With this year’s London Marathon only a few days away I know everyone due to take part will be feeling a bundle of nerves and excitement.
I can honestly say that taking part in the London Marathon has changed my life for the better. It has not only challenged me to do something that I had never done before, but it has also given me the chance to raise money and awareness for charity.
I am often asked why I run and in the past I have tried to answer in a way to justify why I do, and especially why would I want to run any kind of long distance. As I get older I have realised that I need to simply reply, ‘why not?!’
Running is my therapy. It’s my way to relax and unwind, to re-energise and refuel my positivity. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Training for a marathon has given my running a greater focus and enabled me to push myself further than I ever thought possible.
Although I won’t be on the start line this year, I intend to take part in the future as I feel my running journey is only just beginning. I still believe I can go faster and I would love to still be running it when I’m 80-years-old and beyond! Who knows, maybe I will be able to become the oldest runner to complete the London Marathon in years to come!
Running a marathon isn’t easy but to anyone preparing to run on Sunday – you have a great day ahead of you! Yes, there will be aching muscles and sore feet and at some point you will ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ but you can’t beat the feeling when you cross the finish line. The amazing crowd support along the way will help pull you through when the going gets tough.
Here are my race day tips to help you enjoy the day and hopefully get a PB!
Sleep well the week before: You will be so nervous the night before the race it is unlikely you will sleep well, so try and get some early nights in during the week preceding the race instead. Aim to have a good night’s sleep on the Thursday and Friday nights and lie in on Saturday morning if you can.
Rest, rest rest! In the week building up the race there is no point trying to cram in any extra training. Stick to some easy jogging and rest as much as possible so your legs will be fresh on the day. Try to keep off your feet as much as possible the day before the race – any DIY, shopping or housework can wait!
Fuel up: Eat extra carbs on the days preceding the race and have a carb-heavy meal the night before. Make sure it is a meal you have had before a long run previously so you’re sure it agrees with you. Although you will feel nervous in the morning, don’t skip breakfast. Eat at least two hours before the start so you have fuel for the run.
Avoid chafing: Blisters and bleeding nipples don’t have to be part of your marathon experience! Apply anti-chafing gel such as Tiger Balm or Vaseline on your feet and anywhere your clothes might rub when you get ready. This is particularly important if you are wearing fancy dress, once I got a very sore neck from the elastic of my superhero costume cape rubbing in the Great North Run! Women, don’t forget to apply gel under the elastic of your sports bra and men should try putting plasters over their nipples to prevent bleeding.
Hydrate: Drink a couple of glass of water before the race but don’t go overboard, if you have too much you will get a stitch and need frequent toilet stops! Adjust how much you drink to how hot it is on the day, as you will need to have a little extra if you are sweating more. Once the race is underway, drink little and often rather than waiting till you are thirsty and guzzling a whole bottle.
Plan ahead: There are three start lines at London so familiarise yourself with which one
you are on and how you will get to it on the morning of the race. Allow plenty of time for your journey as you don’t want to waste nervous energy worrying about getting to the start on time. Make sure your kit is ready the night before with your number pinned on your vest, any gadgets you intend to use fully charged, and your chip on your trainer, so all you have to do in the morning is get up and go.
Keep warm: At London you have to put your kit onto the baggage van to be taken to the finish at least 30 minutes before the start so take an old T-shirt or bin bag to wear which you can then discard so you don’t get cold hanging around before the gun goes.
Pack a spare pair of trainers: After running 26.2 miles your feet will feel sore! It will be a relief to take your trainers off so either pack a spare pair in your bag or ask a friend or relative to bring different shoes to the finish for you. That way you can make your feet feel more comfortable as soon as possible instead of travelling home in your race shoes.
Don’t go off too fast! It is always tempting to go off too fast at the start as it feels easy to begin with and the adrenaline is pumping. But you will suffer later in the race if you try to push yourself too hard too soon. Use a GPS watch to check your pace or take your mile splits on a stopwatch to ensure you are going at your target speed.
Mind over matter: You are bound to feel nervous and worry ‘can I do this?’ My advice is to stay calm and focus on the positives. Think of all the training you have done and how it will help you run well. During the race, if it feels too much to think about making it to the end, focus on getting to the next mile or the next water station instead. Have a positive mantra you repeat as you run. Mine in 2012 was ‘I can do this!’ I kept repeating it in my head as I ran and it helped me stay focused and in a running rhythm.
Enjoy it! It’s fair to say you won’t love every second of running the marathon as there are times it may hurt and you will have to dig in. But you will also feel joy, determination and a great sense of achievement. There is such a wonderful atmosphere in London, make sure you take it all in and savour the experience. Highlights include crossing Tower Bridge and running down The Mall to see the finish gantry. It’s an emotional moment when you cross the line and get your medal – I usually burst into happy tears of relief, euphoria, pride and exhaustion! And once I am recovered, I can’t wait to do it all again!
If you would like to read more tips on how to improve or how to get started in running, there’s lots more advice from myself and other runners in my Guide To Running.
Working with my co-writer and fellow runner Lucy Waterlow and Bloomsbury Sport has helped me to pull together a plethora of information including nutritional advice, training plans and most importantly real life stories from other runners, sharing their experiences and words of wisdom.
This week I received a Tweet from @aliciacarter901 who said following the beginners plan in the book helped her finish her first marathon in Manchester and ‘enjoy each mile’. So if you’re inspired by London to do a marathon or start running, this book could be just what you need to help you along the way.
Order Nell McAndrew’s Guide to Running now for just £9.99 from Bloomsbury.com. Simply enter discount code NELL16 at the checkout.