Marathon training – lessons learnt the hard way

When I signed up for Brighton, I spent hours putting together the perfect training plan. I included hill training, tempo runs, and a steady increase in mileage, with a cut-back week every month. I told myself I would run before work, that I would go to strength classes at the gym and swim twice a week and squeeze in some yoga and stretching sessions for good measure.

As with most things, it didn’t turn out quite the way I had planned. I completely underestimated how easy it was for life to get in the way, and ended up burying my head in the sand and swapping many a mid-week run for a hot chocolate, comfy sofa and a couple hours of 4oD (time well spent, not).

Looking back at the year leading up to Brighton, there are a lot of things I would go back and change if I could. As I can’t, I decided to write them down instead and hopefully learn from my mistakes next time round. Please tell me I’m not the only one that got these things wrong!

1) Entering a marathon 10-12 months in advance doesn’t mean that I can be an absolute slacker and just ‘cross train’ (i.e. ride my bike to work a few times a week) with no running until Christmas, when I then panic and try to jump straight in to training 4-5 times a week. Sure, the 4 months ‘official’ training will get you to the finish line – but it won’t be pretty!

2) Whilst cycling 14 miles a day is great for quads, calves and cardio, it’s not an excuse to skip my weekday runs – and the long Sunday runs will be TOUGH (and get TOUGHER) if I don’t do any other running in between. This means more than one or two 5k lunchtime jogs!

3) I thought I was an evening runner, and last year I was; but the storms we saw this year had me throwing that idea out the window. Despite my best intentions, by the time I got home after cycling through the wind and the rain and the dark, soaking wet and freezing cold, the last thing I felt like doing was changing into my running gear and heading back out. Figures.

4) Unfortunately, I’m not much of a morning runner, either (or an early morning person in general!) But desperate times call for desperate measures, and by leaving my garage key (no access to my bike) and debit card (no money for the train) along with a change of clothes at work the evening before, I managed to force myself to start run commuting the 7 miles to the office once a week (though I didn’t manage it every week!) And it turned out to be way better than cycling, driving or getting the train.


The sunrise can be pretty special!

5) Stretching and foam rolling genuinely make a difference to recovery times and performance! I can’t stress this enough. I noticed a substantial difference between the long runs when I had stretched and foam rolled well the week prior, and the ones when I hadn’t. When I forgot to stretch (i.e. couldn’t be bothered), my legs would ache for days longer, and would feel heavy for a good mile or two during my next run. The real test was directly after the marathon – I had an eye-wateringly painful but brilliantly thorough quad and ITB massage on the Wednesday (I felt bruised for a day or so afterwards, but it was SO worth it), and could instantly walk down stairs again. I even managed a comfortable 10k on the Saturday! But I was told quite sternly that the massage wouldn’t have been half as painful if I’d been stretching and foam rolling regularly. D’oh.

6) I really need to refuel properly after my long runs! There were a couple of times where I did a long run on the Sunday, and then missed breakfast on the Monday morning (see point 4), and I felt AWFUL as a result – almost hung over! I was tired, light headed and sluggish, and often wouldn’t be back to my usual self until late on the Tuesday – assuming I ate well and rested enough. Tough times! In future: snack regularly, and eat proper meals!

7) I think the most important thing that I got wrong was my expectations for the marathon itself. After cutting down my times in 5k and 10k races, and clocking regular sub-10-minute miles (not constantly, but much more than last year), I had high hopes for my marathon time and pace. I assumed I would be able to average 11-minute miles for the whole distance, with time to spare for a few walking breaks, and saunter over the finish line in under 5 hours. But the longer my training runs got, the more I realised that my body simply wasn’t used to such high miles – and as a result, I slowed down towards the end of them, bringing down my average pace. On the day itself, I barely looked at my Garmin once, and decided to just focus on enjoying the experience. After all, I had worked for 2 years to get to the starting line. I had raised money for charity, put in countless solo training miles in all different conditions, studied the course map and practised fuelling and hydration and technique. At the end of the day, I would only ever have one first marathon; I didn’t even know at that point whether I could FINISH, let alone in what time. It was a brand new challenge, and getting to the finish line was all that really mattered. And ultimately, I did it.


I didn’t do it in under 5 hours, and I certainly didn’t average 11 minute miles – but I loved every. single. moment.

What mistakes did you make when training for your first marathon? Anything you would go back and change?


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