You watched the Virgin London Marathon on a lovely sunny spring day and are now feeling inspired to try running for yourself - even with the goal of competing in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon.
But is it really possible? Maybe you have never run before, or consider yourself a hobby-jogger. Whatever your starting point, as long as you have the desire, the reason and the willingness to commit, I promise you, you can do it (barring underlying medical conditions!). You can achieve that feeling of total satisfaction, elation and amazement at how far you can push your body and the contentment of a goal achieved. But where do you start? Well, right here.
1. Have the desire, the reason, the goal
The single most important element that will influence whether you cross that finish line, or even be on the start line is for you to have clarity about your reason for running this race. Everyone’s reason is different but you have to know yours and it has to be compelling. Are you running in someone’s memory, are you supporting a cause that is dear to your heart, are you marking a life stage, are you proving something to yourself? Whatever it is, make sure that it is important enough to keep you focussed.
2. Be prepared to commit, make it your priority
You do not have to be a great runner, super fit or a particular body shape to run a marathon, but you do have to be committed. You are going to need to train for anything up to 6 months. Pick a period in your life, when things are relatively stable and predictable – consistency is key to a successful training programme.
3. Get the right kit
You don’t need much kit to be a runner, but there is one item that I would recommend you never compromise on and that is your footwear. You must have a pair of running specific trainers that support the way you run. This will help prevent injury and be more comfortable. A running injury picked up in training is probably the biggest cause of people not starting or finishing their half marathon. You may also want to pick up some technical clothing such as a running t-shirt and shorts, these are made of special material that wicks moisture away from the body, keeping them lightweight and less likely to cause chaffing ! These are not essential items but will make your training more comfortable and so I would recommend the investment. And if you don’t like showing off your legs, buy running tights rather than wearing heavy jersey bottoms. They can be equally comfortable.
And one more very important point, make sure you try out everything you intend to wear before race day. Don’t wear or use anything new or untried be it footwear, clothing or nutrition on race day itself. Keep unknown quantities to a minimum!
4. Start slowly
OK, so you’ve followed the advice so far; got your reason, blocked out the diary for the next 3 months and bought shiny new running shoes. Off you go, setting out for a half hour run. You get to the bus stop at the end of the road and have to stop. Gasping for air, you realise this is going to be harder than you think....
Don't worry. If you’ve never run before set out for 20 minutes but run for 60 seconds, then walk for 60 seconds, run, walk, run, walk. Do this until your 20 mins is up. Then go home, have a stretch, a bath and wallow in the great feeling of having completed a training session. Be realistic, acknowledge where you are starting from and build up slowly. If you know you can run 30 min then slowly build up from here – add 5 mins every week to your longest run. If you are completely new to running then start with a mixture of running and walking – walking is not cheating – you are still building up time on your feet. Doing too much too soon will lead to injury, frustration and a general loathing of running instead of the acknowledgement and delight of just how much you are improving.
5. Get some help and a training plan
Seeking advice and getting a tailored training plan will really help you. We have prepared a number of training plans that you can download from our website www.mattroberts.co.uk. For more guidance you may want to join a running club in your area. For added motivation and a personalised programme book some sessions with a personal trainer who will not only put a bespoke plan together for you but will also run with you for some of your runs. A training plan is important – it will keep you focussed and make sure your progression is steady and controlled. Stick a copy on the fridge and tick off each session completed for added motivation!
6. Join a community
Be prepared, your months of hard dedicated training will take its toll on your social life, but it doesn’t have to mean misery and loneliness. As suggested above, join a running club or group. Alternatively take the initiative and get a bunch of your friends together for a social run. Some people run because they love the isolation and the ‘me time’, but if you don’t, a running community will help get you through the tough times and remember it is always safer to run with someone else and it’s more fun too.
7. Accept there will be hard times, injuries and illness
No-one, not even elite runners like Paula Radcliffe will get through a season without the minor (or in some cases major) hiccups of injury or illness. The important thing is to build enough time into your training plan to allow for ‘rest and recovery’ time should you fall ill. Do not run through pain or a cold, especially if it is on the chest. Prevention is better than cure, try and get a regular sports massage, especially if you start to feel muscles getting tight. Get any niggles seen to by a physiotherapist and take the advice or treatment prescribed. Training for a marathon is an endurance endeavour, it won’t happen over night, but listen to your body, build in plenty of rest time, a bit extra contingency and enjoy the changes in your body as you get fitter and stronger – but respect it too!
8. Don't become obsessed
When you are starting out you may not understand how you could become obsessed with something as uncomfortable and hard as running but your body will get used to the sessions, you’ll even start to enjoy some of them! Try and get a balance in your training, consider your other commitments up front and make sure the number of training sessions in your plan is realistic. As mentioned above don’t let your obsession mean you train through injury or illness, try and take sensible decisions and apply the 80:20 rule. Try and stick to your training and a healthy eating plan 80% of the time, if you miss 20% its not the end of the world – give yourself a break, you are not a professional athlete, work hard as much as you can and if you ‘fall off the wagon’, learn from the experience and get back on, a smarter, more determined runner.
9. It doesn't give you carte blanche to eat everything in sight
A word of warning, just because you are running and training regularly doesn’t mean you can eat loads more. Don’t fall into the trap of over eating or rewarding yourself with a treat after every training session, you can and will put on weight even while half marathon training. You must still make healthy food choices. You need to be fuelled for a workout and you should eat a small amount of carbohydrate and protein within 30 mins of a training session to help the body recover ready to train again but it doesn’t mean guzzling down huge plates of pasta in a creamy sauce every day. Watch your hydration too – getting 2 litres of water every day is essential and during training sessions you will need to take on even more.
10. Savour the event, and get the next one booked in!
So you’ve made it to the start line. For a start congratulate yourself for getting there fit and healthy. Remind yourself of how far you have come, how much fitter and stronger you are. No matter what happens in this race, whether you make your time or not, no-one can take that new, fitter body away from you! During the race, relax as much as you can, take it easy at the start and stay disciplined to your race plan. Try and absorb every sight, sound and feeling as you cover the miles. Mentally tick each one off, count yourself down to the finish line. Cross that line with a smile and a flourish, no matter what your time. Whether euphoric or exhausted, acknowledge your achievement, take the adulation from your friends then go home and book your next race. There is such a thing as post-race depression so take a break, refer back to #1 above and keep running!