This coming Saturday, I’ll be taking part in my 12th marathon with my great pal Di. Each marathon gets that little bit easier because we know what to expect, and I want to share ten of the most important things I’ve learnt.
Confidence. During the preparation and the walk, you will doubt that your back, trainers and feet will see you through. Ignore this voice. It’s a persistent and insidious one but, as long as you’ve trained, also a liar.
Bowels. Meals in the 36 hours leading up to the marathon will be dominated by a single thought; “Has this got enough time to pass through my system?” In my first marathon, I miscalculated and, three miles in, I couldn’t go any further. Thank heavens we found at a pit stop.
Fancy dress. It will become natural to see people in strange, odd, and downright funny costumes. I’ve suspected people were wearing fancy dress when they were just dressed up. I despair when I see people at the start wearing plimsolls or flip-flops. Despite their confidence, those people never make it to the end without cheating. Oh, speaking of which …
Cheating. I’ve see people near the end climbing out of cabs and casually strolling over the finish line. A special place in hell is reserved for them.
Stewards. Stalwart volunteers who staff the start line, finish line, the route, the refreshment stands, and the toilet stops. They fall into two camps; friendly, cheerful, perky individuals who are cheering you on at four o’clock in the morning, and sullen, awkward, quiet people who can barely raise their eyes, let alone a smile or a cheer. It’s completely ironic, but your own mood alternates between needing one sort or the other, and your mood will almost never align with the spacing of these two types. Occasionally, you dread the thought of – sometimes even get angry at the sound of – of hearing the next volunteer saying “Come on! You know you can do it!” Terrible, but true.
Crowds. At the start, you’ll be penned in by other people, all of whom want to get over that start line at the same time as, or preferably before, you. You will rejoice when the crowds thin.
You will never want to see another banana again as long as you live. They’re an excellent source of energy, but the mountains of skins soon turn you off the smell.
The wall really hurts. If it hits, you’ll suffer. In my second marathon, both Di and I hit it at the same time – 18 miles in, just as we reached Billingsgate Market, and we were so close to giving up. I hit the wall near the end of a half marathon and was limping towards the end, but I didn’t give up.
Stairs are the enemy; avoid them for a day afterwards if you can, so you can avoid pain. But keep moving too, so you don’t seize up.
You will become an expert on training clothes and weather forecasts. What trousers do you want? Thick or thin, long or short, black or while, nylon or polyester? What sort of trainer suits your feet? Then there’s the weather; what you take with you – a hat? an umbrella? a kagool? None of the above? How has the weather forecast changed since the last time you checked five minutes ago?
And the best bit? When you sign up for the next one.