So three marathons in 18 months… but what have I learnt? Well here’s a quick list…
1. Not to do a 4th
Not for at least a year anyway…
2. Impossible is nothing
When I completed my first marathon this logo was everywhere at the finish line, thanks to one of their key sponsors. Never before had such a peice of brand marketing bullshit actually started to mean something.
Look at it this way; if you’d never heard of a marathon and didn’t know it was humanly possible to run 26.3 miles and then someone asked you to do it, wouldn’t you say it was impossible?
My first marathon medal still means this to me; impossible is nothing. If you want to achieve something, you can achieve it. All you have to do is believe in yourself.
3. Marathon running has nothing to do with age or body shape
It’s all about the training.
On my first London run I was overtaken by a 80yr old with a bent spine who could only see the road but his feet but was going like the clappers. He over took me at mile 23.
In NYC, I overtook two very fit (and very hot, it has to be said) guys in NYC around the 8mile mark. They were tall, fit, handsome, young and had amazing muscle definition and the kind of calf muscles you could just… well anyway. You get the picture. But they were flagging seriously at mile 8. You’d assume 2 adonis’s (‘adoni’ – plural?) such as themselves wouldn’t have an issue, but there’s a big difference between looking fit and being fit.
I’ve also seen people with one leg do it, and occassionally people with no legs and – incredibly – people who were told they would never walk again.
If you want to do it, you can do it.
4. Breath deep and appreciate the moment
When my mate Simon ( @Simongill1 on twitter ) and I were standing in our little starter pen at NYC on Sunday morning trying to calm our nerves minutes before the starter gun, a little light aircraft flew over us (and 44,800 other runners) trailing a banner behind it which simply said ‘Breath deep and appreciate the moment’.
This was bloody good advice – and maybe it’s not just for the odd occassion when you might find yourself face-to-face with an intimidating challenge, but just for life in general. Breath deep and appreciate the moment.
5. Strangers can be amazingly generous
One of the hardest things about Marathon running is the fundraising. After three marathons and raising nearly £5,000 for various charities I’m once again gob-smacked by everyone’s generosity, but not least the generosity of strangers, especially those of twitter – many of whom I’ll probably never meet and yet they were kind enough to put their hands in the pockets and dedicate 5mins of their time to donating some cash to some very worthwhile causes.
These not-so-small and very kind charitable acts always warmed my heart and are great motivation when you’ve got to run another 8, 10, 12, 15, 18 and sometimes 20 mile training runs on your todd.
6. You can’t run half a marathon on a bag of haribo
This was spectacularly demonstrated a few weeks ago when I drove back from Wales and ate an entire bag of Haribo en route and then attempted a 13mile training run. Cue massivo sugar crash 5 miles from home and legs like jelly. Had to ask a cafe worker to mix some brown sugar with some tap water to get me home (the cow wouldn’t let me have a complimentary flapjack)
FYI – The same goes for a fry-up and a Bloody Mary followed by a 7mile run. You just end up vomiting into the Thames (if you live by the Thames).
7. Don’t carry any cash or travelcards with you when running
Despite the odd occassion like above when you wish you had even just £1 with you, truth is sometimes you need just the smallest excuse to get the bus home, so don’t allow yourself this opportunity. No matter how painful, how tired, how dehydrated you are, you’ve got to keep running because chances are you’ll feel even worse on the day at mile 23 or 24 and nothing on God’s earth will stop you then, so you need to be prepared for the feeling.
8. You can run a full marathon on 2 boiled eggs and a bagel with Nutella
Protien, fat, carbs and energy = no energy crash en route
9. When another runner tells you to take cardboard to the start line, take them seriously and do it.
Especially when the start line is on a very cold Staten Island park at 10am, the bus drops you off at 6am and you discover you’ve got 4 hours to kill and there’s no where to sit and it’s 2 degrees above freezing. Then you’ll be very glad you listened to other runners who knew better than you.
10. Always have a full fridge at home
For those moments when you hit the wall 3 miles from home and get home and will eat ANYTHING. It aint pretty if your cupboards are empty but the cat food bowl is full. Dark moments.
11. Marathon running doesn’t help you lose weight
Your appetite goes into over-drive and your need for carbs before and after every run means your desire for food will beat your desire to look trim. The good side is that you build muscle and somewhere around the time that you start doing 15m and 18m training runs, you’ll suddenly notice your calf, thigh and butt muscles are looking fabulous.
12. Good nutrition is everything.
If, like me, you love your junk food and a bit of a crap diet in general, then marathon training teaches a few damn good lessons about nutrition and what your body needs in order to build, save and burn energy.
As a certain personal trainer once said, “You need fuel in your tank to run your engine and -let’s face it James- you can’t run an engine on cake and cookies”.
13. Vaseline, immodium and nurofen are a marathon runners best friend
14. When you go into a portable toilet, don’t look down
Especially when you’re sharing them with 44,000 other runners, it’s 7am, everyone’s carb loading and drinking coffee. If you want to keep you breakfast down, don’t. Look. DOWN. *retch*
15. Be prepared to miss some great nights out
I’ve missed some fabulous nights out thanks to the wonder of marathon training, but none sucked quite as badly as last Saturday, the night before NYC marathon. Simon and I were a) in NYC b) on a Saturday night c) with limited (i.e. crap) American TV whilst d) The rest of the UK tweeted about XFactor and e) our fellow NYC travelling companions were all out on the town getting drunk and enjoying all that the city had to offer on a Saturday night. Gutted.
16. It’s good to be able to feel a hangover again
Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it always used to worry me when I no longer got hangovers. Thanks to all the training and partial-abstinence from alcohol they’ve returned with a vengeance. Painful, yes, but a welcomed return…? Yeah, kinda. At least my alcohol tolerance has returned to where it should rightfully be. Doubt it will last long tho…
17. It was the best of times, the worst of times
Marathons are: painful, wonderful, intense, awful, amazing, evil, uplifting, inspirational, incredibly emotional … and very, very addictive.
18. Good support is everything
I’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful bunch of supporters made up of various friends and family across the different marathons. It’s difficult to describe exactly what this support means, but when you’re out on the road puffing away, just knowing that certain people have made the effort to make sure they’re in a specific place at a specific time is wonderful… even if – as with London 2009 – you manage to miss everyone en route! Knowing they’re out there mentally supporting you and willing you on is enough to keep you going and only adds to the emotional impact of the day.
19. Pick marathon destinations your friends want to see
LDN or NYC marathon = loads of on-site support
Baltimore marathon = Not so much.
20. Never say never again
Famous marathon runner words as they cross the finishing line; “Never again… until next time.”