8 things I wish I’d known before running a marathon
App obsession, hydration information and militant meal-planning – training for a marathon is no mean feat. BBC Good Food cookery assistant and keen runner Sophie Godwin shares the good, the bad and the painful…
I used to be the type of runner who put on my old trainers and went for a jaunt around the park. At university, I used running to manage stress and boost creativity when faced with writing long history essays on The Weimar Republic. I’ve always loved running for the calmness it brings, and how clear your mind is when it's just you, your thoughts and the pavement. Then I started training for The London Marathon and everything changed. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started…
You will become obsessed with an app
Running apps are useful tools, but the ability to track your progress in such minute detail alters your mindset dramatically. You find out exactly how fast you’re running, your average pace per run, how many kilometres you have accrued, and suddenly running turns from a calming jog into an attempt to beat your PB. And that's another thing – sayings like 'PB' (personal best) slip into your vocabulary without you even noticing. But for all the angst, the app is the good angel on your shoulder that tells you to keep going even when you don’t want to. My advice is to download one straight away.
Training for a marathon actually requires a great deal of organisation. It isn’t just the run you need to factor into your diary – it’s when you're going to eat before and after, exactly what you'll eat, and leaving enough time for a thorough pre- and post- stretch. All in all, marathon training will take up a lot of your time.
What to eat before your run
What to eat after your run
Stretch and rest, or regret
On the subject of stretching, I cannot begin to explain how important it will become. Until recently I'd always been a bit of a lazy stretcher: going for a run, getting in the shower and then getting on with my day. Now, if I don’t stretch, you can bet that 20 minutes later, my seized muscles will have me walking as if I'm in a full body cast. Stretching is key!
Booze is not your friend
Before training, I thought running after a few glasses of wine the night before was fine, in fact, it was a regular occurrence. Then I tried to attempt one of my first long runs on a hangover and it wasn’t pretty at all. As suggested by sports nutritionist James Collins, it's best to cut out (or at least cut down on) alcohol before a race as it can disrupt blood glucose levels and the crucial sleep required for recovery.
Getting out of bed is hard
I already had an inkling of this before I started my training, but when faced with running 20 miles on a Saturday morning, part of me just wanted to snooze the alarm and hide under the covers. When it's cold and raining, you still have to get up and run. In times like these you need to find something that motivates you to keep going, whether it's sheer self-determination or a charity close to your heart. You just need to put on your trainers and run.
It's possible to drink too much water
I'm prone to drinking a lot of water, but keeping levels in check is vital on race day, not least because you want to minimise the number of breaks you have to make. The key is to listen to your body and drink according to thirst.
Marathon hydration: why it's important not too drink too much water on the run
It's incredible how your body adapts
After every long run a different part of my body hurts. Muscles in the arch of my foot, the outside of my hips, my inner knee caps, ankles… you name it. Every part of my lower body has experienced some kind of ache. However, I now feel a lot stronger, even if my calves have bulged considerably. When I look back at how I felt after my first eight mile run in comparison to now, it's amazing how my body has adapted and I'm very thankful for it, blisters and all.
Take people’s advice with a pinch of salt
When you start training for the marathon you'll be bombarded with information. By all means take note of advice from others, especially those who have run the marathon before, but at the end of the day you should always listen to your own body because everyone is different. What works for you may not for another, and vice versa. Trust yourself and you'll be able to do it. Good luck!
Visit our marathon training section for advice and inspiration.
More advice for runners..
Nutrition for runners
Common marathon questions
Are you training for a marathon? We’d love to hear your experiences – let us know in the comments below…