The Marathon Medals That Have Made Me

Starting our new series of articles, where we share the lessons learned from race experiences from the Girls Run the World coaches and community. First up, GRTW CEO Rachael Woolston shares her marathon experiences

Lake Garda Marathon, October 2012

Be specific

My first marathon, which I ran for the experience of it rather than racing. A beautiful road marathon, I learned that you need to be absolutely specific with your training. I trained purely off-road and so my body was not equipped for road running.

Finish time: 3 hours, 50 minutes.

Mumbai Marathon, January 2013

Watch what you eat

Another marathon in a foreign country, which I ran for the experience. It started before 5am in the morning, so breakfast was a bowl of cereal in my guesthouse and bananas before jogging through the eerily quiet streets of Mumbai. I didn’t learn much from this because it was done purely for the travel experience and I was writing an article about women’s running in Asia. What I did learn was don’t drink an iced drink after a training run in India. An amazing experience nevertheless, bringing home 1st place veteran woman.

Finish Time: 3hours, 55 minutes, 07 seconds.

Paris Marathon, April 2013

Train at race pace

This is obvious but I was still not taking marathon running seriously, and not giving the training the attention it deserved. I decided on a time I’d like to finish in, based on previous races, and stuck to the pacer. It all fell apart in the last three miles.

Just because you want a certain time, you won’t get it unless you do some of your tempo runs at that pace. And do some of the last miles of your long runs at that pace. Plus, don’t run marathons so close together.

Finish time: 3 hours, 44 minutes, 17 seconds.

Beachy Head Marathon, October 2013

Don’t do four marathons in 12 months

This was an amazing experience and my first full trail marathon. Windy, horrendously hilly and the one that finally gave me ITBS – or runners knee. Well, it didn’t really, it was the load that I put my body under in such a short space of time. If you want a good time, be strategic about the number of races you enter!

Finish time: 4 hours, 02 minutes.

Istanbul Marathon, November 2013

See above – your brain needs a rest too

To be fair, this was a media trip that I wrote about for Women’s Running magazine. I would not have entered another one quite so soon had it not been a press hosted trip. So, you can probably guess how hard this one was.

It ‘s not just your body that needs a rest from marathon running, it’s the mental endurance that you put yourself through every time you step out to run 26.2 miles. A long out and back along a motorway didn’t help. But visiting the incredible city that is Istanbul made up for it.

Finish time: ?

Fort William Marathon, July 2015

It takes this many marathons before it all starts to click

A combination of off-road and on road marathon, finally I ditched using a hydration pack, which was a huge relief. Freer shoulders, and no annoying water burble as you run.

I didn’t do that much different in this training block, other than my body just started to click. I was beginning to get used to the endurance that I was training my body for, again and again with marathon running.

Finish time: 3 hours, 39 minutes.

London Marathon, April 2016

More race pace needed at the end of a long run.

I learned on this one that a race is not over, until it is over. You can’t say, ‘I was on for xx time until the last two miles.’ Because you are not on for that time, unless you get that time.

This one taught me that I needed to do more training at race pace at the end of long runs on tired legs.

Finish time: 3 hours, 26 minutes, 07 seconds.

London Marathon, April 2017

Gels work

Up until this marathon, I was still insistent that I could run fast and eat and it wouldn’t affect my performance. This was the one when I finally used gels properly.

Sports gels are horrible. They don’t agree with anyone. You are not meant to like them, nor will you ever find a single sports gel that makes you think, ‘Yum, delicious.’ But they do mean that you can digest them quickly so that they give you the energy that you need to run at tempo pace needed.

Finally, things began to gel, excuse the pun.

Finish time: 3 hours, 22 minutes, 58 seconds.

Seville Marathon, February 2018

Hiring a coach works

I finally decided to take this one seriously and focus on training, rather than just squeezing it in, vaguely adding training sessions here and there amidst work and coaching others.

I hired my own coach, GRTW’s Tara helping me to focus. The beauty of having someone else to coach you, is that you have someone to plan and schedule it. Which just works if you’re so busy with work you end up doing poorly executed sessions.

Race pace sessions, race pace segments at the end and middle of long runs to help me prepare physiologically and mentally to run on tired legs, and easy runs executed slowly to help recovery. made a huge difference. Everything came together.

Finish time: 3 hours, 16 minutes.

Berlin Marathon, September 2018

I need a break!

Ten marathons in 5 years is a lot if you work full time too. And I felt it at the Berlin Marathon, which I had got a place in under good for age.

I’d heard so much about this being an amazing race, that I thought it would pull me through by the sheer experience of it, even though I was exhausted. But as I started this one, I didn’t want to run it. And I also learned that this is one VERY busy race.

Finish time: 3 hours, 24 minutes.

And now what?

It’s now been a few years since I ran a marathon, (other than a four hour marathon at the end of Ironman Austria in 2019). But I’m ready to return to Manchester marathon with the aim of beating my PBS.

And I’ll be focusing on all the lessons I’ve learned to get me there.

Discover our fully inclusive marathon online training programmes including all the run training sessions, strength and recovery sessions for a 16 week block. You can purchase as a one off programme or it is included in our monthly membership scheme which launches in January 2021.