I’m a bad runner. No, really, I’m sure a few of you are reading that and rolling your eyes because I go to the gym and I workout – for fun.
But it’s true, I’m noticeably pretty lousy. The ideal runners body shape is long-legged, on the skinny side and relatively square on. I’m double jointed, flat-footed, in no particular way long-legged nor skinny. I lost all my school races, to the point where my mum encouraged me at nine years old, to draw on a white tshirt “not bothered” as I ran my last primary school race. Much to my teachers dismay, I did it.
So with the above experience I assumed that it would be almost scientifically impossible for me to run a half marathon without stopping. I imagined 21km, usually 2 hours and 30 mins would most likely take me 3-4 hours with 10 breaks in between. I largely thought this due to having been tricked by a running machine when attempting my first 5km run about 2 years ago. I stepped on the machine, hit the “5km” button, smugly decided to check the time suggested for said distance, thinking I could quickly gloat at what was soon to be my glorifying feat and was horrified to see it estimated 80 minutes?!!
You know, still to this day when I select 5km it always says that damn 80 minutes for some unknown reason, and before you think you’ve cracked it and I’m running on 5 brain cells – no it’s not because I’ve set the machine to a sloth-like pace. Come on, you owe me more credit than that.
So, how did I train for my half marathon? I didn’t. Not really. I know, I know, posting about how little training I did for it whilst recommending fellow ambitious humans to run one is not wise. But honestly, I don’t think it would have helped me astronomically unless I was aiming to run in a certain amount of time. If that is your goal, then what I heard to be the best marathon-training advice by my mother’s dream-guy, Ben Greenfield is that the best way to train for long-distance running is running at a much smaller distance, between 2-5km at a much faster speed. I assume doing this consistently would help pick up your overall speed throughout the run, giving you the chance to cute your time by a decent amount.
Ben Greenfield as Blue Steel
However, my marathon training looked more like:
1 month before: 6km run home from my internship with a far too heavy and lose back pack at rush hour through the sidewalks of London. I do not recommend this, unless you too want to knock someone’s phone out of their hand, take 20 minutes to perfusely apologise as you leave the scene £50 lighter.
3 weeks before: 17km run on an empty stomach, Nike airs with no support, 5-6 stops. Whilst you should definitely eat something before you tackle a long run, preferably white carbs 2-3 hours before, I do recommend doing at least one of these if you’ve never ran 21km. I realised that my right ankle gets sore about 7km after I start running, my hips caused me the biggest pain, wearing my headphones for over an hour gave me a headache and that marathon’s are not a fitness test but a pain management task. I’ll expand on this later.
2 weeks before: a few 10km runs on the treadmill at 10-11kph. I would often run to my gym as fast as I could sustainably and when I was on the treadmill I similarly trying to focus on speed over distance. These helped my psychology of getting used to running, it helped shift my workout schedule from “I don’t run” to “I do” and helped realise that you don’t have to be a good runner to run a ½ marathon, you just gotta be a runner.
(change of scenery, I’ve now flown to LA to visit one of my oldest and bestest friends, oh and of course to complete my monumental half marathon. Imagine blissful sun, towering palm trees, fresh smoothies and refreshing cocktails, okay you’re with me – now continue).
3 days before: 9am 1 hour run, no water or anywhere to put my phone, also got lost on the way home.
So that was it! That was my “training”. Regardless of how I had prepped I knew undoubtably I was going to show up at 7am on Sunday the 20th of August and run. Especially as one of my best friends was flying in from Vancouver to also run the full marathon which would be happening simultaneously.
He arrived in Los Angeles a few days before our big day, our extravaganza of a moment at “Blitz the Bay” where alongside possibly hundreds of other people embark on our runs with thousands of people cheering us on from the side lines. We were locked in conversation about what pictures we would get and that there might even be a masseuse at the end. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, but my friend assured me that the motivation from the cheering crowds would get me through. He even convinced me to take part in the 5am start with him and that we should arrive an hour and a half before hand as we wouldn’t want to risk missing the race as it could potentially be thousands registering to run.
… wine tasting 2 days before the run. Essential part of training.
Day of the run
I’m an early bird so I easily rolled out of my bed at 3am, ready to hit the road by 3:45am latest. On the way to the run we were blaring music down the highway with the roof down and two coffees sitting pretty in the cup holders. The adrenalin began kicking in as are the nerves, my friend asks me to run the full marathon alongside him, the thought genuinely made me laugh in his face as I reassure him that the thousands of people will be motivation enough. He agrees and we drive on.
After an hour of driving, we pull up to a fire station in a suburban area with a park and what seemed like a lagoon in the distance. It’s about 4:50am by this point so still pretty dark. This can’t be right, but Waze is telling us we’ve arrived? But where is the marathon? Surely if we just drive round a corner we’ll see the roaring crowds and men in glowing vests with clipboards? We both nervously look at each other and start laughing, imagine if this was it. I ask a dog walker passing by if she knows where the marathon is.
“Marathon?? It looked like there were a couple guys in the park going for a run”
Now ladies and gents, I kid you not, this was one of the funniest moments in my life.
We pull up to three elderly men in the park who are casually chatting at 5am in running gear,
“Hi… Is this the marathon?”
“Blitz the Bay?”
From then on out I didn’t stop laughing for a solid hour. My friend was running his first full marathon which is phenomenally challenging on your body and psychi and needed all the support from all the imagined thousands of people he could get.
“How many people are running the full marathon?”
By this point I was pretty much on the floor laughing, there we were, kitted out and ready to go, both in LA partly to run a marathon and yet we were just apart of these guys weekly Sunday run. The joke was completely on us and I wouldn’t have made it any other way.
The marathon’s toilet facilities in the local park… Please notice that there is quite literally no wall.
As it got to 5:30am 10 of us, 7 for the half marathon and 3 for the full, who were all mainly above the age of 60 set out after hearing “Your marks, get set, go”and of course my suppressed uncontrollable giggles. After my friend telling me to be quiet several times or I wouldn’t be able to hear the wild applause of the crowds, we finally got into the swing of it and set off running in laps to complete the run (6 for the full marathon, 3 for the half). Yes I could have quite legitimately stayed put in London and ran around my local park and it would have been the same. But hey hoe.
My experience and advice
- Start slow and maintain your speed. If it’s your first long-distance run, I suggest aiming to just complete 21-42km without stopping. That was my personal goal.
- Listen to a podcast. Music got very boring very quickly and your mind tends to float and think about things. Whereas podcasts you have to pay attention so you’re usually distracted from your thoughts and even better – the pain. I personally love Joe Rogan, click here to check out some of his podcasts.
- First half hour is a psychological game. When I first started, you’ve got a good amount of time in front of you and it’s hard to find your running grove straight away so aim to settle your mind. Don’t overthink it and just keep going.
- Pain management – returning to what I mentioned earlier. Running long distance is really about disciplining your thoughts to not focus on the negatives: potential boredom and the pain. The pain you’ll feel in your hips is like no other pain, it’s a severe ache, as well as potentially in your ankles. To avoid this as much as possible there are a couple things you can buy to help you get through it:
- Stay hydrated – I kept a bottle of my Protein World IBCAA’s by the check point to make sure that I would still be burning fat and helping prevent muscle breakdown.
- Spend time on the right gear – You don’t need to luxe yourself out in hundreds of pounds worth of extras. But I definitely recommend getting insoles moulded to your feet to help support your feet as you run. The right pair of running shoes is also key, I used ON trainers (thanks Mum for donating them). If you chaffe there are cremes for that, or even you’re trying to keep to a budget then Vaseline works. Definitely buy an arm strap to put your phone in and good quality socks. Make sure to cut your toe nails and your shoes 100% fit properly. You do not want to have having feet problems as you run.
After my 3 laps were done, I hobbled to the car and wished my friend good luck as he set off for his remaining 3 until I joined him for his last lap, the final 7km.
Getting back to the hotel that afternoon was maybe the most painful experience I’ve ever had. If you can imagine being hit by a small truck, then you’re on my level. I was feeling nauseous, hot and in total agony. I also had developed pretty bad heat rash by this point (yay me, thank you Irish skin) so I was a little wreck by Sunday night. But by Monday morning the pain had totally subsided and I felt ready for another workout.
There are different reasons for running a half or full marathon, I did it to challenge myself and to just see if I could do it, after all I was meant to be a bad runner, right? But I think there are different ways to run a marathon which I wish I took more into consideration. If definitely recommend those considering it to do it, but with a few key tips to the actual event:
- Book one at least 3 months prior and chose a charity which means a lot to you, giving you time to plan out how you’re going to raise significant funds for them.
- Pick a marathon where more than 10 people will be running and where your family could pitch up with whistles and waving flags, support is what will keep you going smoothly.
- Jump right in there and do a full, I would skip the half marathon. Solely because I found that if you aren’t looking to run under a certain time, then we can all be masters at pain management for 5 hours or so.
Please comment below those who are thinking about going for it! Would love to hear about your experiences,