So, this weekend is the big one, the London Marathon. We asked for the top tips from the pacers to the sports photographers to help you to have your best marathon ever…
The Race Marker
Ever wondered why you can run the same race as a friend but they have run a shorter distance? It could all be due to the magic line. At the Virgin London Marathon, you will notice a line marked on the road which shows the exact 26.2 mile distance. Stick to this for the most direct route. But be aware, a lot of runners try to do the same so it can make for a busy line!
Portable loo provider
No matter how many times you go to the toilet before a race, you always feel you need to go again just before the race when there’s a big line. The trip to skipping the queue? Get running.
‘If you are uncertain whether you really need to go, wait,’ advises Abi Sweetman, www.loosfordos.com, who supplies portable toilets for events including the Virgin London Marathon. ‘Most big races have toilets on the course, there won’t be a queue and they’ll be cleaner.’ Study the route map for toilet locations and making a mental note before the race. ‘They are often just before or after a water station, so it’s a natural place to slow or stop anyway.’
‘If you want to follow a pacer, begin at the start line,’ explains ultra-marathoner, Susie Chan, www.susie-chan.com who has paced at the Virgin London Marathon three times. ‘If you join a group later, their pace will be different as they may have started before or after you.’ Be particularly wary in London, which has multiple starts and different pacers for each start which will be denoted by a flag of the same colour as the colour of your start area.
It’s every runner’s biggest worry, getting injured on race day. The best way to overcome this is to see a physiotherapist before the race if you have a niggle so that you can prepare and make an informed decision about what you’re going to if it flares up. ‘If you have ITBS, a common runner’s knee injury or instance, running will hurt but it won’t damage your knee and so you can decide if you want to push through it on race day,’ says Dawn Buoys, founder of www.bodyrehabstudios.com. ‘If it’s something more complex, make a plan in your head before the race about where you’re going to stop enroute if it flares up. This will help you feel less anxious and enable you to focus on enjoying the race.’
The Race photographer
‘Marathon photographers use telephoto lenses so you need to be ten metres away and in direct eye line contact to give them the chance of getting the best shot,’ explains Bob James, www.bobjames.com official commercial photographer for the Virgin London Marathon.
If your friends are on the route, arrange a hand signal.
‘If you arrange a sign that you’re going to make at a certain landmark, friends or family can look out for this and be ready to get you for a perfect personal race day photo as you pass.’
The Race Finish Organiser
When all your focus is on getting to the start line and running 26.2 miles, organising the end is often neglected.
‘Finishing a marathon can be a disorientating experience,’ explains Andrew Smith, who has worked as the Finish Director at the London Marathon for the last 14 years. ‘I always recommend you print out where you have arranged to meet friends and family and put it in your race bag because it’s easy to get confused or forget when you’re tired.’
As for the London marathon itself, the finish funnel is half a mile long and ‘At London we have meeting areas signposted with letters of the alphabet for your surname, but if you walk to XYZ, it will be less busy.’
(this is an abbreviated version of an article that GRTW founder, Rachael Woolston wrote for Women’s Running magazine. click here for the full article)
We’re now just a few days away from the start of the marathon weekend extravaganza that is Paris, Manchester, Brighton, ending in London. You’ve done the physical stuff, now it’s time to ensure you’ve nailed your mental game..
Some of what you’re going to read now is going to see so obvious, you’ll be thinking, ‘Jeez, I’m not THAT clueless.’ But really, it’s amazing the impact that pre-race marathon anxiety can have on your mind so do everything you can NOW to nail your mental game.
So, you’ve probably been training using your race pace for certain parts of your training for between 12-20 weeks by now. But write it down anyway, and keep repeating it.
What to do: Perhaps even write it down on the back of your hand on race day. Seriously, I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve stood on the start line and had a panic about what my race pace is because I suddenly can’t remember it.
Prepare for the marathon mile crunch points
I’ve run about ten marathons and every event I’ve had crunch points at the same mile markers. These are where a chink appears in your mental resolve, which can quickly turn into an ever widening fault line if you don’t have mental strategies in place. Personally, my crunch points are mile 15 (‘Oh jesus, I’ve got to run nine more miles at this pace?‘), mile 18, (seconds after you think, ‘Wow, I’m flying,’ you realise the remaining miles are going to feel like a 10km race and there’s no flying feeling going on with that) and mile 24, when you’re SO close but suddenly calculate those miles into pace and how much time that means is left on your feet (personally, two miles seems less to me than calculating time).
What to do: Everyone has their own mantras and strategies for getting through the battlefield that goes on in your brain when you’re running. If you don’t, write them down now, whether it’s a memory of a training run that you didn’t think you were going to get through, a reason for why you’re running or even organising someone to be at what you think will be your crunch points to help get you through. Mine is very boring, I just count backwards from 100 to filter out the voice telling me to stop.
Beware the wormhole
You can get so deeply introspective when running a marathon, it’s easy for one negative thought to send you down a wormhole until you feel like you’re legs are like lead and you’ve convinced yourself that you’re crap and you won’t ever finish.
What to do: Break the pattern, look outward and talk to someone else. In fact, if you pass someone who looks like they’re struggling, encourage them. It can take your mind completely off your own struggles and you’ll probably be fine within a few minutes.
The positive panel
So many women do this; they think of all the miles or the training sessions they didn’t do, or the runs that went badly and have all this shored up when they stand on that start line. Bin this. You all rock, you’re on the start line!
What to do: Write down all those training runs where you felt fantastic, where things went to plan, the tuning races that you did to get where you are, the friends you’ve made along your training journey. Have this front and foremost when you hit that start line.
What mental strategies do you use when running a marathon. We’d love for you to share them so do comment below and help others.
A recent article in The Times by Peta Bee highlighted the rise of online virtual training apps like Strava.
Love it or loathe it (and she was on the fence due to being confronted when meeting her virtual followers in real life – read the article here), being on Strava creates some funny behaviour. Do you recognise yourself in any of these…? I certainly do, I’m embarrassed to say…
The one where you spell out every bit of your training regime
No, not come across this? Or perhaps you don’t even know what it means and you think it is some kind of secret morse code. It will read something like; WU, 2m@HMP, 2m@MP x 3, WD. And that’s just a simplified version.
I’ve done it, others have done it. Why? It helps you to keep track of your training diary so that when you scroll back through your activities, you can see what pace you were hitting and what training you did. But it could equally be seen as showing off about your running know-how.
Which is silly because let’s face it, none of us on Strava are Paula Radcliffe…erm, although I do hear that Jo Pavey is on Strava.
Run with RP
The secret runner…this is the one where someone keeps their running companion a secret. Is it because someone couldn’t make the effort to write out their companion’s full name (although why bother to write at all?) or that they want to keep their running partner secret?
Perhaps they’re having an affair, or they want their other running friends to know about someone new they’re running with? Maybe it’s a new boyfriend? Or maybe it’s totally innocent and we should all have something better to do than wondering who it is?
Easy run with the kids
The one where you want to make sure your followers don’t think you’ve run really slowly, more slower than you’ve ver done before. Fair enough if you really have run with the kids. Not so cool if you actually ran by yourself and you just wanted to go on a slower run but couldn’t bear not posting it because you’d miss out on your Strava monthly miles target.
Felt awful, feeling sick, last mile my leg hurt. Then my head fell off. And I lost my running shoe.
The traumatised runner…this is the one where a runner explains in minute detail every feeling and niggle that occurred on a training run. Usually written just after a long training run when someone is still so internally focused, they don’t quite realise how much they’ve just shared via Strava because they’re still reeling – and glycogen deprived – from the run.
Sun run, feeling fine. OR, Running off the work headache. Stress. Feel like I could punch someone.
The confessional runner where someone inadvertently (or perhaps not?) shares a little too much information about what’s going in their life in general.
Despite all of this, we are BIG fans of Strava at Girls Run the World as a training app. It helps you to set challenges, connect with others, keeps track of your training and even gives you ideas about how to train by following other people.
Our community is small, around 3000 around the UK with a few outpost in the US and Australia but we’re growing all the time. By joining our club on Strava, we’re creating a network of GRTW runners which means that maybe next time you’re travelling to New York, Sydney or Mumbai, there might be another GRTW local runner who could show you her city.
Join Girls Run the World on Strava here. And if you’re worried about privacy settings, here’s a little video about how you can create privacy zones. Click here
Hurrah, it seems like the first weekend in ages that we’ve all had a respite from cold winds, snow, ice and frost which has probably made for a great Sunday training run for those on their final long marathon runs or who are tapering. And then there were the races on this weekend.
As for myself, I was out on riding following last week’s snowy Moyleman Half Marathon Relay which has left my calf muscle a little tight, so I headed out on the bike instead (plus, I’ve got two half Ironman races coming up soon!). I usually ride with other people on long Sunday training rides but with my niece and sister staying, I had to do that thing that most mums have to do every weekend, juggle childcare and training. Which meant that I had to get out EARLY to get it done and get back to be a good host. Which meant a 6am wake up call….effectively 5am since the clocks went forward.
Riding 40 miles solo reminded me once again how useful training alone can be. It is unappealing when you’re about to head out but it’s really useful as a runner, triathlete or cyclist. While training with others can help to ensure we run faster and improves your speed endurance, doing long training runs on our own occasionally is the perfect mental training.
On my ride today, there was no one to lean on when feeling tired, no one to say, ‘Oh shall we just stop for a quick coffee/photograph/tyre change/gels stop,’ and that mental endurance is as important as your body’s endurance.
So if you’ve done some solo runs this season and they’ve felt awful, don’t be down on them, they’ve probably done more for your mental training than you expect. As you begin to taper for your marathon over the next three weeks, start thinking about these strategies, which technique or strategy are you going to use on your marathon?
Look back over your training diary/Instagram posts/training memory, and write down all the amazing or positive things that you’ve achieved in your training since you began back in November or December. These are your golden fuel bullets to power your mind and body on race day, but you need to have them in your mind so that you can remember them.
It may sound cheesy/over the top to write things down but tiredness from running in marathons plays funny tricks on your brain, and makes it hard to remember. I once tried to calculate my pace per mile on to my total running time for every mile I passed at the London marathon. I lasted about five miles before my brain couldn’t do the calculations anymore. Doh!
Anyway, we’d love to hear how your running went. Where you trained, where you raced…even where and how you recovered?!
For many of us with our sights set on a Spring marathon, we’re already twenty weeks away from our goal race but how do you find the right training plan for YOU?
Generic plans off the internet and magazines
There are thousands of them all over the internet, printed in magazines, handed out my charities that you may be raising money for but, which one is good? All training plans are generic and we hazard a guess that 85% of them will have been written by men, who don’t have to juggle multiple responsibilities such as work, family, kids and everything else. Regardless of gender, few take into account running history, how many miles you are currently running NOW (i..e your running base), your lifestyle, or work/life commitments. Recognise this FIRST so that you can acknowledge in advance that it will feel like a clunky fit. It is.
If you go down this route here’s what we recommend
Choose one that includes at least four runs per week and starts NO LESS than 16 weeks away from your race goal. Only if you’re very fit, and regularly run marathons should you look at a 12 week plan.
Write out your plan – and add your own sessions print out your plan, or re-write it and plan in other sessions that are ESSENTIAL to help you avoid injury during your marathon training. This should include yoga/foam rolling/basic strength and continuing and sports massage at least every three weeks. Whoever said running is cheap had never run a marathon!
There are numerous training apps on the market, including Runner’s World’s MyRunPlan, and Training Peaks where you can pay for a plan, which again is generic, but it loads to a calendar as an app on your phone. It’s easy to log in, see what the run is, do it, and mark it off as done. The calendar will reward you by turning green once you’ve completed. Fail to do the session and you get a red square. Training Peak plans are good because you can see clearly what you’ve got to do but suffers the same problems of any of the generic plans that you get anywhere else – except you’ve paid for it.
Personalised training plans
Many running coaches, ourselves included, will write training plans specifically for you. We tend to send you an in-depth questionnaire, followed by a chat on the phone and then we deliver a training plan, specific to your goals, your current fitness, life-work balance. The advantage is that it’s exactly for you. The cons are that if you get injured, fall ill, etc, the plan does not change to accommodate this in the same way as anything generic doesn’t. However, with it being written specifically for you in the first place, the likelihood of injury occurring due to a plan that does not reflect your specific running history is minimal.
Mentoring & Coaching
If you can afford it, and you want to run a marathon and enjoy it, race mentoring is the gold service for any runner. It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in achieving a certain goal time or simply want to achieve a sense of satisfaction with each training session you do, not just the final ‘race’ goal. We charge £100 per month (some companies charge more, some less) but it means you have a personalised plan that can adapt and change week by week, according to how your training is going or the unforeseeable life events that can derail your training for a week or so, leaving you unsure how to proceed.
Plus, wherever you live in the world, your training is tracked via Strava or Garmin so we know what you’re doing – or not doing. It helps to hold you accountable and to help you feel like you’re achieving something with each session, because this method if training is so closely matched to helping to challenge and progress you as an individual; if you’ve ever struggled with a generic plan, you’ll appreciate how frustrating or disappointing it can be when you’re following something too easy or too hard. Where we differ with our plans is that we have a holistic approach, recognising the many elements must be balanced when you’re a woman training for a marathon juggling multiple tasks.
THE most important thing, no matter which option you choose is to start thinking about it from about 20-24 weeks away from your marathon goal. And follow a 16 week plan as an absolute minimum.
You can read more about our marathon mentoring service here. Read about one woman’s experience of mentoring here.
If you are considering entering an ultra, or even contemplating your first marathon, these tips from the GRTW ultra coach, Sarah Sawyer are well worth heeding…
Be a Tortoise not a Hare
There’s a reason why you’ll often see female runners perform better than men at ultras, and that’s because we pace ourselves like tortoises and not hares. My 100 mile PB is faster than some of my male friends who are sub 3 hour marathon runners, and that’s all down to pacing. I tell coaching clients that they should get to the halfway point of a 100 mile race feeling like their race hasn’t even started; do this and in the second half, you’ll tortoise picking off all those hares who have gone off too fast.
Learn how to walk
Don’t be afraid to take walking breaks in ultras; even the elites walk at times. On a hilly course, you’ll get natural walking breaks on steep up hills; on a flat course, I always take a short walking break every 30 or 60 minutes which uses different leg muscles and refreshes my running legs. However, when I say walk, I mean ‘power hike’ and not a Saturday afternoon amble round the shops! (anyone who has taken Sunday runs with us will be familiar with our ‘Be in control of that walk – stride it don’t slump it).
Eat little and often
After pacing, the second biggest mistake I see people make in ultra marathons is not getting their nutrition right. My rule of thumb is to start eating after 30 minutes and eat little and often from there onwards. People often make the mistake of waiting until they’re hungry before they start eating, but this means they’re going to be in a calorie deficit and will be trying to play catch-up all day. I aim for a minimum of 200 calories per hour and I get this from a combination of Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy drinks, Longhaul food pouches, GU Stroopwafels and 32GI Sports Chews. However, one size doesn’t fit all, so test out different things in training and find what works for you. And whatever you do, don’t try anything new on race day…..I’ve done that and it wasn’t pretty!
Deal with problems straight away
Things might go wrong in ultras. You can train and prepare, but there may be things that are outside your control on race day, such as adverse weather conditions, stomach issues, blisters and more. In an ultra marathon, everything is exemplified. So however much the temptation is to wait until the next aid station, where you can, deal with things straight away.
I ran the CCC (100k mountain race in the Alps) this summer and as I was climbing up to the highest point, the weather turned and I was subject to strong winds, freezing rain and snow. I wanted to keep moving and the last thing I wanted to do was stop and get my warm top, waterproof jacket and gloves out of my rucksack on the side of a freezing cold mountain, but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be cold, wet and potentially hypothermic by the next aid station.
Ultras are like life
Sometimes everything ticks along perfectly, and other times, curveballs get thrown at us. As in life, the most successful ultra runners are those who deal the best with what ultras throw at them when things go wrong. I’ve had races which have gone like a dream and I’ve finished on the podium, and I’ve had races which have fallen apart and I’ve had to slog out a finish. In the latter, the easiest option would have been to quit. However, sometimes the races which go wrong and we have to slog it out to the finish are the ones we learn the most from, and the ones we end up ultimately the most proud of.
Marathons are a fantastic way to explore a city and culture and Berlin is one of the best, giving you the opportunity to run through it’s history as you run between east and west as Irene Maulenda reports…
Waking up on the morning of the marathon in Berlin, I was both excited and terrified. It was my first ever marathon, one that I’d wanted to do for years and I’d finally got in on my fourth ballot attempt with some of the other girls from Girls Run the World.
We’d travelled out and were staying separately in different areas which meant we all made our own way to the race start line, although i was with my parents who’d flown from my home in Spain to watch. But even after saying goodbye to them and going off to my starting pen on my own, I didn’t feel like I was alone. It was like being part of a big party from start from finish.
I’d arrived at the race at 9am for my race start at 10am (editor’s note: the race starts at 9.15am but is a staggered start with those with proven fast finish times going off first), had handed my bag in and spent the usual amount of time queuing for the toilet. With approximately, 43,500 runners, Berlin has a busy start area so it’s good to give yourself plenty of time – an hour is enough – to sort yourself out and walk to your start area.
Everybody in my starting pen wore the same excited look that must have been on my face too, and the atmosphere was electric. To keep myself calm while I was waiting to race , I read a few texts from my friends and thought of other runners who inspired me, such as my fellow runners in Girls Run the World, who were at that moment also taking on their own challenge doing the Ragnar Relay, a 170 mile run over the Kent Coast and my best friend who’d been the first person to inspire me to start running time seven years ago.
I didn’t have to wait long though before we were off, running down the streets of Berlin in a group like a huge street party.
I’d decided to ignore my intended race pace and to run to enjoy the experience, rather than trying to stick to a pace which would have been impossible to do in such a crowded group. It meant that I was able to chat to other runners, including Jaime and Javier, both Spanish, who told me that they were running their third marathon. I told them it was my first. “You’re going to experience things you’ve never felt before,’ they said. ‘But you will love this day.”
I lost them at the next water station, where I managed to perfect my technique of drinking while still running. Without an official pacer to follow, I spied a tall guy who was running a similar speed and decided to follow him to keep myself motivated. That said, the atmosphere was so amazing I felt buoyed up simply running along with so many others from around the world.
I was running for MacMillan Cancer and when I passed another runner who was also running for them, I said hello. Her name was Danielle, and she told me she’d also done London and LA and that I’d love London if I ever got the chance to run it. I wished her luck and set off after my unofficial ‘pacer’, through the 10km mark, where I high fived all the kids holding their hands out on the side of the route.
My German is rusty but I managed to say a few things “ganz toll” (great), genau (genius) and fantastisch (fantastic) to other runners, which helped to keep me distracted up to the half marathon point where I met a couple from Bilbao in Spain. “This is the second time I’ve run in Berlin and it won’t be the last, I love this race!’
Leaving them behind, I started to notice other runners were beginning to slow down and cramp, but I focused on sipping water at every station and taking on a gel every five miles. That and the iconic scenery kept me occupied as it started to feel harder. The route wound past the iconic Rathaus Schöneberg, the city hall for the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg which had served as the seat of the government of West Berlin till 1990. It’s where President J. F. Kennedy had proclaimed his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and where so many people had gathered when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The sense of running through history as I ran through just gave me goosebumps.
As I approached the 20 mile mark, I began to feel a bit anxious as I’d only ever ran this far once before when I’d bonked. Training for Berlin, my biggest fear was that I’d hit the wall but suddenly, I was past the point and reaching 21 miles feeling tired but good. Having my printed on my bib so that people could shout my name really helped encourage me and kept me going. And when I saw someone else struggling, I’d call out their name and say, ‘come on mate, you can do it.’ I don’t know whether it helped or annoyed people but it helped take my mind off the discomfort!
By the time I started my last 10k, I had my parents to look forward to seeing who’d arranged to wait at the next water station. AS I turned the corner into K’damm, music blared out and I could see my dad’s red raincoat (Editor’s note: get your supporters to wear something bright, or hold a colourful sign on a tall stick so you can spot them) and started waving like a mad woman.
I managed to blow them a kiss and as I ran past I began to feel even stronger. ‘Was I crazy if tried to run a bit faster?’ I thought. I checked my running form, mentally scanned my body for anything that hurt, and I decided I felt good and I was going to go for it.
I have never loved running more than that moment. People were shouting my name, and I couldn’t stop waving and smiling, it felt so AMAZING. By now, I was passing people and when I ran past the last aid station at the 40 km point I felt like I was flying. Finally, I could see Brandenburg Gate in front of me, and started to sprint. It nearly finished me off when I then realised that the finish line was a further 400 metres but I found the strength and pushed through to cross the finish line in 4.18.21.
When the race volunteer hung my medal around my neck, I was so overwhelmed I burst into tears and was still crying in the race picture. Heading out to meet my parents, I spotted the unofficial race pacer I’d followed for most of the race standing with his family. “Thanks so much for your help, I’ve been following you most of the race, you kept me going.” It turned out that it had been his first marathon too.
Berlin is renowned as being an iconic race and all I can say is that it lived up to and surpassed expectations. As a trail runner, I’d been worried about whether I’d enjoy a road marathon but the Berlin marathon is fantastic, for the scenery, its history and the support and sense of camaraderie amongst the other runners.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Here’s where we break down the race and give you our nuts and bolts assessment…
Amazing atmosphere and organisation
The expo was fantastic, packed full of fantastic new products like a foam roller with three vibration modes that is already in my Christmas list!, definitely worth going
A fast, flat course
Although each pen apparently has official pacers, it’s so busy in the pens at the back, I never saw any. If your aim is to get a good time, then having an official pacer to follow would be good.
It may be a flat course but it is difficult to get a personal best if you don’t start near the front because it’s so busy; in places the roads are not wide enough for the crowds and runners, and the water stations are a nightmare with cups all over the road.
No race finisher’s t-shirt.
How to get into the Berlin Marathon
The Berlin Marathon is very difficult to get into on the ballot which is why so many people enter via running travel companies like 209events.com. The other ways to do it are as a fast runner which affords you automatic entry, or enter the ballot as a team. It doesn’t mean that you have to run together, but it means that you ALL get in together if accepted. We don’t know whether it improves your chances but Irene had tried three times separately without success. It was fourth time lucky for her and first time success for all of those she entered with who were all women. Worth a try!