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Running my First London Marathon

25 Apr

london-marathon

 

Blogging has taken somewhat of a back seat over the past few weeks – just like my social life, wine habit, high heels and ability to talk about anything other than running. That’s because I ran the London marathon on Sunday – and I bloody finished!

It’s been a long 16 weeks in training through the most godawful winter in living memory, but the day of the marathon turned out beautifully bright and warm. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous at all when I woke up at 6am to  set off for Greenwich, even though this was my first marathon. Perhaps that’s because I’d been to the London marathon expo during the week, and noted that while there were loads of super-fit lycra-clad people walking around, there were also many fellow normals schlepping about in their work clothes. I wasn’t alone.

Even the day before the marathon I was fairly calm. In fact my overwhelming feeling was that I was absolutely stuffed – a week of carbs and water left me never wanting to touch a piece of bread again (gladly, that’s passed!) Reluctantly I shoveled down an entire Waitrose pizza – this would normally be a dream come true – and glugged my umpteenth glass of squash before waddling off to bed.

In the morning, I ate a bowl of porridge and put on my snazzy British Dyslexia Association vest, filled all my pockets with carb gels and set off on the tube for Greenwich. It was great to see lots of other runners on their way too – for once the tube code of conduct was broken and we actually chatted to each other anticipating the day ahead.

I arrived at the race start area about an hour and a half before the actual marathon began, which gave me time to put my bag on the luggage truck, reply to my good luck texts, eat two bananas, go to the loo FOUR times and stretch out my legs in preparation. Then it was off to the starting zones (I was right at the back in zone 9, along with all the clowns and rhinos!) to get ourselves ready to run.

The starting zones were buzzing with excited chatter and nervous energy – some people there were seasoned marathon runners, others, such as me, had no idea what to expect. Having gone up to 21 miles in training, and absolutely hated it, I was planning to take the marathon slow and steady, aiming for a pace somewhere between 9.15 and 9.30 minute miles.

A 30 second silence in memory of the Boston bombing victims brought a sudden sense of calm and peace to the proceedings, and was followed by a huge cheer before the race got underway. Inevitably, starting right at the back meant a fair amount of dawdling before I actually crossed the start line – but 20 minutes after the gun went off, I got there and my first ever marathon began.

It’s a good thing I was planning to go slow at the start because frankly you didn’t get a choice – just the sheer volume of runners meant I was often stuck behind other people. However, the benefit of not going too fast was that I was able to really get a look around – at Greenwich looking rather gorgeous in the sun, all the people who had come out of their houses to cheer, the little old ladies waving from their windows and some of the amazing costumes around me (full kudos to the guys who did it trapped inside sweaty Mr Men outfits!)

The first 20 miles were lovely, sunny and easy. Going round the resplendent Cutty Sark, as I’d watched so many marathon runners do on TV in the years before, was great, and crossing Tower Bridge with huge crowds cheering either side was one of those moments I’ll remember forever. I loved pounding the streets between the imposing skyscrapers of Canary Wharf at mile 18, and was given an extra boost when I spotted my friends there screaming their heads off and waving banners.

By mile 19, I was happily pondering on the fact I might never hit ‘the wall’ and then, at mile 20, it came. Suddenly every step was both a mental and physical effort, and every mile seemed to stretch on into eternity. From here on in, it was focusing on tiny things that kept me going – one person shouting my name, thinking of the feeling I’d get when I crossed the finish line, the refreshment of just a tiny sip of water and thinking motivational thoughts such as “if bloody Amy Childs can do this, then so can I.”

By the last mile, I was sweating, grimacing and literally grunting (much to the bewilderment of the poor guy running next to me), but the sight of Big Ben and then the approach to Buckingham Palace meant I knew the end was in sight. Turning the corner onto the Mall and seeing the finish line just metres away has to be one of the most beautiful sights of my life, and I even managed to put in a sprint finish, taking me over in 4 hours 13 minutes – by no means amazing, but not bad for a first timer.

As soon as I’d crossed the line, I could barely walk, and even went to the wrong van to collect my bag because my brain couldn’t handle the numbers! But I’d done it, and after meeting friends and family I went home and celebrated just how any classy girl would – by eating sausage batter and chips and watching 4 hours of The O.C. on the sofa.

Marathon training – should your last long run hurt so much?

31 Mar

Jelly-babies-001

On Friday I completed my life’s most momentous achievement to date and ran 21 miles. 21 FREAKIN MILES. I discovered the following things:

– Jelly babies before run = good. Trying to eat a jelly baby while running = vom inducing.

– The best way to hydrate without needing a wee? Drink loads the day before, then keep it minimal the morning of the run. You will probs have to get up and pee during the night but that’s better than stopping during the race. Or pissing yourself.

– Putney’s got lots of rowing clubs with fit men carrying boats.

– Hammersmith Bridge is easily missed (if you’re waiting for a bridge with a big sign saying ‘Hammersmith Bridge’ on it).

– The first few miles of a super long run feel hella easy.  Don’t speed up though because…

– Suddenly it gets hard. Very hard. Especially when you realise that despite you’re uber-pain, you still have miles to go. This is the bit I’m slightly worried about – summoning the mental strength to keep going, even when I just had to get to 21 miles, was really really really tough. How the f*ck am I gonna do 26?

– Taking a running partner helps, A LOT. Except when their leg seizes up and they have to drop out 5 miles from the end.

– After running that far, don’t even think about making plans for the afternoon. Go home. Stretch. Bathe your weary body. Eat pizza. Nap. Eat more pizza. Sleep.

– The next day everything hurts. Now for some reason I didn’t expect this. I ran 18 miles quite merrily, then scooted off out to a party in the evening. Not on an actual scooter obvs. Anyway after 21 miles, not only was I practically disabled for the rest of the day, but the next day was a world of pain. Is that normal? How much more immobile will I be post marathon? How do I break through “the wall”? All advice much appreciated…

Fitting Marathon Training Into Your Life

29 Jan

exhaustion

I have been really, really rubbish at blogging these past two months, which is probably a result of too much work, excessive boozing, marathon training and being too knackered post-running to do anything other than watch back-to-back episodes of Come Dine With Me on More 4.

This leads me onto the topic of this post which is – how do you fit it all in? The marathon training that is, not the five episodes of Come Dine With Me.

I knew when I first took up the challenge of training that fitting in four medium length sessions of running a week (40-70 mins) plus one long run at weekends, was going to be tough. Added to that the fact that you’re meant to spend your ‘rest days’ doing strengthening exercises (weights, swimming, pilates etc improve the muscles that support your running), and actually getting everything done without a time machine becomes a task in itself.

I’ve found the best thing to do is just to be really flexible. Can’t fit a run in after work because you’re meeting a friend for dinner? Get up an hour early and go before work (ahh the joys of running in the dark at 7am!), or start making your evening plans a bit later so you can run in between (friends soon get used to you turning up slightly stressed and sweaty). Can’t do a long Sunday run because you just know you’ll be hungover? Make sure you keep Saturday morning free and go then instead.

It all sounds really simple, and it is! In fact the hard bit is keeping yourself going when you feel like you’re constantly dashing between work, social events, workouts and all those other vaguely important things like sleeping and eating.

One thing I have found helpful is following Virgin London Marathon’s Facebook page, which is always full of useful advice, motivational posts and reminders that you are certainly not alone in the hardcore training process.

Twitter is another good place to get inspired – whether it’s looking at what fellow runners are up to on the #londonmarathon and #vlm hashtags, or following personal trainers, running coaches or health and fitness magazines for their wise words and ideas.

Overall though I think the best thing you can do sometimes is not really think about it – just get outside and get on with it!

 

Marathon Training – Running in the Snow

21 Jan

A_snowy_pavementDear runners – do you look at the pavement above and think ‘Oh wow, exciting challenge’ or ‘Oh my god, I’m going to break my leg’? I definitely fall into the latter category, although a quick bit of googling suggests there are plenty of mentals out there who love nothing more than skidding around in the snow in their running shoes.

However, when I set out for my 9 mile marathon training session on Sunday morning I unwittingly found myself running in scenes similar to the above, as the heavens opened about 10 mins in and started to dump  a load of snow on me.

Through this enforced snow running session, I’ve learned a couple of tips for running in the snow:

Go slowly! – This sounds really obvious, but I did see plenty of joggers bombing about without taking necessary care to look in front of them. Slowing right down was actually good because it allowed me to discover how much better my endurance is at a lesser pace (useful insight for the marathon). It also gave me time to look at the ground in front of me and watch out for slippy patches.

Small steps – Slamming your foot down in a big stride and finding it doesn’t land quite right is a lot more disastrous than if you’re doing small, controlled steps. If even you do look a bit lol doing baby steps.

Take care at corners – Imagine your body is a car, you need to slow that bad boy down when it comes to corners, downhill sections or speed bumps (i.e. curbs!)

Wrap up warm – I for one HATE being too hot when I’m running, so always opt for less clothing rather than more when training. However, I really missed not having a scarf when I was running on Sunday, and was very pleased for my gloves. Though your core might get hot, vulnerable areas such as these should be protected in extremely cold temperatures.

Know when to stop – I had my Oyster card with me when I went running just in case it got too slippy as you should always know when the risk of injury outweighs the benefits of training. Also remember that running on snow takes up more energy so even if you don’t get the time or distance you were aiming for, you’ll still have done a lot of work!

 

 

Marathon Training: Dealing with Iliotibial Band Syndrome

2 Jan

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

I’m aware that the title of this blog post doesn’t sound very interesting but for some people it will be all too relevant, as I discovered while I was training for the Reading Half Marathon last year.

Yesterday I was chatting to a girl who did the London Marathon in 2012, who told me she’s been unable to run more than 6k since completing it because she’d injured her Iliotibial Band (ITB) at mile 20.

Now that scared me a lot because I too have been a victim of the ITB Syndrome and DAMN it hurts. It’s like a sharp pain on the outer side of the knee – I somehow managed to get it in both knees at once – and you feel it every time you bend your leg.

My ITB Syndrome struck me down in January last year, and was so bad I had to miss the Reading Half in March. In fact, not only was running out of the question, but also walking, swimming, cycling, cross training and most particularly, walking up and down stairs. It was INCREDIBLY annoying!

To give you a very non-scientific explanation, ITB Syndrome is caused when the band which runs between your hip and knee gets too tight and pulls things out of alignment, causing the sudden stabbing pain.

In my experience, the absolute best way to heal ITB Syndrome is to go to a physio and get a really good sports massage – finding the tight, knotted bits in your thighs and having them unknotted (yes, it hurts, but it works). In fact, when my physio suddenly found the particular spot in my upper leg where all the tension lay, it was like a sudden miracle cure for the three months of knee pain I’d been enduring (that was despite many hopelessly useless trips to my GP – they are so rubbish for sports injuries!)

This time, I want to catch the problem before it even starts, as I have less than 4 months until the London Marathon and can’t afford a load of time off. My top tips for avoiding ITB Syndrome are:

Don’t ignore the pain. When my knee first started hurting on a long run, I didn’t really think it was a big deal and happily skipped out for another 5k the next day. Halfway through the 5k the pain was pretty severe, but since I only had a short way left to go I thought it would be ok just to push on home. Was that last 2k what put me out of running for the next 3 months? Quite possibly, and it’s just not worth it. Don’t ignore pain.

Build up gradually. Another reason I got myself into trouble was by thinking that after three weeks off training over Christmas, I could just go out and run exactly the same distances I had been before without any system of easing myself back into it. Increase your mileage very gradually and, if you have more than a week off, make sure you do an easy run before tackling a long’un.

Foam rollers. Or instruments of torture as you will come to know them if you have ITB Syndrome. You can buy a foam roller from a sports shop or use them at your local gym. They are literally big rolls and foam that you put on the floor, then roll the outer side of your thigh up and down them to massage the ITB. Be warned – at first you will be gurning and grimacing all over the place when you do this, so make sure you’re not in front of any of the gym hotties.

Increase your strength. Building up your leg muscles and core stability will help a lot in avoiding injury because it makes you more of a balanced runner (i.e. not Phoebe off friends-style running, with legs flailing everywhere). Go to the gym and do some leg exercises, and take a Pilates class which is great for toning up your core. Also, it’s a nice change from running.

Get a massage. I’m planning a monthly sports massage as part of my marathon training. Admittedly it’s expensive (around £50 an hour in London), but if it means you can nip any problems and niggles in the bud, then it is definitely worth it. Find a well-qualified sports masseuse who really knows what they’re doing – mine also does physio for the London Irish rugby team who are apparently all absolute wimps when it comes to a good hard massage!

Stretch, stretch, stretch. I know this is really boring advice but it definitely does make a difference – I find doing my stretches in front of the TV makes it a bit less tedious although I hate to think what the boys in the flat opposite can see…Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds and repeat if any area feels particularly tight.

So those are my tips – whether they work for me remains to be seen!

 

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