A marathon is a curious beast. It can catch you unawares and nick your running credit-cards without a moments thought.
I hope these tips help.
1. Definitely do a race in another country
On the face of it, running a race abroad seems like a massive undertaking. However, with a bit of forethought and planning, it is no more stressful that travelling to another big city marathon in the UK. There are a variety of companies that will offer to sort everything out for you and shepherd you round. If you want to completely eliminate the faff factor, it could be a good option for you. But always remember you will be paying a premium for the service. As long as you are not applying of a yak race in Outer Mongolia, pretty much all of the planning can be done in English. The race websites will have an English translation, and armed with your credit card, race entry is only a couple of clicks away.
Do your research when it comes to accommodation, it may mean paying a bit more to be in the city centre, but make sure your hotel is near to the start/finish (which are hopefully in the same area). When you’ve just run 26.2 miles, the last thing you want is a 4 mile trudge across town to your “amazing value” hotel out in the sticks. Business hotels are often a good bet as they tend to be emptier at the weekends and you can get some good deals.
Expedia is your friend – we found some very reasonable rates in both Frankfurt and Berlin.
Flights can obviously be a big cost, I realised I’d been collecting Air Miles for the last 10 years and so used them to get to Germany and back. If we hadn’t have had those though, I think it would have been a couple of hundred quid. A stretch for some, but if you’ve been training for this for 4-6 months hopefully you’ve been saving as well.
The expo in Frankfurt was really well organised, picking up the number took less than five minutes. Being Germany, everyone spoke English anyway so there was no confusion. It was reasonably sized, but we just had a quick zoom round and left, remembering the slog round the VLM EXPO. You’re there to run, not go shopping!
Other than that you’re only other task is to get yourself to the start line. If you picked your hotel sensibly it should be no more than a 10-15 minute wander over.
2. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, in the 24 hours before you’ll be shitting yourself with nerves.
The tension at the pre-race briefing was palpable. It doesn’t matter if you are an elite looking for a Championship Qualifying Time or an marathon virgin hoping to just get round in one piece, everyone has their own battle to fight and its natural to be nervous. You’re about to do something really quite special, so channel that nervous energy into focus on the task ahead.
3. You need to be selfish
Remember what I said about the expo – you are there to race, so that so be your primary aim. As lovely as sightseeing on the Saturday would be, it will mess your legs up and make you tired. After the expo in Frankfurt, we went and found a brunch place I’d read about, but that was as adventurous as I was going to be before the race. On the Saturday afternoon, Steve wanted to go and look at the old town. Believe me, I felt guilty, but I had to say “you go and enjoy dear, I ‘m staying in the hotel room”. Rest, Rest and more Rest. To avoid total cabin fever I went across the road and grabbed a coffee later on, but didn’t walk more than 800m in total. If need be make time to sight-see afterwards (although not race day afternoon, you won’t be in a position to do much then).
4. Do as much research as you can
If you are running in a strange location, try and know as much information about the race as possible. What is the course like? Are there any nasty hills? Where are the water stations? What are they serving at the water stations? The last thing you want on marathon day is any surprises. You need to put the work in and do the research. I may go a bit nutty about it, but I had the course map as my PC wallpaper. I didn’t spend hours and hours looking at it, but on race day I knew exactly where I was at all times, and when the next water station was coming.
A lot of the major races have video run-throughs of the course on Youtube. They are invaluable. You can see course gradients/changes far better on those than you ever can on a map.
A little prep goes a long way on race day.
5. Don’t try and be clever
Whilst being pleased with my time and a PB, due to the reasons listed in the last post, my undoing was trying to make it all too complicated. If you fuck about, the marathon will find you out. Ease into the race, let everyone pass you, keep it steady and controlled, wait until 30Km and then start the heroics.
Anyone can be a race hero at the 10Km mark, they almost certainly won’t be at the 40Km mark. Calm down, bide your time and push at the right point. Or you’ll have a last 10Km like I had.
I LOST 10 MINUTES IN THE LAST 10Km. GAME OVER.
6. People will have very different reactions to the same result.
One of the interesting things about being with a group is it made me realise how much time you spend on your own during a marathon weekend. Especially post race, I was used to celebrating with Steve rather than lots of other runners. Their reactions encompassed the whole spectrum.
There was the guy who ran a similar time to myself and was absolutely gutted as he had wanted 3:15. Whilst I felt sorry for him not achieving what he wanted, it was why I’d tried to divorce myself from a number target before the race. I know in my head I can be exactly like that at times. Now, he as in a different set of circumstances, but he really didn’t seem like he wanted to celebrate his brilliant achievement. I hope he reaches his goals/targets in the future.
On the flip-slide, there was the lovely lady who’d broken 3:00 for the first time. I think she was possibly the most ‘useful’ (sorry Nick – your briefing withstanding) person I spoke to all weekend. It had taken her 6 ½ years to break the 3 hour mark, down from 3:08. Both times are amazing but it truly brought it home that you can't just expect marathon success, you’ve really got to work specifically for it, sometimes hard and sometimes for a long time. She admitted that if someone had told her it would take over 6 years, she maybe never would have bothered. But the fact she stuck with it and got it in the end was so inspirational – I was a bit starstuck. Maybe that was the beer though. She also acknowledged the effect her quest had had on family and friends. I think we sometimes forget as runners, how much of a pain in the arse we can be to those around us, especially if you’re the sort of runner that thrives of umpteen million sessions a week and all the assorted paraphernalia.
7. Enjoy the aftermath
You’ve finished, you’ve got the medal round your neck. You smell horrendous. But you are now a marathon runner and that feels good! Whether things have gone exactly to plan or a bit wrong, its fine. Don’t worry, panic or beat yourself up. Take a few days to think, reflect, analyse if you wish. But most importantly, stay away from those trainers. You may feel great by the Wednesday, but you’ve put your body through hell so give it time to get back to normal, and when you do start EASY.
After Frankfurt, we went over to Berlin for a little holiday. It was great as I didn’t even have to think about running for a week (or course I did but I didn’t let it rule my thoughts). Trainers stayed in the bag and the previous 3 months of pretty intense training eased itself out of my system.
Don’t launch into XC races, Track or Hill sessions. Just nice and gentle jogs round the park or similar. Enjoy the view.