#grtwproject26.2 ‘It hurt but would I do it again? Yes!’

With less than a week before the London marathon, our #grtwproject26.2 runner, Rachel Sparkhall, who we coached for the Paris Marathon has these thoughts to share for those about to run their first marathon in London…


I sit here typing this as a marathon runner, feeling proud as punch even though the Paris marathon didn’t go quite according to plan. 

Right from the start, my pace was off target but I kept calm because the training that I’ve done with Tara of Girls Run the World has taught me to hold a little back at the start and aim for a stronger finish. I tend to work better with negative splits and the elevation profile indicated that I should be able to gain a little through miles 10-18. 

However, the reality was the crowds got heavier along this section and then came along the tunnels with more enthusiastic supporters so where I thought I could gain, I didn’t.  But all the training that I’ve done with GRTW provided me with the self belief and ability to adjust to plan B, which is that it’s better to finish 5 or 10 mins slower than not at all!!

Running in Paris was always going to be a big deal.  With 60,000 other competitors, I don’t think you can really 100% prepare for it, however much you plan and research.  With morning temperatures of 1 degrees but full sun expected during the day, it meant starting very cold or running hot with too many layers.

So I started cold but actually ended up pouring water over meat each water station to keep the body temperature down as the sun got hotter, a tip coach Tara gave me. When I was shivering in the morning with four layers on, it was a hard call to make but it’s so important to remember all the runs you have done in training, the outfits you wore, how you felt and stick with what you know because 4 hours is a long time to be uncomfortable.

The first section down the Champs-Elysées was amazing and actually it’s only on reflection when you see the place full of cars and tourists the next day that you appreciate how the centre of Paris with no traffic!

A serious amount of energy zapping cobbles add to the charm of running in this city and whilst you could not use the term hills, Paris is not a flat course. Inclines and tunnels test your ability to control pace. Even though I studied the route and had a pace plan which had culminated from all the weeks of training, I was not prepared for the mass of runners, the variety of speeds around me and the slowing down for the tunnels. Pacing in Paris was harder than any other races I had done to date.

Controlling my pace is something that has improved hugely with #grtwproject26.  Previously my running lacked structure;   I ran my long runs too fast, my shorter runs too slow and put no effort into intervals or speed work.  With Tara planning each week for me, detailing what type of run to do each day and at what pace/distance, it has made me a more consistent runner. The training plan challenged my ability to run at different speeds, kept me honest but also took away the thinking part.  I know that sounds silly but marathon training is all consuming and just being able to look at the calendar each day and not have to think about what run to do was one less thing on the list.

As a marathon newbie you worry about hitting the wall and although I struggled at mile 21-22, thankfully, there was no wall,   the discipline from training was in there. The experience from having blissful 20 mile runs where I could lift the pace at the end to others of pure hell all help to develop mental strength. The training doesn’t stop the pain or make it any easier on the day but it’s not a new feeling, you have been there before and come through the other side so you know you can keep going.

If I ran Paris again, I would not change anything in the sense that I ran the best race I could on that day – which explains why I am not devastated with the 33 seconds over 4 hours.  I didn’t go too fast, eat too little or too much.  However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learnt a massive amount that I will take to other races.

If I were to sum up three fundamental benefits that online personal coaching with GRTW gave me, it would be these.


Structured training ensured I didn’t ramp up my the mileage too quickly. It helped me understand pacing and ensured I built up strength work so I didn’t fatigue or get injured.

It kept me honest on the ‘can’t be ar*d days, compared to my sick days, keeping me consistent.

I loved the motivation of getting weekly feedback from Tara. Friends and family are you biggest supports but then can get really bored. Independent praise and feedback is a great motivator.

And final thoughts on running my first marathon…

I was jealous of all the runners running for fun with no time plan!

I was slower than what I know I can run but I’m now much more realistic and respectful of the race conditions on these bigger events. I trained perfectly until taper but still had an off day and that made it really hard so have your A, B and C plan and finish.

Did it hurt … YES!!

Would I do it again….? YES!!
With a time of 4 hours 33 seconds I have unfinished business pastedGraphic.png

General thoughts about Paris as a first marathon 

Spectators can easily watch and even join in with hardly any barriers, which makes it frustrating with spectators crossing roads and tripping over small children to cross the finish line.

Water and feed stations were plentiful but watch your footing, expect to slow down and loose a least a minute per station – I found they were like mini battle stations and quite chaotic!

It’s not flat, it’s not hilly but long inclines are energy zapping – be prepared.

It’s a great place to run, the sights and the after experience of macarons, cakes and cafes! Indulgence is not hard to find!

The Saturday breakfast run is a lovely experience and very inclusive. It’s only 5km but be wary of the time on feet.