Do you remember when I used to write about running? Well since my injury last year (oh the beautiful plague-like foot) I haven’t done much running. I have tried doing some walk-running but my heart hasn’t be in it, I have been doing a lot more cycling. However I thought that you lovely people might appreciate a running post so I have asked one of my running buddies who took on her first marathon in April to write a post about it all. Kate is one of the jog leaders at my JogScotland group and she is always friendly, helpful and motivating – it has been a pleasure to run with her over the last few years and I promise I will be back out running soon, just need to unearth the running trainers from the cobwebs 🙂 Over to Kate:
“In April 2014, my training partner and I ran our first ever marathon in the city of Rotterdam and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I have made these notes for the Inelegant Horse Rider’s blog in case it helps other people considering running this distance.
“Fail to prepare – prepare to fail”
We really took this maxim to heart when planning our first marathon, and prepared for absolutely everything within our control.
This was the first thing to get right. We found by trial and error that a pace of 9m50s miles was one we could sustain fairly easily for a long distance. It was for us a ‘chatting’ pace. The first mile always seemed extremely slow, but at 10 miles and more the pace just became comfortable and we knew we could go a lot further.
At an early stage I invested in a Garmin and used this to make sure we did stick to the agreed pace. It was tempting to go faster – because we could, and because other runners were overtaking us on training runs – but the benefits of an easy pace became very obvious at the longer distances.
With hindsight, I would say that sticking to this manageable pace was the most critical of all the things we got right.
Running long distances brings fairly specific food requirements in terms of quantity, content and timing. Therefore, eating and drinking sensibly in the months & weeks before the marathon is important. And, the evening before it is traditional and sensible to ‘carb-load’ with a big plate of pasta.
For the day itself, we found that the best breakfast to give a several-hour slow-burn nutrition is porridge. Porridge on its own, with dried fruit, with honey, with bananas, with nuts – we decided what worked best for us and stuck to it throughout all the long training runs and on the day itself.
But, even given weeks of sensible eating and a good breakfast on the day, running a marathon will use up 2,000+ calories. It’s therefore necessary to stock up a bit during the race itself, and for this we found a packet of glucose tablets (one every 5 miles) and a couple of sachets of energy gels filled the gap.
As the marathon was away from home, we couldn’t be sure of getting exactly what we needed in the right quantities so we took back-up reserves. We were probably the only people travelling to mainland Europe with stocks of rice pudding, bananas and instant porridge in case of starvation issues.
We had to work out how much we needed to drink in order to remain comfortably hydrated throughout. This is the right point between being dehydrated and passing out, and taking on so much water that it slops about inside, and you have to stop behind a few trees.
We also considered what to add to the water to replace lost salt caused by sweating. We experimented with sachets of salt, rehydration tablets to add to water, and isotonic drinks. The trouble with rehydration tablets is they are designed to pop into a 500ml water bottle, so to get the full benefit we would have had to drink a whole bottle. In the end we compromised by having a nibble of a rehydration tablet with every small cup of water we were offered. Not very accurate – and not very hygienic probably – but it seemed to work.
Obviously. But, you have to think ahead. Shoes last on average 500 miles, and by the time our training was complete our shoes would have about another 200 miles on them. The last thing we wanted to risk was running a marathon in shoes which were a) worn out or b) brand new, so we planned ahead and start breaking in a new pair during the training.
Clothes & socks
We did some long training runs wearing exactly the kit we were planning for the marathon. That way we could be sure that
- We were warm / cool enough and could adjust layers as necessary
- There were no uncomfortably chafing seams
- Socks stayed in place and didn’t squeeze toes, or disappear inside the shoes
- Underwear gave correct support
- There were enough pockets for gels, glucose etc
We were very aware that any of these problems arising on the day would seriously challenge our ability to finish. The only way to be sure was to go out in the kit for 20 miles or more.
I have enormous respect for anyone who does this alone – to be very honest I’m not sure I could have done that. Being two of us meant there was a commitment to going out, meeting up, following the plan, supporting each other.
At some stages in the longer runs we had to think of ways to physically keep each other going. The game of “Call out something happy at every lampost” helped us over a few miles.
After a fair bit of training we knew how we would be feeling after 10 miles, 15, 20 etc, and knew the boost we would get when we were 3 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile from the end. But, we were not familiar with the city at all. So, we followed the route using Google street view, and learnt what all these key points would look like. It gave a reassuring sense of familiarity on the day – especially when we started to see the final landmarks of the route.
This was one thing we weren’t going to be able to influence, but what we did do was positively embrace every time we had to go out in gale-force driving sleet as we muttered to each other “If we can do this we can do anything” and “It can’t possibly be worse than this on the day”.
Of course the choice of venue and timing does influence the weather too. Northern Europe in springtime seemed a reasonably safe bet, and we were lucky enough to have 13C, sunny intervals and no wind – perfect running weather.
Non-runners might think this is the only thing that matters but it was only one of the many parts of our preparation. We started from our base point of running 13 miles at an easy pace with no difficulty, so we had to build up from there. Our training plan consisted of:
15miles * 2
17miles * 2
19miles * 2
24 miles – then a gap of 3 weeks before the 26.2 miles on the day
At the start we ran every Saturday, but by the time we hit 19 miles, we did the long run every second week and put a shorter run in between. We believe that this helped us build strength and stamina while also avoiding injury by overtraining. Putting this in context, from a basepoint of running 13 miles normally, simply adding 9 longer runs over a period of 13 or so weeks is enough to get marathon-fit.
It’s worth looking back at our Facebook entries from that time. “15 miles and it was brutal” then “19 miles and it nearly killed us” etc etc. Every time we added a couple of miles it did get harder – but we got better at it too. When we put in shorter runs, they seemed like such a holiday.
The marathon we selected to enter as our first attempt was Rotterdam 2014. Why Rotterdam? Because our training plan took us up to mid April and it fell on Sunday 13 April, and that was one of the European marathons happening on that day. Also, Rotterdam was reasonably easy to reach for a weekend.
In the event it turned out to be a great choice. It was very well organised, with plenty information available beforehand. The pick-up for bib numbers and chip was easy to find at the Expo on the day before. We found the whole of central Rotterdam was given over to a running festival that weekend, with the shorter events being held on the Saturday we arrived. When we turned up mid afternoon there was a real buzz underway.
The marathon itself was very well supported, with many thousands cheering on the route and a number of really excellent bands providing cheerful inspiring music. The bib numbers had our first names printed on them, so we were frequently shouted on by name. We were celebrities for the day!
Did I make it sound easy? To be honest, although the training part was enjoyable, it was not particularly easy and did take a lot of commitment. The run itself could not be described as easy either, but on the day we extremely well prepared and confident that we would complete. Being there, taking part and finishing is a memory that I will enjoy for years to come.
And, we now know we can do it again. Even if this plan looks complex, now we have thought it through, we can just repeat whenever we fancy.
It was my first but not my last, for sure. I am now a marathon tourist!
Guest Blogger! ( that’s my twitter address above in case anyone gets in touch)”