So now the marathon is over, what have I learnt about running and myself?
I’ll start with running.
Running is a natural activity for humans. It’s just a faster form of walking, more or less. What I hadn’t realised is that there are good and bad ways to run. When I started, 11 months ago, I thought I was running correctly. However, I soon developed something called “shin splints” and picked up a calf injury. After speaking with my grandson, Ben, who previously had problems with shin splints, he advised me to check out RIF-REV, (Running Injury Free Revolution) on You Tube. This changed everything – no more shin splints and no more injuries, so I was able to follow my training schedule right up to the marathon.
I did learn another lesson about getting information from You Tube, this time not a positive experience. I thought I would try to strengthen my core muscles and followed an exercise shown on You Tube. It was a disaster for me because I was obviously doing it incorrectly and I put my back out which kept me off training for 2 weeks.
Cross-training was a new one for me too. Apparently on non-running days the advice was to do some cross-training, such as swimming, static bike, yoga, pilates, etc. I tried using a stationary bike but it didn’t work for me because I couldn’t get a comfortable position on the seat and ended up with a very sore bum. In the event, I did not do any cross-training but I think it probably would have been a good idea to have done something on my “rest” days.
That’s another thing, “rest” and “recovery” days. I absolutely took this to heart as, being of advanced years, I thought I would need to recover more than the younger runners after exercise. This is why I chose a 3 day per week training plan, leaving me 4 days to recover. It worked for me, especially as I had golf most Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, which meant I trained on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
You can run on your own or with others. My preference was on my own as I was free to run when I wanted to without any constraints. That is the great thing about running, all you need to do is to get out there and …… run!
You need good running shoes but other than that, you can wear what you want, anything that’s comfortable. I was given very good advice early on that it was absolutely essential to get proper running shoes and to have a gait analysis test to make sure the shoes are the correct ones for you and your style of running. I would say this was the most important thing I learnt about taking up running – I was just going to use my ordinary trainers, but am pleased now that I didn’t. Every magazine, book, article I’ve read has stressed that this is the most important thing to get right.
You need very little equipment/accessories but I love gadgets and having the right kit. I list below all the things that I bought/used and which I knew nothing about before I started on my running journey.
Heart rate monitor (one you wear round your chest), which I stopped using when I got my GPS Watch as that had a built-in heart rate monitor
Running leggings and tops – I now have a great selection!
Specialist running socks to prevent blisters – I bought Marathon Socks, which cost a fortune!
A GPS Running Watch with heart rate monitor – I did find this very useful
A running app for my phone – I used Runkeeper, brilliant for statistics, etc.
A foam roller – forget about foam, it’s an instrument of torture and is as soft as a lump of lead!
A bum bag to keep all my bits and pieces in, such as keys, sweets, gels, money
Gels – probably essential when doing a long run as they top up your glycogen supply. I think they taste foul but I did find that SiS Go Isotonic Energy Orange Flavoured ones were OK. Apparently jelly babies are good too and energy bars. The gels are good because they deliver energy fast. The idea is that you take these gels before you’ve depleted your glycogen store and therefore it helps to prevent you from “hitting the wall”.
Recovery Drinks, such as “For Goodness Shakes”, to take straight after a long run to help repair muscle and tissue damage. I love the taste of the Chocolate flavoured one. Also energy drinks, such as Lucozade Sport. I didn’t even know that these existed but now I just love Lucozade Sport and have ditched 7-Up (my previous favourite soft drink). It is an isotonic drink which is great for hydrating and providing carbohydrates and electrolytes, essential during endurance sport.
Vaseline – for chafing and to help prevent blisters. I’ve never used Vaseline for anything before so this one was new for me.
Ice “cups” – I saw these on You Tube and started making them for use after runs in case I had any muscle aches or niggles. Basically I filled up plastic cups with water, then put them in the freezer and, when required, cut the plastic away to produce a great cup shaped piece of ice which I applied to problem areas. So rather than a bag of frozen peas, or whatever, I was able to ice specific areas and it worked really well.
I found out about stretching exercises from a personal trainer, Dennis Conroy. Not my favourite activity but absolutely necessary after running. Generally all I wanted to do after a run was to sit down but no, first the stretching exercises.
I was advised early on to keep a training diary/log. I’m glad I heeded this advice because I found it very useful and interesting. When things weren’t going so well, I found it helped to remind myself how far I had come, what I had achieved and the good runs I had enjoyed.
Because I had a goal, i.e. The London Marathon, I definitely had to have a Training Plan or Schedule. It took me ages to choose one as there are so many out there on the internet, but I chose one that would fit in with my life and which I felt was achievable. As I knew absolutely nothing about running a marathon, this was my most important guide and, as it happens, prepared me to achieve my goal – to complete the marathon. The one I used was “First-Time Finisher 16-Week Marathon Schedule” put together by Martin Yelling, especially for London Marathon runners.
What did I find out about myself?
Firstly, I found out that I have a lot of determination and, probably, a very stubborn streak. Once I had decided that I was going to run a marathon, I wasn’t going to give up no matter what. I surprised myself though when I religiously followed my training plan, never once wimping out because of bad weather. I thought I might occasionally find an excuse to skip a training run but that didn’t happen. I only missed training when I was injured (a total of 4 weeks in 11 months) and when I was on holiday in Russia for 1 week.
Another thing I learned was I needed great patience. The fact that I was running for the first time at the age of 66 meant that I had to take things steadily and build up my stamina and muscles. It would have been easy to try to rush things and increase my mileage too quickly. I remember that when I started in May 2016, I couldn’t run 50 yards, but I knew I had 11 months to prepare my body and my mind. I think this is one of the reasons why I was virtually injury free throughout my training.
I also found that I was never unhappy or bored running on my own, except for the last 2 long runs of 18 and 20 miles. The rest of the time I was happy just to be running. I didn’t need the motivation of running with someone.
I also spent a lot of time reading and watching videos about running and, specifically, marathon running. I could spend hours, quite happily, absorbing information and hints to help me on my marathon journey. Other people join running clubs or have coaches but I was happy to research everything on my own and to apply what I’d learned to my particular situation. I wanted to make sure I would know what to expect and the pitfalls I might encounter so I did prepare pretty meticulously. I can’t say this was the correct way to do things but it worked for me. Maybe I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect, so I’ll add that to what I’ve learned about myself!
At the end of the whole process, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to run another marathon. I have not become addicted to running marathons although I do like running. Therefore I may well continue running for pleasure but am more likely to concentrate on shorter distances such as 5K, 10K or even half marathons (unlikely). I am quite competitive so if I continue running, I will be trying to improve my times – that will be my motivation.
The whole experience has been a great deal of hard work and dedication but oh so worthwhile. How else could I have raised over £4800 for Prostate Cancer UK and achieved my dream of running a marathon?
I do, of course, have to thank everyone who supported me. A massive THANK YOU – I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement I received throughout my training. There was no way I could let everyone down so I had to do it. And …….
I DID IT – I RAN A MARATHON!