m not going to promise an update, I’ll just leave this here nicely archived to link-to when someone asks me about it in future.

So, as the build-up continues, how about those of us running get all excited by the BBC’s wonderful opening title film to this year’s event.

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