This Sunday is the London Marathon and one of my best friends Laura is running it. She’s never done a marathon before and I hope she doesn’t mind me writing this here but to put it bluntly, she’s terrified.
Here she is. One of those people that looks disgustingly beautiful even when exercising. But don’t hold that against her.
I’m writing this because I’ve been getting frequent freak-out messages from her and I get it. I ran the marathon for the first time two years ago and I know exactly how she feels. It’s a big deal. It takes over everything – your body, your mind, your work and social life – and you do wonder if you’ll survive it. Seriously, as a former PE-dodging, current day prosecco-swilling miscreant, I did think about drawing up a will halfway through training for mine.
So, Laura, at the risk of patronising your tits off or telling you what you already know… here’s some stuff to keep in mind as you battle those tapering period jitters. In fact, here’s what I think anyone nervous about running their first marathon should know, admittedly from someone who doesn’t know a whole lot.
1. Doing it for a cause close to your heart will get you through it
Laura’s doing hers for MacMillan Cancer Support. Seeing as her mum is in remission after having to go through intensive chemo and radiotherapy last year, it’s fair to say she’ll have a lot of mind-fuel to keep her going. When you want to stop you simply think of the reason you started in the first place.
I ran my marathon for The Amy May Trust for a friend whose life was tragically changed forever because of an anaphylactic shock. Whenever I felt like giving up, I thought of Amy’s face when I told her I was going to run it for her. Which, thinking back, could have been one of joy or just mocking incredulousness but either way, thoughts of everything she’s been through and the many, many people who so kindly sponsored me put a little rocket up my arse when I needed it.
I wrote privately the day after I ran my marathon and today I’m going to share some excerpts to give a clear recollection of how I felt. Here I describe my feelings as I walked to the start line:
“I was really doing this. I was doing something that I seriously and a hundred percent thought I might not be able to manage to do and might even kill me. But I was excited. I was ready. I was doing it for Amy. I cried a little.”
And if all else fails, you can always think of the first alcoholic drink you’ll have after you finish.
Disclaimer: It’ll taste like the elixir of gods.
2. You’ll never hear anything sweeter than strangers screaming your name
The roar of the crowds takes a little getting used to at first but by the last hour it will be your lifeline. Wear your name as bold as possible on your kit because people will go mad for you, especially if you look like you’re suffering.
Again, my own personal account:
“More miles went by and the sights started coming, the noises got louder. More and more spectators, more areas of interest and live bands. People giving out drinks and sweets on the side. Children holding out their hands for high fives. I high-fived a little girl in her mother’s arms. Then people started calling my name, which took some getting used to.”
And then later on…
“Around mile 24 I dissolved into tears and I remember feeling acutely embarrassed because there were so many people around by then – hundreds and hundreds and a deafening roaring. But so, so many calling my name, telling me I was doing well, that I could do it, that I was almost there. Don’t stop Lindsey, don’t stop!”
Honestly, it helped. And going past people you know, whether you know they’re there or not is is like coming across a diamond speck in a pile of ashes.
3. Okay, yeah, it will hurt. Possibly like hell.
Might want to look away at this part…
“The pain… I knew it was going to be hard, but this was something else. My feet were on fire. All the bones in my feet felt like they were made of eggshell. I felt a little sleepy and like I might faint. I was hungry. I didn’t feel like I needed the loo, but my bladder felt full, almost like that feeling you get when you have an urine infection.”
Lovely, right? Really selling it aren’t I? Bare in mind though, first-time runners are often advised to walk for at least some of it and I didn’t because I figured if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. I was probably being a bit of a wally.
This year, runners are really being urged to walk because of the heatwave (thanks UK weather, NOW you decide summer’s allowed this year). So maybe just relax and enjoy it rather than trying to achieve a good time.
Despite all that pain and perseverance I was still a few minutes short of my target but looking back, does that matter and change how I feel about the day? Not at all.
4. But your body really can do it – and it will
When I told people I was signing up for a marathon the reaction was mixed. Most were supportive, others impressed… a handful were plain concerned, asking: “Are you sure you want to do a whole one? Why not just a half?”
Well, of course I wanted to do a whole one. Especially now they’d said that.
And what a lot of people don’t realise before they start training is how quickly your body gets used to being pushed farther and farther each time. I remember during some runs, runs that were more than ten, 15, 18 miles, I’d feel literally invincible and like nothing could stop me. Runner’s high. If only they could bottle it.
Anyway, when you’re running on Sunday, just remember how powerful and amazing your body really is. Listen to it and check in with it regularly and it won’t let you down.
5. And after you’re done, you’ll rely on the kindness of strangers
True, you won’t be able to walk properly but that’s okay because everyone will want to help you out. For instance, when I finished:
“I slowed down to a walk and hobbled to the area where they were giving out medals, sobbing with tears streaming down my face. The lady who gave me my medal asked if I needed a hug and I threw my arms around her.
“I picked up my goody bag and wrapped myself in one of those foil blankets … two officials had to help me because I was so out of it.
“I got the tube and about five people started chatting to me about what I had just done – so many said well done and asked me about the marathon. It was lovely, one girl even helped me down some stairs and asked about my cause and I told her about Amy.”
6. Everyone has your back
Just remember, no one wants you to fail. And if for any reason you don’t complete it, no one will care. They’ll still think you’re amazing, simply because you are.
You had my back. Now I have yours.
Go get ’em, tiger.