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Insider’s guide to running a marathon

Tips from runners to help get you better prepared

A runner getting prepared with suitable footwear

Currently training for your first marathon, and not sure quite what to expect? We caught up with some who have already undertaken the challenge (and survived!) and asked them to share insider know-how they wish they’d been aware of before the race.

Don’t forget to train

Daniel Chant, a police officer who has run one marathon before, told us, “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, an engineer and runner of a whopping 13 marathons, said, “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 other half who’s prepared to come and rescue you.”

Savour the start

Alex Travers, a project manager who has two marathons under his belt, said, “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 mind-blowing 35,000+ other runners who have been through the same ‘journey’ to get here.”

Be “zen”

Andy Picken, a journalist and runner of two marathons, told us, “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!”

Empty your pockets

Daniel said, “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.”

Be prepared to be humiliated by a flowerpot

Michael said, “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.”

Beware of the heat…

Alex said, “You’ll have trained all winter in the cold and wet, but suddenly it feels like summer has come on race day and you might even need (and not have) sun cream.”

… and the water

Daniel told us, “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.”

You will feel the love…

Andy said, “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.”

…but brace yourself for Blackfriars

Alex adds, “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.”

It’s more than 26.2 miles

Rudi Schlenker, internet manager, eight marathons and four ultra-marathons said “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”. (And don’t forget – you need to be able to walk away from the finish line!)

Pick a meeting spot

Alex said, “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!”

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