Lessons from my first marathon

Flying high from the successes of 2017!

2017 was a successful year. Having trained well, rested when needed, and ate sensibly, many new personal bests were set. I also achieved the goal which I had set at the start of the year – to complete the Great North Run in under 2-hours and 10 minutes.

On the back of the successes of Great North Run, I set my focus on completing my first marathon in 2018. I signed up to Brighton Marathon!

Relying on my (in)experience

I did not know what I had signed up to or how to structure my training. I tried applying the same strategies that I did for the half marathon distance, and simply ramping up the mileage.

I decided to run half marathons more often for the rest of the year and then ramp up the long runs from the start of 2018.

Between each of the long runs, I trained midweek with 2 shorter runs – trying to push myself as much as possible in each of the runs.

The first of the longer runs was on 11th February 2018 when I ran 16.5 miles, week after that I ran 18 miles, another 18 miles the following week, half marathon distance at the start of March to allow my body to recover, and finally 20 miles on 11th March at the Milton Keynes Festival of Running – the final long run before I started tapering.

Reflecting on training

Reflecting on the training, I wish I followed a structured training plan! I now understand that running hard each time I put my trainers on would have caused myself to fatigue and my body to start breaking down. I didn’t realise or think about this at the time.

I also completely ignored strength training and proper stretching. Upon reflection, I should have taken a holistic approach!

Troublesome times

During the Milton Keynes 20-mile run, my body finally gave in!

Between miles 5 and 6, I recall thinking that the run was going well, almost too well – I was running at half marathon pace yet should have been running at a more suitable pace for 20 miles. I just couldn’t seem to slow down though.

At 6.5 miles, I felt a sharp pain at the bottom of my left foot. I stretched, monitored foot for another mile and carried on with the running thinking that I had to prove to myself that I was able to run 20 miles so that I was psychologically geared up for the even longer mileage at the marathon. That was the worst mistake to make! I later learned that it was plantar fasciitis which had struck.

After getting home, I tried to get out of the car but couldn’t stand! I had to use crutches for 2 weeks and could not train any further before the marathon.

Loss of fitness & depression

With the lack of training, I lost a lot of fitness. I tried everything that I could to heal and be ready for the marathon, including spending a lot of money on private sports therapist sessions. The closer I got to the marathon, knowing that I was getting more and more un-fitter, levels of depression started increasing and weight gain as a result – it was a spiral.

Marathon weekend

My partner and I travelled to Brighton on the Saturday.

I was still in two minds about whether I was going to run the marathon or not. My heart said to do it, my head told me not to. This carried on even on the morning of the marathon.

I made the decision to run and pull out if I needed to. Of course, with my nature of fighting on regardless of the challenge ahead, I ran the marathon using jeffing, and completed it!

It helped speaking to others during the run. There was a very friendly lady named Sarah which was also jeffing – I stayed with her a lot of the way.

I was so ill-prepared that I didn’t even put my name on the top that I wore for the marathon. Instead, every time I heard Sarah’s name, I mentally used it as a cheer for me too. I was Sarah for the duration of the marathon!

Life after the marathon

Following the marathon, a lot of last year was a write-off and the depression cycle continued.

In September, I started working with my coach. Having heard the background my coach’s running journey and seeing how far he has come in his running journey has helped me relate better and be inspired by him. It has helped me come out of the depression cycle I was in.

My coach has taught me a lot – including to keep a lot of my training at an easy pace, got me to tune in further into signals my body is giving, helped me build much better foundations before we progress training for Chicago Marathon.

Things I wish I knew when I signed up for the run

Have a plan! Structure your training properly rather than pushing yourself during each run. There are many experienced runners out there who can help you.

Listen to your body! Don’t ignore its signals, they are there for a reason.

Run easy! There is significant evidence that shows that it is better to run easy most of the time and have dedicated sessions for speed work/ harder work.

Spread out the running! Instead of doing a huge amount of mileage during the long run sessions, it is much better to spread it out over several sessions. Think about your weekly mileage rather than simply daily mileage.

Take a holistic approach & build good foundations! Alongside varying up runs instead of running hard each time, it is important to have good foundations, stretch well, recover properly.

Start early! Don’t leave all the training till the start of you plan. It is better to have base running fitness to work from.

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