Former runners of the London Marathon share the things nobody tells you about running a marathon.
No one knows how far a marathon is
Rudi Schlenker, internet manager, eight marathons and four ultramarathons
Get used to the following conversation: “I’m doing the London Marathon”. “How far’s that?” “It’s a marathon – they’re always 26.2 (always remember the .2) miles”. Repeat three times a day for three months.
Don’t forget to train
Daniel Chant, police officer, one marathon
I was a reasonably fit 23-year-old and had every intention to train like a champ. Unfortunately, cold winter days didn’t appeal to me and as a result my longest training run must have been seven miles at most. I convinced myself that adrenaline, the motivating force of having other runners around me and the atmosphere would get me to at least 16 miles, then all I had to do was battle through the last ten. This was a big mistake.
Have an emergency plan
Sharon Dickenson, engineer, 13 marathons
Carry an emergency £10 note with you – who knows when a bottle of Lucozade Sport is needed because it is suddenly hotter than you thought and you’re losing salt at the speed of light. Also plan an escape route: a bus, a train, a dad or an other half who’s prepared to come and rescue you.
UNDER STARTER’S ORDERS
Tapering hurts more than training
RS: You’ve run hundreds of miles in training with no problems. You’re two weeks out from the race and you’re cutting back on the miles. Does your knee feel a bit funny? It definitely didn’t feel like this yesterday. You’ll spend the rest of the day prodding your knee.
Savour the start
Alex Travers, project manager, two marathons
You’ll probably have thought about finishing the race on The Mall, but you probably won’t have thought about the start. It’s pretty amazing. Beautiful Greenwich Park and a mindblowing 35,000 other runners who have been through the same ‘journey’ to get here.
Andy Picken, journalist, two marathons
You need oodles of patience before you set off. You need to be there in good time and it takes a while to get going as there are so many folk waiting to get started. There are pinch points where you need to just let the crowded field thin out a bit. Remember that your timing chip doesn’t start until you cross the start line. It doesn’t matter if you’re late!
Michael Long, author of ‘The Mock Olympian’, five marathons
As you wait for the start you may be forced to face the elements. Body heat goes a long way when you are stood in the cold. You’ve seen ‘March of the Penguins’, right? They huddle and survive the Antatrtic. Let’s take note from their book. Also: shower before the race. Queuing up next to people who thought “I’m going to get sweaty anyway” is not pleasant.
Empty your pockets
DC: When I got to the start line I realised that I had forgotten to put my shorts on, so I had full-length tracksuit bottoms on with no shorts underneath. I had planned on throwing the tracksuit bottoms away but now had no choice but to run in them – unfortunately it was the hottest marathon on record. I still had my keys, wallet and phone in my pocket, so would have to run with those jangling around as well.
Look behind you
Charly Lester, CEO & founder of The Dating Awards, three marathons
In Paris a few years ago, a significant number of runners ran the entire race backwards. One ran straight into my back and sent me flying, 15 miles into the race … not cool!
Be prepard to be humiliated by a flower pot
ML: Getting overtaken by a fancy dress runner will feel like a low moment. I got overtaken by a flower pot. Who knew pots were so fast? But don’t let it distract you. Stay on your pace and remember that the fancy dress runner is probably someone trying to get a Guinness World Record by being the fastest person to run a marathon as a tortoise, and that dressed in normal gear they would be super fast.
You’ll get the munchies
AP: I wish I’d known just how hungry I would get. Just like a trip to the cinema I had devoured all my snacks before I’d really got going and ended up relying on the kindness of strangers – thankfully, available by the bucketload during the London Marathon – who were handing out sweets and fruit.
Beware of the heat…
AT. You’ll have trained all winter in the cold and wet, but suddenly it feels like summer come race day and you might even need (and not have) sun cream.
… But also the water
DC: At three miles it was clear to me that the heat was going to be an issue. I saw a water sprayer in the distance and ran through it soaking up as much cold refreshing water as I could. This was a great idea for all of about 30 seconds. My running t-shirt clung to me and my tracksuit bottoms became very heavy. Not too long later my nipples were red raw from the clinging wet shirt and I had to claw a handful of Vaseline from one of the volunteers to smear over them.
Beware of gels
SD: Look out for other runner’s discarded race gels. Stepping on them adds to your discomfort as your shoes require that extra bit of pull to detach the sole from the tarmac.
RS: Everyone is different. Some people are tall, some are short. Some people are pencil thin, others less so. But everybody has one thing in common – something will rub. Some people’s toes rub, some people’s thighs rub. You’ll see people (or be people) whose nipples are bleeding they’ve rubbed so much.
You will feel the love…
AP: A bloomin’ amazing thing that you can never really appreciate until you are in the moment is just how much of a difference the crowds make. You read about it but it’s not until you’re toiling that you understand how it can be such a pick-me-up. The other cool thing in London is people setting up decks or stereos out of their flat windows, playing tunes.
… Although not from everyone
DC: I have no real memory of the last eight miles other than the occasional spectator running alongside me with a pint of beer under my nose and mocking me every time I dropped to a walk.
Don’t believe everything you read
Anne Moore, civil servant, three marathons
While running my first marathon I had lost the ability to count or read my watch, but knew I had passed the 25 mile mark some time earlier when I passed a wee girl holding up a sign saying “you can do it – only one mile to go”. I started crying as I thought I would soon be coming up to 26 miles and I didn’t have another mile in me. Round the corner I saw the 26 mile mark and realised the girl had obviously moved closer to the finish line and was in the wrong place. If I had the strength to go back I think I would have hit her over the head with the sign…
THE HOME STRAIGHT
Brace yourself for Blackfriars
AT: 22 miles into the race you enter Blackfriars Underpass, the crowds briefly disappear and you’re in the dark. With nobody watching the masks slip: runners are weeing against the walls, others are crying or rolling around with cramp – it’s like a war film.
Think photo finish
SD: Check who is around you as you begin the last mile – you do not want Batman or a guy in a Santa costume in your finishing photo!
You’ll run more than 26.2 miles
RS: By the time you’ve dodged people at the start, gone on the outside of a corner, and crossed the road to high-five your mates you’ll have ran further than a marathon. The shortest marathon I’ve ever done is 26.5 miles. This doesn’t make you an ultra-marathoner.
Little victories matter
DC: When I got to the final stretch I had a surprising energy surge and decided whatever happens I was ending on a sprint. Unfortunately the only people close to me at the end were an elderly woman who was too far ahead to catch and a guy in Postman Pat fancy dress. I destroyed him!
CROSSING THE LINE
Prepare for funny looks
AP: In terms of recovery, you usually end up walking like John Wayne for a couple of days after the race. Without the silver foil blanket and medal round your neck you get some strange looks waddling round Waitrose.
Pick a meeting spot
AT: You’ve got your medal, now you just have to find your family and friends amongst the hundreds of thousands of people when you have no phone and can’t remember your own name. Make plans!
Have your support team bring snacks
SD: You’ll need salt: chips, crisps, anything. Recovery drinks just fill you full of milk. I always need proper food immediately!
Don’t plan for a big night
AP: If you’re thinking about going for beers after the big race don’t make big plans. Your body will tell you to get a grip and you’ll be in your bed by 11pm at the latest.
Don’t rush off
CL: If you are flying in for the race, don’t book your return flight for the same night. We limped/crawled through the airport attracting some very strange looks as we went.
Yout may lose a nail
DC: It took about four days before I was able to walk properly. I had to bum-shuffle up the stairs at home and my whole body was in agony. In addition to the pain, three toenails later came off.
Beware the stairs
AT: Get a massage booked and the foam roller out. And one last thing: for the next three days, stairs are B1your enemy and the escalator is bound to be broken on the Tube.