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12 things they don’t tell you about running the London Marathon

“Apply,” they said. “No one ever gets in,” they said. They were wrong. 

It was 8th October 2018 and while my friends were Whatsapping smiley faces alongside their rejection emails, I was stood (barely) with a provisional acceptance form in my hands. 

“Your entry into the Virgin Money London Marathon to be held on Sunday 28 April 2019 has been accepted subject to payment of your entry fee.”

I was in. I didn’t want to be in, but I was in. Forty-two (point one) kilometres. Twenty-six miles. A 62,926 step jolly around London. What had I done?

I term myself an unnatural runner. I’m fit and healthy, I go to the gym, and I can whip out a hundred lengths in the pool, no problem. And I’m a runner, of sorts. I belong to a local running club, I show my face at Park Run, and I’d run a few 10ks and one half marathon that I vowed never to repeat. 

But, I don’t find running easy. I’m the beetroot keeling over the finish line, the person that’s never selected for promotional race shots and that huffer and puffer you can hear a mile back. I’m not a marathon runner. 

Like anyone faced with an existential crisis, I ran (walked) straight to Google. “How do I train for a marathon?” “How long should a marathon take?” “What’s the slowest time they let you do a marathon in?” “Can you walk a marathon?” “How to get out of a marathon” And so on. 

And while Google was awash with information, it was all information from seasoned runners. “I did my first marathon in three hours,” “you should train 4 – 5 times a week,” “supplement your existing iso-drinks with carbohydrates.” 

Where was my idiot’s guide to running the London Marathon?

So, during my long (long) training runs, I vowed to write a list of the 12 things they don’t tell you about running the London Marathon. Either because everybody already knows, doesn’t need to know or is too afraid to ask. 

1. You’re not running a marathon, you’re recovering from 23

When you first panic about running the London Marathon, you feel overwhelmed by running 26 miles around London. What you don’t panic about (and you should) is the 583.4 miles you need to run beforehand. 

The amount of time, effort and pain you dedicate to training is humongous. 

But even bigger, is the amount of time you spend recovering from that time, effort and pain. Long training runs are followed by intervals, “recovery” runs, cross-training and everyday life. And it hurts. 

As someone said to me early on, running the marathon isn’t the achievement – getting to it is. 

2. It costs you (a lot)

I must admit feeling slightly smug when I paid the £30-odd entry fee – an absolute bargain price for 42K. In fact, I think I’ve paid that for a 5k before. Little did I know that this purchase was merely training for months of marathon-related spending. 

New trainers x3, tick. A running belt to hold my water, tick. A larger running belt to hold more water, tick. Gels, tick. Gels that didn’t taste as bad, tick. Iso-water, tick. Protein shakes, tick. Muscle rub, tick. Compression tights, tick. Foam roller, tick. Physio, tick. At least the pressure was on to finish the bloody thing. 

3. You put on weight

As if I wasn’t already the most unluckiest lucky person I knew, I also put on weight while training for the marathon. My one consolation prize of “at least you’ll get really fit and healthy” turned out to be null and void. 

I don’t know the science behind it all, and of course it doesn’t happen to everyone, but I sacrificed my speed for distance, my salads for carbs, and healthy desserts for consolation chocolate. 

4. You seriously consider a cotton wool suit

The day before running the marathon is stressful. You collect your race pack from the expo and it all becomes a little bit real. And, while you can’t say you’re particularly joyous about tomorrow’s 42K, you certainly don’t want to have to do any of this training ever again. 

You, therefore, spend the rest of the day trying not die (or get a last-minute injury). You take extra time crossing the roads, you plan your evening carb fest around the pasta-chain least likely to give you food poisoning, and you decide it’s safer to spend the day locked in your hotel room wrapped up in your fluffy white hotel gown. 

5. You become a emotional wreck

To say you get a little overwhelmed throughout the process is an understatement. 

You’re struggling on a training run when, all of a sudden it hits you – you’re not even a third of the distance you’ll be completing on the day. You’re getting an early night, when you realise the big day is tomorrow. And you’re walking to the starting pen, when you understand exactly what’s ahead of you. And let’s not even talk about the finish line. 

6. You queue to pee

I’m a girl, so I’m no stranger to a long toilet queue. But queuing for a tinkle when you’re in the middle of running a world-renowned event is not the one. Luckily, I managed to hold on for a less popular portaloo. 

7. You get close to OD’ing on jelly babies

The crowds along the route are phenomenal. People cheering you on, shouting your name, holding up signs, and handing out jelly babies – who doesn’t love free sweets from strangers?

Me, at mile 13. 

To say you get a bit jelly baby’ed out is an understatement. I think I cried at mile 18 when, rumour had it, someone at mile 20 was handing out ice lollies. Kind stranger: thank you. 

8. Your family and friends help, a lot

I wish I’d told more people to come to London. I’m a girl of little fuss, so when it came to people cheering me on in London, I placed zero pressure or expectations on people. But it was tough seeing everyone else’s girl gangs, families, and squads. 

Luckily, I did have a few superstars who came along and strategically plotted themselves in multiple places (and pubs) along the way. And it helped tremendously – not least because I couldn’t remember which miles they were aiming for and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them see me walking. 

(And of course, there were the people cheering me from home, the family supporting me on training runs and the true superstar who listened to me moan for six months, cycled with me on training runs, and cooked up the ultimate carb fests.)

9. Someone you don’t know will get you through

As mentioned, the crowds are absolutely amazing. Houses, pubs, groups and individuals having full on parties along the route – it helps so damn much.

But still, you’ll have a little wobble somewhere along the route. Not a physical wobble (although plenty did), but a mental wobble of “I’m not sure I can do this.”

And then someone who you’ve never met before, and will never see again, says something that gets you through. Thank you person at mile 22. 

10. You run longer than a marathon

At mile 13 I chuckled to myself that they’d put out the wrong mile marker; my watch was definitely right – my legs could account to that. But that chuckle soon turned to doubt at mile 14, and then at mile 15 it hit me. 

There’s a blue line along the course that marks the “marathon” – if you run along the blue line, you’ll run the full 26.2 miles. Obviously, unless you’re Mo Farah, following the blue line is near-on impossible – there are other runners in the way, you’ve got kids you need to hi-five on the left, and rumour has it there’s another round of ice lollies coming up on the right. This means that you’ll run more than a marathon. 

For me, two kilometres more. That’s nearly half a park run. 

At my ‘watch official’ 26.2 miles, I was done. I’d beaten my goal, my legs were sore and my face was salty. Yet people were still shouting “only two kilometers”. Never have I wanted to flip a V more. 

11. Time doesn’t matter

Being an unnatural runner, I was so worried about my time. My training runs were slow and getting slower, I’d meet marathon veterans who completed the route in my half-way goal time, and I let it get to me. 

I spent the whole of my training and pretty much the whole of the marathon worrying about my time. When I got to the finish line, I realised it didn’t matter. I’d run a marathon. 

12. You might not want to party after

“Drinks after – maybe dinner. In fact, I’ll invite everyone around for a mini party!” 

I wanted to do three things and none of them were those. Bath, sit, sleep. (But thank you to everyone who did come over to celebrate!)

And the biggest thing they don’t tell you about running the London Marathon…

Boy, do those stairs hurt the next day. 

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