Guest blog by triathlete, Helen Russell,
Are you one of the 40,000 runners that will heading down to the London Marathon on 22 April? By now you will be entering the final stages of your training and starting to think about planning for the big day. If you are a first-timer you may be wondering how on earth you will survive the 26.2 miles. There is plenty of advice available on the running element of the marathon, including training plans, how to taper and how to pace yourself on the day but the marathon isn’t just about running! Here are my top 10 tips that don’t have anything to do with running but which every runner wishes they had known before their first marathon!
You’ve done most of your training, you’re ready for the challenge but you're worrying about every little thing to do with the marathon. You start to feel niggles where you’ve never had any problem, think that your dry throat is the first sign of a cold and worry about travelling on public transport for fear of catching some illness! You start to doubt you’ll be able to start, never mind finish. Don’t panic – you have maranoia! Everyone gets anxious before a major sporting challenge, especially one that takes as big a commitment as a marathon. Nerves are a natural way of the body preparing itself for the task ahead. Incorporate some relaxation sessions into your training programme e.g. spa visits, massages, pilates or meditation sessions. Even a day out with your mates will help give you some perspective and distraction from the world of marathons.
Registration is at the London Marathon Expo at ExCeL in east London, where you will collect your running number, timing tag and kitbag. My advice is to try and avoid registering on the Saturday as the queues will be long and you will end up spending too much time on your feet. Saturday is for putting your feet up. If you can, visit on the Wednesday or Thursday before, which are the quietest days.
You will be offered an array of products at the Expo but be careful about eating too many complimentary energy products as a sugar overload might mean that you find it harder to sleep, which is important in the run up to the race. Also, you don’t want to get any gastrointestinal problems from products you haven’t tried before. I recommend popping the freebies in your bag for another time!
It is a good idea to have a massage before the marathon and these are available at the Expo. The good thing about the massages at the Expo, is that they are stimulatory rather than deep-tissue, which could result in soreness. The massage therapists are experienced in pre-event massage and know what you need.
Another thing available at the Expo, that some people find useful, is an Expo Wristband, which tells you what time you should be at each mile mark to hit your target time. This is useful if you find it hard to calculate your mile times in a time of stress and oxygen depletion!
If you buy something at the Expo don’t use it on the marathon! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try something new on race day, whether a piece of kit or nutrition products. During the race you will be offered Lucozade Sport and gels. Experiment with these on your training runs so you know it won’t cause you any gastrointestinal problems during the marathon.
As maranoia can fuddle the mind it is best to prepare in advance for the big day. The week before, check you have all the necessary kit and that it is in working order - this will give you time to purchase something if it is missing or worn out. Make a race kit list, especially if you are travelling from far afield and staying overnight in London. You don’t want to forget anything. This may sound over the top but honestly maranoia can make you forget even the basics! Lay out your kit and pack your race bag on Saturday so that there isn’t an unnecessary panic on Sunday morning.
With around 40,000 athletes and spectators all trying to get to the same place it can feel a bit like a military operation just getting to the start! Plan how to get to the race. Work out how much time it will take to get to the start and then double it! Due to closed roads and limited parking it is easiest to travel by public transport and your race number lets you use public transport for free. There are free trains to the start from Charing Cross, Waterloo and London Bridge. It is better to travel from Charing Cross as the trains are often full by the time they get to Waterloo or London Bridge.
Depending on when you arrive at the start you may have to wait a while until the official start and you need to avoid getting too cold. If it looks like rain, take a black bin liner or cheap pac-a-mac, which you can dump in a bin. Wear some latex gloves to keep your hands warm(ish) and then throw them away. A good tip is to wear some old clothes that you don’t mind discarding. Charities pick up all the clothes that are left behind, so you don’t have to feel guilty about wastage.
A major worry for runners is when and where they will be able to go to the toilet! If you wish to use a toilet (rather than a bottle or a bush) then you need to prepare yourself for long queues. The queues at the train stations will be very long so try to hang on until you reach the venue. The best thing is to queue for the toilet as soon as you arrive. Take some toilet roll. Once en route, there are toilets every two miles, including mile 24. Those close to the start will have less of a queue and won’t be as unpleasant! Don’t be surprised if you see people having a pee in a bush, against a wall or in a bottle. Maybe it’s better just to forget your dignity for the day and go where you can (within reason and without getting arrested!)
Chaffing is a major hazard when running 26.2 miles and on race day a spot of Lucy Bee Coconut Oil (available here) could be very handy. Apply it under your sports bra, along your waistband, watch strap and wristband, under your armpits, on nipples, inner thighs, bum crack, basically anywhere that might rub!
Lots of people write their name on their race number as it can be a great boost to hear spectators cheering you on by name. You can even have your name printed on your race shirt at the Expo. However, there are two things to consider before doing this. Whilst at first it might feel great everyone shouting your name, by the time you are at mile 20 and have hit the wall you might just want to hide and not have everyone shouting remarks which they think are encouraging but which in your fatigued state you might find annoying! There are only so many times you can hear “get running Sarah” or “don’t stop Sarah’” when all you want to do is take a break! The second consideration is that by having lots of people shouting your name it will be more difficult for you to discern the calls of your friends and family. On that note, agree in advance where your supporters will be cheering you, so you can spot them.
It can take up to forty minutes from the time you cross the finish line to collect your medal, finisher’s bag, kitbag and leave the secure area. You will need to plan in advance where to meet family and friends otherwise you might not find them. There are a series of letters from A-Z in Whitehall (e.g. stuck on trees) where you can meet people. Most people agree to meet under the letter of their name. It’s a good idea to forget this and just meet under a less commonly used letter e.g. Z, Q, X. Don’t rely on calling or texting people to meet up, as there is often not a signal due to the number of people using their mobile phones.
The best way to leave the finish is to leave via Trafalgar Square or north to Piccadilly Circus. Don’t go south to Victoria as you’ll have to cross the marathon route and the queues can take ages. A better plan is to walk to Green Park or Piccadilly Circus and take the tube.
Get your friends to bring some flip flops or sandals as you will want to get out of your trainers as quickly as possible.
If you are running for one of the larger charities, then they sometimes have volunteer massage therapists at the finish. Whilst there is a debate about how soon after a race you should have a massage, I believe if you want one then just go for it.
Your toenails may be in a sorry state. Don’t be surprised if you have a few black ones. A well-deserved treat is to book a pedicure in advance, for a few days after the event.
Another favourite of mine is a foot soak or a relaxing bath with Lucy Bee Epsom Bath Salt. It’s perfect for soothing any aching muscles.
Regardless of how fit you are, you will be tired after running 26.2 miles. Although you will be dying to show off your finisher’s medal to your colleagues, if you can, it’s an idea to book a day off from work on the Monday as you might not even be able to walk down your stairs! After all, you deserve a day off to sleep, celebrate and eat cake.
Good luck for your marathon and the main thing is to enjoy the experience!
Helen is the current British Quadrathlon Champion and former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.
You can read other article by Helen here: Cycling Rites of Passage, Six Steps to Recovery From Your Workout, Triathlon Transition Training, Winter Training for Summer Results, Training Holidays with the Kids on Board, Take the Plunge - 5 Tips for Open Water Swimming, Fuelling on Long Bike Rides and 5 Tips for Preparing for an Endurance Challenge.
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