“Don’t be daunted by the word ‘marathon’. If you are prepared to work hard, anything is within you’re grasp.”
After 16 weeks of training, it was time for my first ever marathon. I wasn’t particularly concerned because I knew that in just 6 months time I would be running double the distance. So this should be easy, right? As a first time marathoner, I learned a few tips along the way and while I’m no expert, they might also be of some use if you are new to the sport and considering running a long distance event: whether it’s a 10k, half or full marathon.
So here are a few tips and tricks from one amateur runner to another, things I am super grateful for (mainly vaseline) and things I would definitely do differently (use more vaseline). You may or may not find them helpful but here they are nonetheless:
- Vaseline. The most incredible invention in the world. I plastered this gel everywhere I could… and it worked a treat! Where there was vaseline, there was no rubbing, no chaffing, nada.
- Follow a good training programme that includes both short and long runs at a variety of paces. If you’re training is well balanced you get so much more out of it, or at least I did. Doing every run easy and long won’t get you marathon ready and it’ll be dull and pretty time consuming.
- Enjoy every run. I’m pretty sure if you’re considering a marathon, half marathon or even a 10k you will already have the running bug. When I started to ‘train’ for Winelands I would sometimes wake up and think “damn I’m not feeling this session today”. If I didn’t, I’d simply do something else. It’s far more important to enjoy the miles rather than grumble through and start to dread a particular session. Alternatively change your attitude and decide to smash it. Either works.
- Don’t get obsessed. Reviewing your runs can be a great way to track your progress but don’t become obsessed with everything you do. Some days you’ll feel rubbish and run even worse. That’s okay. It’s definitely possible to incorporate running into your day to day life. It doesn’t have to take over. When you have a bad run, which you will: accept it and just get on with the day.
- Cherish the ‘long run’. I did one long run a week, usually increasing by a couple of miles every Sunday. It’s a great chance to try out different forms of hydration and fuel. When you reach a level of fitness that enables you to run over an hour, you begin to enter a very different phase of running. You’re able to hit the trails and become totally focused on that moment in time. No thought would enter my head for the entire 1, 2 or 3 hours. It’s a state of total escapism and it’s definitely the fire behind my passion for marathons.
- Don’t panic about getting enough sleep the night before. It’s far more important to sleep and hydrate well the week before. No-one gets an ideal night sleep before a race and the adrenaline on the day will be enough to overcome any tiredness.
- Fuel correctly. Eat whatever you are used to and make sure you have your tried and tested pre-race breakfast and snacks with you. Hydration is even more important. I’d recommend using some hydration tablets to prevent you getting dehydrated while running. Don’t rely on water stations along the way, who knows where they will be or how frequent they will be. They also lead to huge amounts of litter so if you do use them, keep the plastic in your back pocket.
- During the race, find someone of similar pace and hang onto them like a lost puppy. They will be everything you need to finish the race. Start a conversation, take it in turns to help each other out and before you know it you’re crossing the line together.
The Night Before
I said I definitely wouldn’t get nervous. I don’t tend to feel nerves before a race, mainly because it doesn’t matter ‘that’ much to me in the grand scheme of things. It’s not my career nor is it my life.
I do however feel I can now empathise, just a little more, with the post race nerves real athletes get.
As I sit and demolish my double portion of pasta with pesto, I start to think over my training. Those long 20 miles around and around Richmond park. Occasionally the headphones will go in, a Rich Roll podcasts keeping me focused. I think back to how great I felt 18 miles into my Sunday run that foggy autumn morning. Alone, I hit trails where not a single thought entered my mind. Damn I felt so strong. I was flying, I could keep going all day…
My mind wanders back to the last 3 weeks where merely walking sends an ache through the inside of my shins. My legs no longer feel strong but weak. That 20 minutes along Sea Point promenade was more painful than the 20 miles just a few weeks earlier. I get the odd butterfly, a hint of panic, a slight worry that my body won’t handle the full 26.2 miles in its current state.
I’m here now and despite the last few weeks, I’m in good running shape. It’s going to be painful but there will be weeks to recover afterwards. I’ll never feel 100% ready. I’m just here for the ride.
Back in my hotel room, I pull on my red socks: my single most important reason for running. It’s not about running a fast time or proving anything to anyone. Tomorrow is about starting my journey on the #RedLoveTrain.
It’s going to be painful, more painful than it should be. But flip it’ll be worth it.
Up, shower, eat.
Macklemore running through my head…
”…Under that light rain gleaming in that night came, can’t stop now
Keep moving no break pads.
Came here to prove a point, live my life on the field,
Make history in between the base path.
And compete against the fear that is in me that’s my only barrier and I swear I’m going to break that…”
Standing on the start-line, ready for the gun; An unusual but ingenious mix of Ten Thousand Hours and Shosholoza playing through my mind. I unplug my phone. The music stops.
We are off! For the next 42.2km my new running partner, Liza and I chatted away, taking in the scenery and atmosphere as we push each other through the more painful miles. There wasn’t a single moment I contemplated giving up. In fact, time flew by and deep in conversation we looked up to find we had already passed 30km. With each kilometre we now gained pace, as the reality of finishing our first marathon in under 4 hours kicked in. We crossed the line together in 3 hours 54 minutes. What an amazing sense of achievement. We worked damn hard, gritted our teeth and loved every second. It was time to cheer on the red socks. What an event, what an atmosphere and what a day!
My journey to ‘Comrades’ has begun.
16 weeks ago I discovered the Unogwaja Challenge and ShoOops. I made a commitment to do whatever it took to join together with the Unogwaja team and run Comrades in 2016. Red socks are taking the world by storm and I couldn’t be more proud to be a small part of their movement; their journey of change.
Huge thanks to Bradyn for the insane photos. You can check out more of his work here: https://www.instagram.com/bradyn_hopking/
If you want to find out more about Unogwaja and the Red Love Train: http://unogwaja.org.za/meet-the-2016-red-love-train