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The #VLM2013 - my advice on the run-in and the race

The London Marathon is now fast approaching and unless disaster strikes late on like it did last year, I'll be toeing the line on the 21st April for the 9th time.

The race has a chequered history for me. I've never quite had triumphs - my best run is 2:43 at London despite (I always think!) being in shape to break my 2:37pb there. I have certainly had my fair share of disasters though including a promising race ruined by a 20-minute pit stop!  I promise you that's the last time I'll mention that in this post!

I've put together some thoughts based upon running London those 8 times, the other 17 marathons I've run so far and indeed the several Londons I've not made thanks to injury.

1.

Last long run


It's a month to go as I write this and I think your last shot at a long run realistically is this weekend (assuming you run long on the weekends that is!).

Everyone is different, everyone responds to training slightly differently, everyone recovers at different rates so this is generic advice.  If you're more experienced/faster then 3 weeks out for the last one is possible but the earlier the better.

If you're intending to race the marathon and have been using quality sessions in your training (reps, tempo, intervals etc) then keep some of those in during the taper - sacrificing the filler runs to reduce weekly mileage and increase rest. 

Keep the intensity of the speed sessions but drop the number of reps (you are not going to get any fitter for the race at this point) or simply include some strides.  If you taper for a couple of weeks and at no point pick up speed then 2 weeks is a long time and you will start to believe you have fossilised.

2.

Short race


I think it can help to get a race in to get the legs turning over and, if you're new to racing, getting a feel for it.  Personally if I were racing a half I'd run that no later than 3 weeks to go.  A Parkrun or a 10k are ideal sharpeners. 

3.

Practice Nutrition


You should have worked out pretty much by now what you're going to consume during the race and when.  The sports drink on the course is Lucozade Orange  so absolutely try this beforehand to make sure you can stomach it.  If you plan on taking gels, work out when you will take them and how many.  Personally I use 2 or 3 gels at around the 8 Miles and 15 Miles point.  If I carry a third then I use that at about 21M.  There's a last Lucozade Sport station at 23.5M which can give you a last-minute boost.

You probably won't feel like taking the first gel but it's important to keep your glycogen levels topped up.  If you leave it too late you can find it difficult if not impossible to restore them. Once your brain has decided it's running low on sugar (that's all it can burn) and it's taken steps to preserve its share of the supply you're in trouble.

My most painful experience of that was in the 2011 Munich marathon.  I had intended to use gels but I'd stored them in a zip pocket at the back of my running shorts and it was so cold I couldn't undo the zip while running as my hands were too numb.  I didn't want to stop and lose time and felt fine so I let it go.  I completely crashed at 18 miles and had the most miserable run in to the finish, even needing a gel with 800m to go I was so strung out. I should have stopped at a cost of a few seconds and made sure I took the energy on board.

4.

Water


There is loads on the course but I get the feeling some people think they should be drinking from every water station.  I think it best to go as you feel; keep sipping but don't overdo it.  If the day is hot there will be showers on the course in several places.  They're a bit of a shock to the system but that can make you more alert!

5.

Pre-race fuel


Most people go for big carbs the night before though there is now some debate about whether carbs are the best fuel. Whatever, definitely go for familiar foods and don't go crazy with the quantity or eat lots after 6pm on the Saturday night.  It's not necessary to pack as many carbs in as humanely possible.  They will just make you feel heavy and have more problems getting sleep if you eat late.

Similarly with breakfast, aim to eat 3 hours or so before the race and again, nothing unfamiliar. If you're travelling in on the day you may need to eat en route.  My club takes a coach to the race from Windsor which leaves at 6:30am meaning if you eat at home that's maybe 3 and half hours or more before the race so take some top-up supplies like a banana or two.

6.

Stick with what you know


I mentioned this with your pre-race fuelling but it applies to every other area as well. No new shoes; no new kit, don't suddenly take up planking, horseriding or shifting heavy furniture!

7.

Vaseline every moving part, and slap on the sun cream


There's something different about race day.  Clothing that has never rubbed before will rub. Probably because of the added intensity on the day.  So prepare with plenty of vaseline or other lubricant on all vulnerable areas. Don't forget the nipples, gents! I add some around every joint, between all toes and wherever there's a seam. 

It can be warm on race day, and evn if it's not sunny you can still burn - you're out there for hours - so I'd recommend slapping on the factor 50.

8.

Throw-away kit for the start


You will have to surrender your bag to the baggage van some time before the race so make sure you bring some layers you can throw away - be it old t-shirts, bin bags, whatever.  You'll probably be at the start by 8 and it's unlikely to be warm.

A great deal of brand new kit is discarded at the start each year which seems a monumental waste to me though it does go to good homes.

9.

Pacing


The race is a mass of humanity and if you are aiming to finish between 3hrs30 and 4hrs30 you'll be in the thick of it.  It's important not to try and fight the crowds; that way madness lies.  Just go with the flow at the start and as the race unfolds, gaps will open up but don't waste energy weaving and dodging. You will pay for that later!

The race is basically flat but either side of the 5k mark is a downhill that you should be aware of if you're keeping strictly to time.  There are no inclines of any note though as the race goes on you may think there are; the camber of Tower Bridge and around the 21M point.  Walk either of these on a normal day out in London and you wouldn't even notice them.

Maintaining a steady effort, even pacing I find is the best strategy.  If you've been held up in the masses don't try and regain that lost time all at once; you can't bank your reserves that way.

There are mile markers every mile so even with the most rudimentary watch you can keep track.  One tactic I've tried when aiming for set mile splits is to program a countdown timer to beep at the end of my target mile time and repeat.  If the beep comes after the mile marker you're ahead.  Counting the paces from the mile marker to the beep tells you if your advantage is increasing or reducing mile on mile.  It does require some nerve as you see the mile marker approach and start praying the beep doesn't sound!

Counting paces might seem nuts but later on in the race if you're struggling, performing simple tasks like that can dissociate your mind from the run and help. Paula has often said she counts paces.

10.

Use the crowd


The support on the course is immense. There will probably be well over a million people lining the route.  One year every other person had a whistle which was little short of devastating!

Some like the noise (which is incessant), some don't but if you want the crowd to cheer you personally, get your name written or printed on your vest.

The Expo where you collect your number offers this service but I found that the local Decathlon store in Surrey Quays has a more comprehensive (colours, fonts, and logos) and cheaper service.  There were also no queues!

If you don't have your name they'll shout your number and believe me, you won't remember what that is after 3 miles.

11.

Yes, this goes up to eleven


Actually if you prepare right and get there rested and ready to go, the day will absolutely go up to eleven! It's a unique experience (even if you've run it several times before!); make the most of the day and enjoy it!

I hope you have a fantastic day and smash up the race!
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