When I crossed the London Marathon finish line in 2016 with a time of four hours and 32 minutes, a high-school memory hit me. It was a dark, cold winter evening after a day at school and I decided to finally start exercising in a bid to deal with exam anxiety and stubborn puppy fat. I ran one mile around the local village and when I dragged myself back through the front door I vowed never to act on such ridiculous impulses again.
The reason I'm sharing this story is because fitness is not about being better than anyone else, it's about being better than you used to be. Anyone - and I mean anyone - can complete a marathon if they physically and mentally prepare. What got me motivated to move again was the mum of one of my closest friends passing away from pancreatic cancer. I realised people would, quite rightly, donate more of their hard-earned money to my cause (the hospice who cared for her) if I actually challenged myself. Why should someone effectively pay for me to travel to a fabulous country and enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled bungee jump?
So, whether you're taking part in the 20th edition of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon this Friday 25th, or at some point this year or next you're going to sign up to the biggest race of your life, here are five things I learned from the life-changing experience:
1. Literally pace yourself
Don’t try and run too far, too soon. It’s tempting to do this, but building up stamina ensures race-day success. Make a plan (I trained from the end of December to race day on 24 April) outlining the three runs you need to do a week (one 30-40min easy pacer, one sprint session and one longer run, increasing half or 1-2 miles each week).
Mix up longer runs with shorter, faster ones on hills to improve endurance and strength on race day. If you plan what days you can do your runs – plus 1-2 gym (preferably HIIT, yoga or Pilates classes), you can still socialise and make fun plans.
Make your longest run 10 or 11 miles, 10 days before the race – on the day you can push through the last couple of miles thanks to the support of the crowd, adrenaline and desire to finish...
2. Sign on the dotted line
Schedule a 10km (6 mile) race during your training period. Race days are completely different to running your local route. A practice race gets you used to race conditions – including running next to lots of people and when is the best time to accept water.
3. Injury proof yourself
Invest in a foam roller to ease leg-muscle pain – it’s life changing, I swear. Plus, I recommend buying a massage ball to use on the balls of your feet post- run and muscle relaxing spray (I rate Magnesiun Oil spray and Deep Heat roll on).
3. Become a tech geek
iPhones are fine, but professional fitness trackers more accuratey measure your distance, calories and time. Garmin or Fitbit will do the job nicely, but research the options to see what tech will best suit – and motivate – you.
4. All the gear equals some idea
Buy good running gear – quality clothes and trainers repay themselves within the first few weeks of training. You don’t need to buy out the store, but I recommend purchasing a couple of pairs of quality running socks, long, compression leggings, a good sports bra and a reflective, water and wind-proof jacket.
Nutritional meals help with training as well as the actual marathon and post-run recovery. Five days before the marathon, increase your carbohydrate intake by adding more pasta and starches to your diet. Try sweet potatoes, brown rice and bagels with peanut butter. Yum. One day before eat normal, balanced meals like you would do on any training day. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids - I'm a big fan of Lucozade Sport as well as trusted water - throughout the day.
On the morning of race day, don't eat or drink anything you've not tried before a long run. I ate porridge made with almond milk and water, and added peanut butter, honey, blueberries and almonds. There's a lot of waiting around before the race starts so I also suggest taking a banana and energy bar too.
Good luck, runners!
Photos: Unsplash and Instagram @chefjamesbarry