I have never considered myself a long-distance runner. I was never great at it growing up, and didn't particularly enjoy it. Coming from a background in team sports such as football, basketball, and rugby, I much preferred interval running and working on speed. In fact, I actually went from being one of the slowest out of my friends to one of the fastest in my year group throughout secondary school. My events of choice were usually the 100m and 200m, not the 1500m!
So what made me decide to run a marathon?
Over recent years I have found myself becoming more involved in endurance events, from completing triathlons to cycling the lengths of countries and continents (just for a bit of fun). But even so, cycling has always been my main endurance event, as I don’t mind getting out for hours on a bike on a nice day and taking in the countryside. However, the thought of running for up to 4 hours has always sounded soul-destroying.
My first taste of the London Marathon atmosphere came properly in 2022 when I went up to watch a friend running. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see her run despite being at the front for at least 30 minutes, but the atmosphere was electric. It was incredible to see so many people of all shapes and sizes pushing their physical and psychological boundaries. In addition to the tens of thousands of runners, there must have been millions of supporters helping to encourage and spur their loved ones on. The seed had been planted!
I applied in the Ballot for the London 2023, but when I didn’t get a place the thought disappeared from my mind. That was until one of my clients told me he had signed up for the Paris one as his challenge to start the year (on Boxing Day). That was the kick up the backside I needed to get the ball rolling, later that day I did my research on the different charities I could run for, and decided to apply for Children with Cancer UK.
I had suffered with a lot of bad back pain over the Christmas period, on and off for almost 3 weeks. I remember the day exactly, it was the 22nd December, I am not sure what exactly I had done to my back, but I could barely get out of bed. Despite the pain, I still went at 630am to deliver a group class in the freezing cold down the park. Instead of going home to rest, I then went to meet my girlfriend at the gym for a spin class (stupid guy I know). In addition to the bad back, I was feeling under the weather. Unsurprisingly, with the endorphins from the class I actually felt ok….until after! Then I simply crashed! I had no energy and my back was in a lot of pain. I spent the rest of the day lying under the covers at home.
But it was second week into 2023 and I was now in Morocco, the back was feeling a lot better and I had put in for a place to run the Marathon. I went out for a steady 10km run to see how my back and glute would be, thankfully they held up ok as I ran the streets of Marrakesh, watching the beautiful sunrise. It was actually on my final day in Marrakesh when I received my email from Children with Cancer UK saying I had received a place to run for them. Challenge accepted!
Less than a week after being back in the UK my lower back had gone again, clearly there was something wrong that hadn’t been fixed. I was getting a little worried at this point as there was only 12-13 weeks until race day and I was struggling to walk let alone run. Thankfully, with some good rest, a visit to the chiropractor as well as some sports massage, my issue seemed to fade away and allow me to begin my training.
Being a strength & conditioning coach I thought I would devise my own training plan. I went on running world to get an idea of the plan they put together based on the time I wanted to run, but it said to run 5 times a week. That’s not me! Firstly, I wanted to keep a mixture of weight training, cycling and swimming in my programme. Secondly, I knew running 5 times a week would destroy my legs and not allow me to give what I needed to the long runs. Thus, I decided I would opt for 2-3 runs a week as well as mixed cardio session (cycle, versa-climber, stepmaster) and some strength work. The one thing that really puts me off long-distance runners is there lack of muscle mass, I enjoy strength training and I enjoy not looking super skinny, so I wasn’t ever going to stop training weights completely.
On the whole my training went well, I was learning on every long run that endurance running is largely a test of mental resilience and fortitude. With each long run I did by myself, there would definitely be large portions of suffering and struggle, either fighting pain somewhere in my legs, potential hotspots and blister or just wanting the run to be done. But on the flipside, there were often moments of pure joy and elation, whether a certain song came on, or using positive self-talk and visualisation to lift me. I had planned my final long run to be 4 weeks out, running 32km and then I would taper down. Unfortunately, that run didn’t go as planned, my legs felt very heavy from the 20km mark onwards, and I was getting a lot of hip pain, I didn’t want to risk injury at this point so stopped at 30km (smart decision for once). This run filled me with a bit of uncertainty and worry. If I couldn’t get to 32km, how the hell was I going to get to 42km.
I decided I would give the 32km run one more crack the following Sunday, still giving me 3 weeks to taper down. The following Sunday went much better, I decided to switch my Hoka’s for my Asics (a constant battle for race day) and despite feeling plantar fasciitis coming on around mid-run, it settled down and I actually managed to crank out 33km, with my final mile being the quickest. After this I felt much more confident about race day.
Over the next 3 weeks I tapered my running down, keeping 2-3 runs a week but reducing the distances significantly. Running a cumulative distance of around 100km in just the 4 previous Sunday's alone, my body needed a rest, it was smoked. It just so happened that the second retreat of the year I had organised in Malaga was the week before race day. There were positives to this - it was good to train in the heat in case we got heat on race day, the heat also felt good for the muscles and joints. The downside - I felt absolutely knackered when I arrived back to London at 2am on the Tuesday morning before race day.
Nonetheless, I didn’t have an overly busy week planned and tried to get in early nights and recoup my energy levels. I decided to do just a couple of short runs that final week before race day, as well as getting a (very) deep tissue massage on the Tuesday. The week seemed to be going ok until…..
Thursday night I woke up hallway through the night with hot and cold temperatures and some stomach cramps, I went to the toilet and our good friend Mr. Diarrhoea had struck. Luckily, it wasn’t too severe, but Friday and Saturday were ropey days, having to be very careful with what I ate and feeling a little low energy. I couldn’t believe it! After 14 weeks of working my ass off, I had caught a stomach bug just a couple of days before race day - such is life, crack on! I went to bed early on Saturday night, prayed for a good nights sleep and for my tummy to settle.
The next morning I woke early at 615am for a cold shower to wake me up, give me time to have some famous date and banana porridge, tape my feet up (I get blisters easy) and set off with the family to make my way up to Greenwich. This is how race day went…..