I think that by the time you agree to run your third marathon you can acknowledge that deep down, you might actually quite like them. Experience and retrospect from the last two attempts at running 26.2 have taught me a lot and have also paved the way for a complete shift in mindset. Here is a little context to explain why my attitude to marathon running has become a lot more light-hearted.
It was a Saturday morning in March 2013 and I was lying under my duvet, fully clothed, still wearing trainers, shivering like a goose and pouring a packet of Mini Eggs into my mouth. With a month to go until the London Marathon the distance had begun to build and on that morning, my body had completely failed to perform. I gripped onto the bed whilst the ebb and flow of nausea rushed over me until, trembling like a leaf, I staggered to the loo and threw up. Certainly not one of those training sessions when you think, “yep, smashed that“.
A dark place in 2013
About two hours earlier I had set off, into an icy wind, got about six miles down the Embankment and although my mind was willing me to push on, my body ground to a complete halt. Within seconds of stopping, the weather had got to my very bones and all I could do was try and walk back from whence I came. By the time I was two miles from home it had begun to snow and I could barely put one foot in front of the other. When I eventually got to the door, my hands were rattling so uncontrollably that I couldn’t get the keys in the lock and had to ring the bell.
2013 was my first marathon and it consumed my every thought. I followed a free plan from the internet and was hell bent on getting through those miles each week. I was under the impression that I would definitely get a good time because I was doing ALL the running and I was taking everything SO seriously.
I soon found out that by misplacing my personality and ignoring what my body was saying, I had well and truly killed my own vibe. I took everything so seriously that come the day, I forgot to look up and smell the roses. I was chasing an ambitious time, a goal which I had plucked out of thin air, and all of this just lead to a disappointing run on the day. This attitude also had a repercussion on key decisions like turning up at the event in an eye-watering pair of hot pants and new shoes that I panic-bought a week before. It was all such a sorry ending to what is the absolute privilege of entry into the London Marathon.
Another 2013 error of judgement
Three years on and I’ve learned that maxing out all my energy in distance does not sit well with me and nor does taking life too seriously. It’s now 2016 and the great guys at adidas have sorted me out with a place in the London Marathon and I am brimming with excitement. Three years of growing up, gaining more experience as an athlete and getting to know my body a little better means that this time, I will be approaching it with the right attitude.
Here are my changes:
3rd time lucky. Image: Chris Parsons
Doing the things I love
I would say I am both a runner and cyclist at heart but my preference does lean slightly more to getting my miles done on my bike. In fact, it’s safe to say that I love my bike. Rather than banning myself from cycling entirely for the four months of marathon training, I am using it as cross-training. Coach Jason Battle, who has written me a plan to get to London, has deliberately left in a couple of cycling sessions each week. When I’m on the bike, I feel like my legs are getting stronger but are having a break from the intensity of pavement pounding. This also keeps my mind happy and lets me catch up with the girls every week. This is the soul food that supports my core training and much like wine, I won’t be denying myself of it over the next couple of months. One thing I didn’t do in 2013 was to mix it up and so I was just running down an endless tunnel from January to April and hammering the same muscles as I went.
Cross-training and catching up with the girls is key! Image: Sophie Radcliffe
Strength through yoga
If someone had told me to supplement my marathon training with yoga back in 2013, I would have shot them a withering look and told them that I was far too busy conquering miles of pavement to be rolling around on a mat. What I didn’t know what that I had the core strength of a Cheese String in a lunch box and that would cost me very dearly on my marathon journey. I’ve been a member of The House of Yoga in Putney since last July and I honestly can’t stress how much of a positive effect it has had on my mind and body. Compared with 2013 I would definitely say I do less mileage but I now factor in at least one session of Vinyasa Flow a week. As a result, my splits have been steadily falling because my legs tire less easily, my core keeps me connected, I hold myself less tensely and I have learnt to steady my breathing. It’s also really helped my performance as a cyclist too and I would be lost without this practice.
I now have core strength!
Getting help from Osteopath, Alice Monger-Godfrey
My legs do more than power me to the finish line of a marathon, they are also quite a big part of my job as a sports journalist as often I have to do athletic things in order to write a good piece. I ask my legs to do some pretty hectic stuff sometimes and I think for that reason, they deserve a bit of TLC. I’ve recently started visiting osteopath, former pro-cyclist and fellow Queen of the Mountains ambassador, Alice Monger-Godfrey. Alice has just opened her clinic, AMG Osteo and has been doing some marvellous work on my body to make sure that life, training and other general stress aren’t causing it any damage. With Alice’s treatment, aside from my common niggles being less painful, I feel more supported in my marathon journey and less at risk of injury as I ramp up the training.
Prevention of injury with Alice. Image: AMG Osteo
Honouring rest days
One thing I have noticed that is different about my mindset this time around is that I don’t get over-whelmed with an all encompassing sensation of guilt if I have to miss a session or when there is a rest day scheduled. I’ve learnt that heavy work needs time to sink in and giving your legs a chance to repair and recover will only make you stronger the next time around. I am more than happy to kick back on the sofa, maybe with a glass of wine and just chill. This means that when the next session comes along, my body and mind have had a chance to reset and my motivation is increased to get back out there. In 2013 I would run myself ragged leading to ineffective mileage that was actually doing more damage than good.
Give your legs room to breathe
Since 2013 I’ve build up a fantastic network of people that love running and because a lot of these friends are running the same event and working towards the same goal, there is a lot more buzz about the marathon this year. With more experience and the right attitude in place, I am actually looking forward to it. I get a thrill when I think about the day and the crowds and the support but unlike 2013, I haven’t thought about what time I will be doing because frankly, I don’t care!
Even Richard’s up for it!
Good luck to all those training for the London Marathon this year and remember to train wisely but not to beat yourself up about it!