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?



Too much, too soon

I enjoyed the 10k on Sunday so much that I thought I’d gotten away with the lack of running I’d done in preparation. I got home, had lunch, went shopping, had a nap, pottered about for a bit and at the end of the day I went to bed with slightly achey legs – totally standard.

My body got me back on Monday.

I woke up with ridiculously stiff and sore quads. Mistake number one: I didn’t stretch OR foam roll when I got home. D’oh. I hobbled to work, but even though I took the train instead of cycling in, there’s a 2-mile downhill walk to the office on that end. And downhills are NOT your friend when you have sore quads.

I must have walked funny to compensate, because by the time I got home on Monday evening my quads AND shins were extremely painful. My quads were tight and aching (clearly overworked them), and my shins felt inflamed. Mistake number two: don’t race off-road when you haven’t run outside for nearly 6 weeks. It’s hard work at the best of times, but 2 gentle treadmill sessions just won’t cut it as ‘training’!

I worked from home yesterday, as I didn’t want to aggravate things with that steep 2-mile downhill walk. I rested, I stretched, and I applied anti-inflammatory gel. By the time I went to bed, I felt achy but better.

This morning, my quads were almost back to normal, but my shins still hurt when walking. Every time I moved my foot upwards (as during a calf stretch) I felt a sharp, shooting pain along my shins. It was worse on the bottom of my left shin, and the top of my right. I slowly made my way to the office, trying to take it easy, but the pain continued throughout the day.

The thing is, I skipped my 4 miler yesterday, and I had an ‘easy 3 miles’ on the plan for today. My brain was like ‘it’s only 3 miles – and an EASY 3! The quickest, easiest workout you’ll have all week!’ And I’ll admit, I took my gym stuff to the office with me with the intention of stopping at the gym on the way home.

I know, the worst thing to do when injured is to run – but I reeeally wanted to. And I figured that if I had my gym stuff with me, I at least had the choice – if I felt better I could go, and if I felt worse I could head straight home for some more RICE action.

Well, I went to the gym. My shins still hurt on the way there, but it was more of a dull throbbing pain. Perfectly manageable ignore-able. I got on the treadmill, and slowly began to jog.

Here’s the shocker – for the entire time that I was running, there was NO PAIN. Absolutely none. My lungs, on the other hand, weren’t happy – the gym was SO hot and stuffy, and I found it really hard to catch my breath. I also made the mistake of leaving my water in the changing room. I figured that I didn’t need water for a little 3 miler – but it turns out that in a hot stuffy gym I could do with some water for anything over a mile! Whoops!

But despite hating every single second, and sweating ten times my body weight, I finished my 3 miles. It wasn’t as easy as it was supposed to be, but it felt great afterwards – and my legs feel ten times better now that I’ve warmed down and stretched properly.

Recovery run was a total win 😀

The long run

038162671acb504460943d7b2f925836I was supposed to run 5 miles this morning. I set my alarm and everything – I was actually looking forward to it. But as with most plans, it wasn’t quite meant to be. I had a pretty restless night, waking up sporadically from 4am .. Which wasn’t really conducive to a 6:30 alarm and 5 mile run! Sigh.

I had considered going this evening, but decided against it. I have a long run on Saturday morning, and given that I’m still getting used to running 3-4 times a week alongside my daily cycle commute (without completely nackering my legs) my recovery time is slightly longer than before. I didn’t really want to push my luck with just 1 recovery day (especially as ‘recovery’ still includes 12 or so miles of cycling) before Saturday.

The schedule says 10 miles for Saturday morning – I’m going to play it safe and set a goal of 8, as I know I can at least manage 10k at the moment. What’s 2 more miles, right? Especially with fuel as awesome as this:

p (1)Apple and cinnamon porridge, courtesy of my Graze breakfast boxes! It comes with raisins, honey and chunks of dried apple, and tastes like scotch pancakes .. Heaven!

I’ve decided that rather than forcing in the mileage, I’m going to take this evening to stretch and foam roll, and give my legs a chance to recover properly before I try my long run on Saturday. It’ll be my longest run in a good few months, and I’m a little nervous .. But at least if I go out early enough, it’ll be deserted! (And cool, as opposed to stiflingly hot!)

As for tomorrow, I have a date after work with Mr Darcy (Colin Firth, obviously), parfait, wine and 3 lovely ladies from my office!