#grtwproject26.2 ‘I said never again but….’

With just two weeks to go before the Virgin Money London Marathon, our project26.2 first time marathon runner, Catriona Ward Sell reflects on the unexpected discoveries she’s made on her marathon training journey….


Easy running is difficult!

Tara, my coach at GRTW, has probably found my tendency to run too fast concerning. Maybe I can contain my pace on the day – but maybe I can’t. I know she’s right, though; blowing out on pace early on at London will mean disaster.

I take encouragement from the fact that I managed my pace well in the Oundle 20 miler last month – despite other females speeding off, I raced my own race, managed to catch many of them to finish 3rd female. But it’s difficult, some days, 5-minute kilometres feels like walking, and I struggle in the moment to believe it’s beneficial. Other days, especially after a heavy gun run session (Ed: Cat is in the Army) or a long run the day before, 5 minute kilometres are exhausting. If you’d told me at the start of marathon training that I would have struggled at this pace, I’d have walked away with dented pride. BUT I’ve learned that slower running is not to be ashamed of, and is necessary.

There’s so MUCH slow running

Tara has taught me that 80% of my running should be kept at that conversational pace, with 20% hard running. Previously, my training would have been the other way around – I love fast and hard sessions. But running slower has made me appreciate and feel the benefit of harder sessions more. It’s been hard sometimes to stay motivated to run slow, but it is proving worthwhile, and has taught me to look at the bigger picture.

Marathon training is SO expensive

When I was starting out, someone said to me they were disenchanted with running as it is now “a rich mans sport”. Then, I laughed – how expensive can putting one foot in front of the other be? Now, I agree.

Running has become a lucrative industry, and someone like me could be easily be priced out. The one running watch I’ve ever owned is a freebie I won last year – I wouldn’t own one otherwise. It’s fit for purpose, if you don’t mind it taking 250 metres to catch up. Compared to the mini computers that other marathoners wear on their wrists, displaying everything from lap splits and recommended recoveries to virtual pacing in real-time, mine is a cute child’s toy.

Similarly, I’ve jogged past many runners sporting the latest waterproof shoes and wind cheaters, and can’t help but note that my Karrimors have seen me through all my marathon training (and more). When it rains, I put plastic bags inside my socks. As for waterproof jackets – well, skin is waterproof, right?

None of this equipment is necessary, but it helps, and the surprising cost of marathoning must put people off. But I’ve chosen to deal with this through seeing a flip side; however misguided and arrogant this is, I take a pinch of pride in knowing that others may have gear, but I have very well-trained legs. It sounds obvious, but if I was to give one piece of advice, it would be to stay away from industry magazines which review all kit with a 8/10, and avoid comparing yourself with others: use your energy to concentrate on simply moving your legs forwards.

Weight gain

I appreciate this is my own fault, but at the start of my training, I turned vegan, logged calories, and quickly lost several kilograms – which I needed to. As mentioned in my last blog, I was feeling light on my feet and hitting my paces easily. A review of my diet mid-plan, and I started to concentrate on eating healthier rather than calories. Three weeks later, and I’d lumped all the weight back on.

When you’re eating healthy food AND logging ridiculous miles, it’s so easy to overeat – it seems justifiable. But healthy food has calories too.  As for the confidence to wear a running vest, let’s not go there, or I’ll cry.

Weight gain, dodgy sunburn and freckle lines, blistered feet, veiny knees, marathoning, surprisingly, can hugely negatively effect your body-confidence, even if your running confidence is stronger than ever. No race photos, please

I’ve entered another one!

I’ve said multiple times on Instagram NEVER AGAIN. The relative tedium of longer slow running, the frustrations at my lack of running equipment, the embarrassment at my own body, the sore knees, the lack of time in a day for multi-hour runs, the friendships it strains, there’s been plenty of times I’ve sworn I’m never marathoning again.

And yet… the other day I found myself googling the Waterford marathon, Ireland. To return home to take on such a big running feat would be a homecoming like no other. To race in the beautiful town in my home country, which taught me to love sport in the first place,  well, there’s something romantic, exciting and slightly terrifying about it.

So I’ll leave you with surprising fact number 5, and a part of me is still in disbelief: marathon running, for all its sins, when coached in good hands, is addictive. Who would have thought?


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