I was one of the thousands of entrants in yesterday’s London marathon and what a great day I had. I was under no pressure, as I wasn’t aiming for a time and was completing the distance as part of my Ironman training.
I was going to try and pace a friend, Dan, round in under 4 hours but as things turned out the first 13 miles went according to plan and then it went a bit pear-shaped. Dan had a slightly jippy stomach the night before the race and his training had suffered through other commitments. The consequences of this it that the next miles got slower and slower and Dan suffered a bit. I ended up being a Domestique for him and whilst he ran straight down the middle of the road, I zig-zagged to the water and feed stations and in the last 4 or so miles was taking sweets, which the crowds were handing out and ferrying them to Dan. I enjoyed this and also had ample time to take in the scenery, the crowds and the atmosphere. With 400 yards to go Dan got cramp in his left calf but after a quick massage from me we proceeded to and crossed the finish line in 4 hours 16 minutes. Dan was pleased with the time considering his training and jippy stomach and although it was a bit slower than our target I was happy to get the miles under my belt and continued with my training today, Monday with a 2,250 metre pool session and a 45 minute steady paced run.
My steady pace around the marathon course also gave me the opportunity to take in what some of the slower runners were doing, and not doing, and this enables me to pass on some tips, advice and general knowledge about completing a marathon to you.
Prepare for Sun
The day turned out to be the warmest so far this year and many people didn’t prepare for it. People were getting sunburnt as they didn’t put on suntan lotion, others were getting heat stroke as they weren’t wearing head protection and many were falling by the wayside through generally overheating and lack of hydration. There were others that were hydrating but not taking in enough electrolytes from sports drinks and were also suffering badly and there were many people cramping up due to inadequate hydration and electrolyte intake. Regardless of how fit you are but particularly for those new to marathon running you need to try and think your race through and prepare for the many varied conditions a race can throw at you. If you generally suffer from heat stroke and always wear a hat in the summer, why would you not do the same in a long race? In my view you can’t over prepare for a race and your goal is to finish as quickly and as stress free as possible.
Some mistakes to avoid
I saw other classic mistakes being made. Whilst I felt very sorry for one poor guy it was an incident which was avoidable. Drink and feed stations are busy hectic areas of the course. A little common sense and etiquette can make life easier for every one. People enter a feed station area and instead of filtering towards the edge of the course sometimes do a 90 degree turn. This causes other to bump in to them as they are effectively stopping from going forward and you can get hurt. So try and filter to the sides where the water and feed stations replenish you. Once you pick up your vessel of sustenance don’t try to open it straight away if it has a top on. As I have said, feed stations are busy places and everyone tries to open the vessel with the consequence that they aren’t concentrating on where they are running. So, run out of the station until the body of runners are settled back in to their pace and then concentrate on getting your water/carb drink onboard. This allows you to focus on other runners within the feed station areas to avoid contact and run steadily and feed when back to a steady pace. It also allows you to avoid what the poor runner I mentioned earlier did. He was concentrating on opening his water and not looking at where he was running. Unfortunately, he found beneath his foot a discarded bottle with the result that he turned his ankle badly and his race was over. So there are two things you can do to help this type of incident, discard your bottles to the edge of the course and concentrate on running within the feed stations and only take your focus off the road ahead until you are clear of the busy feed station areas.
One other snippet of interest. At the sports drink stations the sticky, sugary liquid coats the floor and as it starts to dry it becomes very tacky and for a few steps it can feel like you are running with Velcro on your shoes. It’s nothing to worry about but better warned than surprised.
Ensure adequate carbs intake
On Sunday people were hydrating reasonably well. At least there were a lot of bottles of water being taken from the stations but many people were taking a few small mouthfuls and then throwing the remainder away. This isn’t too bad as the water stations at
London are very frequent. The sports drink stations however, are roughly 5 miles apart and people were again also taking the sports drink and only taking a couple of mouthfuls before throwing the remainder. This is a big mistake as over the distance of a marathon you will need a carbohydrate top up and sports drinks also have salt and electrolytes which help to top up lost supplies and fend off cramps and a reduction in your body’s sodium content. That is one of the reasons I think so many people were struggling. The sports drink packs are 330ml and easily carried between stations. One pack every 45 to 60 minutes would have been an adequate intake to introduce a carb lift and maintain the body’s electrolyte levels.
Careful if you sprint to the finish
My final point is that there is a mental lift over the last two or so miles of a marathon for a lot of people as the end is almost in sight and the crowds are really going for the support and noise to coax the runner on. However, beware if you increase your pace and stride length it is highly likely that cramp will strike. If you do want to increase your speed try building it more gradually and if at any time you feel a cramp twinge then back off straight away. Getting cramp isn’t the end of your marathon though as you can self massage and stretch the affected muscles but whilst you are doing this the clock is still ticking and your goal time could be slipping away.