7 Things I Learnt Running A Marathon

7 Things I Learnt Running A Marathon

Since being offered a place in the London Marathon, SL Health & Beauty Editor Tor Cardona has been on an emotional rollercoaster. And after 16 weeks of training, this weekend she completed the iconic event in 4hr 42min. In the final instalment of Running Diaries, here’s what she learnt running her first marathon…

1. Look At How Far You’ve Come

I once read that runners have an uncanny ability of only remembering the bad training runs and not the good ones. In the final week before the marathon I only ran twice for 30 minutes, alongside a 20-minute easy jog two days before. Scaling back my training while increasing my carb intake left me feeling heavy and lethargic, and I was plagued with fear I hadn’t done enough. What about that time I got a stitch two miles into that 11-miler? Or the time I physically couldn’t finish that six-miler on a Friday morning, breaking down the minute I got home into tears that genuinely lasted all day? And not forgetting that 20-miler when I hit the dreaded wall at 17 miles – how on earth was I ever going to be able to do a further six?

But give or take a few disappointing runs, I actually thrived in the overwhelming majority, covering a whopping 400 miles in the run-up to the big day. That’s 62 runs, eight PT sessions and – FYI – 43,500 calories burnt. I’d heard people say it before but the London Marathon is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. That final hour was excruciating but having strangers shout your name, believing in yourself and knowing this is what you’ve trained for is what got me to the finish line.

2. It’s Your Race

Running any marathon is a personal journey. Knowing why you signed up and why you’re doing it is crucial if you want to see it through – knowing I had raised over £4,000 for charity and was finally undertaking the ‘marathon challenge’ was my reason to run. And as tempting as it can be to compare yourself to other marathon runners, try not to – it’s a waste of energy. There will always be someone better than you, faster than you, fitter than you, but your journey is one like no one else’s, so relish in that. I had to keep reminding myself that just 1% of the population will run a marathon in their lifetime – you are enough.

3. Learn From Every Run

I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to run a marathon – I was convinced I’d have to pull out due to injury. Or worse, chicken out. But stick to your plan (ALWAYS have a plan – it helped me mentally and physically; I used the Bupa Intermediate Marathon Plan), have faith in it, and you will get round the course. Have a purpose for every run – whether it’s a recovery run, sprint session or long, weekend jog and use them as an opportunity to practice your race-day tactics, whether it’s what you eat the night before (pasta), immediately before the race (not much), or what you’ll be wearing during (HPE compression leggings and a Sweaty Betty Victory Run Bra, every time).

Learn to listen to your body and don’t be afraid to skip a run if you feel a niggle coming on, and eat if you’re hungry. Marathon training will teach you that your body is a machine, and it really is capable of anything – treat it with respect and it will perform. Smashing Sunday’s race in the blistering heat was worth every minute.

4. You Won’t Necessarily Hit ‘The Wall’

I’ll save you the science lesson, but your body hits the so-called ‘wall’ when it runs out of glycogen, the body’s preferred energy source. That’s why the taper – when you significantly scale back your training three weeks before the race – and carb loading are so important. A 16-week training programme will leave you mentally and physically fatigued and will have used up the store of carbs in your muscles.

I felt jet-lagged, grumpy and short-tempered towards the end, however because I was tapering properly and fuelling my body during the race itself to top-up glycogen stores, I didn't hit the wall. I was paranoid I would because I did during training, but I didn’t on Sunday – eat well the 48 hours before the race (I was told to aim for 10g of carbs for every kg of body weight) and have a gel or Lucozade every 40 minutes. 

5. You’ll Get The Bug

At around the 20-mile mark, when things were getting tough (my quads were beginning to seize up, my feet felt bruised and every step was bringing tears to my eyes), I spotted a fellow runner from my charity; we both said, “Never again”. Fast forward 20 hours and I’ve already forgotten the pain. While I’m in no rush to go for a run for at least a couple of weeks (if only for the sake of my poor toenails – believe what you hear, you will lose one) I’ve definitely got the bug. Marathon training requires serious dedication but if, like me, you’re a type-A personality who obsesses over detail and routine and thrives on competition, the 26.2 mile challenge is one for you. My next goal? I think I’ll hold back on doing a marathon for the time being – but a half marathon is absolutely on the cards.

6. Know The Course

I’d spent weeks analysing the ins and outs of the London Marathon course, if only to get my head around the sheer distance. However, nothing could have prepared me for mile 14, when the race doubles back on itself – you’ll see some seriously professional-looking runners speed past you on their 35th kilometre. The hour it took me to get to that point was tough, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there. Having friends and family at every corner helps too – their support will be overwhelming.

And for the record, both Tower Bridge and the Cutty Sark, supposed highlights of the race, were disappointing – the crowds were lacklustre and no-one cheered my name. While the last four miles are electric, the final sprint down the Mall will be longest 800m of your life. Also, no one tells you, but you’ll actually run further than 26.2miles – I ran 26.7 miles; the chances of you following the most direct racing line are more or less nil when you’re constantly weaving in and out of other runners, so factor that into your pacing strategy too.

7. Timing Isn’t Everything

After weeks of perfecting my marathon pace (6.20 minutes per km, more or less), I thought I had a 4.5hr marathon time down to a tee. However, what I didn’t take into account was that this year would be the hottest London Marathon on record. From the minute I entered my pen in Greenwich at 10am with the sun already blazing down on me, I knew I had to readjust my expectations. My body quickly found a new pace, a little slower at 6.40 minutes per km, but it was a pace I could stick to – I actually managed to keep my pace consistent the entire race, even speeding up in the final two kilometres. I always thought I’d be disappointed if I went over 4.5 hours but trust me, just getting onto that finish line is enough in itself.

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