The panic-free guide to your first London Marathon

Nabbed yourself a London Marathon ballot spot and panicking about where to start? Worry not, we have the next five months of your life covered. All you have to do is read this (and run).

The panic-free guide to your first London Marathon

So, the last thing you were expecting was THAT magazine to come clattering through your letterbox. But it DID. Not another apology and a free training top. No. This time, the front of that mag said YOU’RE IN!

And now, the worrying begins. Many people think their chances of winning a place in the London Marathon through the ballot system are so remote that, when it happens, the reality that they are now committed to tackling 26.2 miles can be a bit of shock.

But with more than five months to go before race day, you need to remember these two words: DON’T PANIC!

The Running Bug’s seasoned team of marathoners have delved deep into our vault of experience to bring you a 10-point plan to take the stress out of the challenge in front of you.

If you can apply these tips to your marathon-running mission, you will reach that start line in shape to make it a day you will never forget. For all the right reasons.

1. Running shoes

So, you know you have a lot of miles in front of you and to complete them in one piece, your feet need to be in the right pair of shoes. To ensure this, it is worth visiting a specialist running retailer who can perform a gait analysis for you. This will involve hopping on a treadmill and having one of the shop’s experienced staff assessing your running style. This will allow them to recommend the type of shoe you need based on where your feet need support. Read our running shoe guide

2. Kit

Your shoes are the most important piece of gear, but don’t overlook the benefits proper running socks can bring – chiefly helping you avoid blisters that will rule you out of training while you wait for them to clear up. In addition, ensuring you have comfortable shorts or leggings and a top that fits well and doesn’t rub under your arms is highly advisable.

The key is to make sure that the kit you wear on race day has been well worn-in so you don’t get caught out by something new that causes discomfort somewhere unexpected. For ladies, a sports bra that fits properly is essential and you can get a fitting at specialist running retailer Sweatshop.

If you’re running for a charity and wearing their vest, make sure they have sent it to you in time for you to complete a few runs in it to get used to it.

It’s also worth investing early in a decent cold weather jacket and tights. The bulk of your training is going to take place through the winter months, and you’ll need one these items to see you through.

3. Set a goal

Some of you may have an idea of your target pace with a notion of how many minutes per mile you think you’ll be aiming for. If not, putting some miles in now, and wearing a watch on those runs, will start to give you a feel for a pace you’re comfortable with. When you start your proper training plan for the marathon, you can then make sure you’re doing the ‘race pace’ sessions on the plan at the right speed.

4. Speed work

Any sound plan will incorporate sessions that will take you out of your comfort zone. These are the runs that really put the money in the bank. Before you start to get befuddled by terms like 'Fartlek' and 'Intervals', check out our jargon-buster to understand what they mean, and have a go at some of them before your training plan begins in earnest. These sessions, and hill sessions too, are the runs that will make that race pace feel more comfortable and, ultimately, help increase your fitness and speed. 

5. Join a club

Running clubs might not be for everyone. But if you think you’re going to need the company of others and a pool of running knowledge to dip into at points along your training journey, joining a club might be just the ticket. A local club will give you these benefits. It’s likely they will have a bunch of members also targeting London and they’ll have weekly runs in differently-paced groups to help each other stay on track. You will also find likeminded runners to chat to right here at The Running Bug

6. Sign up for a race

If you haven’t taken part in a race before and London is one of those bucket list items, it is highly advisable to enter at least one event as part of your training. For example, if you scan down your training plan, at some point you will get to the stage where your long run reaches half-marathon distance. This is a perfect chance to find a race to enter, test out that kit, feel what it’s like to manage race day nerves, manage your pace and test some in-race nutrition like gels and drinks. It will be an invaluable education for the day itself. Find your warm-up race here

7. Fundraising

If you got a place through the ballot, you may choose to raise money for a charity close to your heart. If you were unsuccessful, you might now be going down the ‘golden bond’ place route which means signing up to run for a charity and committing yourself to a target fundraising total. Fundraising brings an extra responsibility to your training, but also extra motivation. Get your online donations page up and running as soon as you can and share it on your social media accounts to encourage friends and family to make a contribution.

There are a number of other ways to boost your total like bake sales at work, organising raffles and holding quiz nights. Some companies also match their employees’ fundraising totals if their chosen charity aligns with that of the firm.

8. Start now, not in January

The beauty of knowing NOW that you have a place is that you can lay some solid foundations before you begin your proper schedule. Building a base of fitness and mileage this side of the New Year will put you in a really strong position to get going in January. Talking of strength, this pre-festive period is also the perfect time to get that core strength up to scratch. Start building these exercises into your week and you’ll increase your chances of avoiding injury once the training starts to ramp up.

9. Think about food

We know, food is pretty much all runners’ favourite topic! But taking stock of what and when you eat now will allow you to spot areas you can improve on. Putting in good, healthy meals during training is important both from an energy point of view and to help you keep a nice, strong immune system in place. Remember, training in January and February can be hard when you are beset by coughs and colds. 

10. Get your timing right

Knowing when you like to train – or, indeed, when you are able to train – will inform how your training week takes shape. Do you have time to get up in the mornings and get your sessions done, or is lunchtime at work the time to do those intervals? Maybe you will be an evening runner. Maybe your long runs have to be done on a Friday or Saturday, not the traditional Sunday.

Work out how this is all going to work for you and your family and be ready to commit the time it takes to get marathon-ready. Running a marathon isn’t impossible, but it is hard, and allocating enough time to reach your goals is probably the hardest part of all. Good luck!

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