12 November 2015

London Marathon 2016: Advice From The Experts

I have a very exciting announcement to make: I am officially running the London Marathon 2016!!!

I've told most of my family and friends already but I wanted to do an official announcement here as I'll be aiming to do (at least) monthly updates on how my training is going, including: fundraising plans and events, any running tips I pick up along the way, diet and much more...

Early in 2015 I applied for a ballot place along with hundreds of thousands of hopefuls. This was my first time applying so I wasn't expecting to get a place (I have friends who have applied three times and still not been successful). So I wasn't surprised when I didn't get a place in the main ballot. However, I knew that I really wanted to do the London Marathon this year though so I moved straight on to applying for charity places. For about a week I had two charity places (my mistake.. too much enthusiasm I guess) but I decided to go with the charity I had always intended to run for called Shelter.

Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing and homelessness across the UK, as well as campaigning to prevent it. Since moving to London this time last year I have become increasingly aware of the current housing shortage in the UK and the serious homeless issue London has. This is a cause I feel passionately about and I'm really excited to do more than buying a stranger a 99p cheeseburger from McDonald's every so often.

I have never run a marathon or half marathon before. The furtherest distance I have ever run before I started was 10km. It's clear that I'm lacking in experience. However, I have quite a few friends who have run marathons before so I decided to ask four of them the same 10 questions, hoping to gain enough knowledge to last me at least up until Christmas. Check out who they are and what they had to say below.
Emma Connolly - a new hockey friend from East London hockey club who has done two marathons in the last year, London and Edinburgh!

Chary Smith and Si├ón Cree - university hockey friends who did the London Marathon in 2014. These two were part of my inspiration - they were able to balance their medical degrees, training and a social life! 

Charlotte Sullivan aka Sully - another university hockey friend who has done so many marathons I've lost count! A couple of months ago she even did a 100km race in Spain - one absolutely crazy chica! 

1. What advice would you give yourself starting out again?

Emma: Get into a routine and be consistent with your weekly training and mileage. Make sure you use your rest days. Find other people to run with who are a similar speed to you. Stretch well! 

Sully: I would tell myself that it was my first one, there is no PB to break, enjoy the training and enjoy the atmosphere and the crowd during the race. Linking negative thoughts and long-distance running isn’t good, it will only make you despise going next time even more.

Charly: I would say to start training early. Buy yourself some good winter running gear, including running armband for your phone/iPod. 

2. What was the best training decision you made?

Sian: To train with other people, even if just for small runs, for example we'd have friends coming on the first 4 miles of our long run etc. Also a great decision was to aim for something, so we aimed for doing a half marathon by the end of xmas holidays.

Emma: Join a running club and follow their running plan. Do some intervals regularly. Do the chasers 20 mile run (Thames 20).

Sully: Not drinking a single drop of alcohol 2 weeks in the run-up to a race and trying to get a few cheeky big hills into at least 1 training session a week. It may feel like hell when you’re half up one of these hills, but your legs (and mind) will thank you on race day!

Charly: You should plan the route for the long run beforehand. Some people prefer to plan their route as a loop, other prefer half out then half back in, it's up to you. We preferred loops as you avoid tracing your same path. Make sure you vary the routes. A good website is walkjogrun as you enter your postcode and it shows you some pre-set routes tried by other runners which can be useful if you're stuck for ideas.

3. What foods did you find really helpful before and after training?

Sully: I have always had porridge before every single race I have ran and it has never let me down, having always beaten my previous time in all distances I’ve raced in!
Also, during training and during a race I have never ever taken on gels, nor did I in the 100km. Just like with absolutely everything DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING FOR RACE DAY WITHOUT HAVING TRIED IT IN YOUR TRAINING!!! Whether that be food, different trainers, sports bra, pacing, absolutely everything, changing just one thing could be the difference between making it to the finish line and not.

Charly: Before the runs we usually had porridge with blueberries on, and in actual fact we had this on the day of the marathon too. The best thing about the long runs is you can pig out that evening on fish and chips or something and not feel bad!

4. How often did you do you long runs, twice a week or more?

Sian: We did 3 runs a week: 4 miles fast, 8 miles normal pace, and 1 long run on a Sunday at slow talking pace. The long run would increase by 1 mile every 1-2 weeks. We started at 10 miles, and my longest run was 22 miles. 

Sully: For my first marathon and for those that followed, I have only ever done one long run a week. I would be cautious of doing any more long runs in a week as you run the risk of injury, you need to let your muscles rest and repair the small tares they have every now and then to ensure you make it to the start line.

Emma: One long run a week and 1 medium run (never more than 1 long run a week). Built up the long runs over time. When I was running 15 miles I would also do an 8 mile that same week. 

5. How many pairs of trainers did you go through and did you always use running trainers?

Sian: I'd recommend running trainers, definitely for a marathon! I got a new pair in January before the marathon in March. My previous pair was 2 years old and had done 2 half marathons so I was well overdue for a new pair!

Emma: 2, yes always used running trainers. You can buy the same trainers on Amazon much cheaper when they become last season's trainers.

Sully: I have always used running trainers and definitely always will! I have only recently invested in a pair of Asics having bought 50 quid Karrimor running trainers from Sports Direct for my previous marathons! I never have due to money, but you can go to specialist sport shops and get your feet analysed for perfect fitting trainers (they analyse how you run, whether you have high or low arches etc.)

Charly: I went through 1 pair of trainers that I got for Christmas after a gait analysis. I would recommend Brooke's running trainers. Yes always run in running trainers. 

6. What would you change about your training if you could go back?

Sian: To be honest my training put me in great stead on the day - I felt I could've gone faster! All you can do is train as much as you can at the time! 

Sully: I think for my first marathon, I would have tried to add a cheeky bit of cross-training in my plan. They say swimming and cycling are really good sports for runners to do as cross-training, the gym too! 

Charly: I would change it so that my longest run was 22 miles, not 20 which is what I did. This is because I found the last 6 miles an absolute killer, and feel if I'd done another really long one then I would have been better prepared on the day. 

Emma: For the long runs really push it at least some times. I would often find that I was congratulating myself for getting the miles under my belt but didn't push myself to run at pace. If you are going for a long run get on with it so you can enjoy the rest of the day.

7. What were the best fundraising things you did?

Charly: The best fundraising things we did were the curry nights when we cooked for about 30 people each time and charged £10 for a curry.

Sian: I did a tea party at home where we invited family friends/neighbours. Mum and I baked loads of cakes and did tea/wine and a raffle - it raised over £280 and wasn’t too difficult to do!

Sully: I would say a sort of jumble event that my mum and I did in our town’s square. We had a cake stall, a raffle, a tombola, jumble stall (books, toys, ornaments etc.) and little games for kids like a lucky dip. 

8. Were there any fundraising things you really wanted to do but couldn't find the time?

Emma: Not really, I could have done more fundraising though! 

Sian: We'd wanted to do a charity pre drinks/cheese and wine. 

Sully: I would have loved to have made knitting goodies or haberdashery type goodies (little purses etc.) on the cheap and sell them for a couple of quid each. However studying got in the way!!

Charly: We wanted to do an event at the union but didn't manage to get it organised in time really. 

9. What was the hardest part of the whole process?

Sian: The hardest part was planning training together, we'd have different schedules so had to do a lot of runs on our own, and then on the day we were at different starts. 

Sully: I think the hardest part of the process was being at the start line and NOT doubting whether everything you had done was the right way and whether you’re going to get to the finish line. You have to believe in yourself, believe all the food you’ve eaten was for the good, all the decisions you took in your training were for the best and keep thinking that people have given you money for your chosen charity and that you can’t let them down. 

Emma: Balancing running and hockey. Worrying that it can become all you talk about! Being 7 miles through a 16 mile run and being knackered! 

Charly: The hardest part was the training. Fitting it into a busy life can be tough, but you HAVE to make time. I had to miss Saturday hockey matches for the long runs. It was tough but so so worthwhile. Also for me, I used to dread the 4 mile fast runs as they felt like sprints to me! But we think they were really useful in terms of speed training, and the more 4 milers we did, the faster our long runs got.

10. What was the best part of it all?

Sian: The whole day of the marathon - nothing else is like it, an incredible atmosphere from start to end. I honestly don't remember being in pain or wanting to stop - I wanted to do it again!! You thrive on the people there cheering you on, and the stories everyone has to tell about why they're running.

Sully: The best part of it is definitely the feeling of accomplishment. When you’ve finished 26.2 miles on race day, you’ve got that medal in your hand and your family and friends are beaming big smiles at you, and you think about all the training you’ve done, all the sacrifices you’ve made and all that money you’ve made for your charity, you realise just what you’re capable of, which for me was more than I ever thought I was!

Charly: The best bit was the feeling afterwards, knowing you've achieved something that many people would never even attempt to. And also I got very toned and despite not losing huge amounts of weight, I felt my body looked a lot better and I was happy with that.

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