No sooner have the members of Team Wolfestone recovered from their individual triumphs and regrets at the Cardiff Half-Marathon than they are planning the next steps in their running careers. While Gwen is still cursing the bad luck that made her legs cramp up part-way through the race and turned the last five miles into a painful ordeal, Helen and Silke have decided to sign up for the Llanelli Waterside Half-Marathon next March. Mari thinks she might prefer to tackle the 13.1 miles in Milan instead, and Emma has already set her sights on the next big challenge: finishing a full marathon.
She won’t be the only one. Marathon running, once the exclusive province of the super-fit and super-tough (until 1984, women were considered too delicate to compete in the ultimate Olympic race!), has become an increasingly popular weekend past time for people of all ages and abilities. If you’re contemplating joining them, here’s how to get started:
Anybody can run a marathon – as long as you’re willing to put in the hours and the miles. Depending on your current state of fitness and training habits, you will need to commit three to six months in advance. Winter may not be the best time to do this, so you may want to give London, Paris and Rome a miss and choose an autumn marathon such as Berlin for your debut.
Find a training plan that suits you. If you’re already running for an hour or more three to four times a week, you probably won’t have to increase your weekly mileage by much to get in shape for a full marathon – but you may well need a more structured approach to your training. There are dozens of training plans available online, so you can choose one and adapt it for your personal use. Long runs tend to be scheduled for weekends to suit those with 9-to-5 office jobs – so if you don’t want to give up clubbing on Saturday nights, you have to find time for two- to three- hour runs on weekdays.
Join a running group. Most marathon training plans include at least three or four 20-mile runs during the final phase. Running these distances is a lot less daunting and much more fun in the company of fellow sufferers – even if you’re the type to prefer solitary laps at your own speed for shorter training units. From coached training sessions at the local athletics club to informal gatherings of a few like-minded individuals, there are all sorts of options available. You might even meet new friends and/or business contacts.
Find well-lit training routes. Unless you work night shifts or extremely flexible hours, chances are that you will have to do a lot of your training in the dark during the winter months. For the sake of safety, try to stick to well-lit routes without too many cracks in the pavement, steps, high curbs and similar obstacles. You can go back to your favourite cross-country steeplechase as soon as there’s enough daylight to see the roots you’re tripping over.
Reconsider your diet. You will need all the energy you can get, so make sure you get the most out of your five a day. Again, there are countless nutrition plans available on the internet, but most of them will only tell you what you already know: the healthier you eat, the fitter you will feel. However, now is not the time to starve yourself of much-needed fuel (your body burns about 110 calories for every mile you run) – and remember also that a well-balanced diet should include the occasional treat.
Avoid people with colds. Paradoxically, even though regular exercise is supposed to keep you fit and healthy, it can also make you more susceptible to infection, since your body is exposed to a lot of stress in the run-up to a full marathon. If you do catch a cold, especially if it affects your chest and lungs, stop training until you’re fully cured. A temporary setback in your training plan is preferable to contracting persistent heart muscle infection.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. As an anorexic teenager, I got into running for all the wrong reasons and later had to teach myself that it’s perfectly okay to miss a few days’ training, it won’t suddenly turn me into a lazy blob – in fact, rest is an essential part of any training regime. If you really can’t face going out on a dank and drizzly morning, just take a day off – you will be feeling all the more eager to get out there and run the next time it’s sunny.
If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Long-distance running is a pointless waste of human energy. It is not going to give your life meaning or make you a better person. There are far more efficient ways to lose weight, raise money for your favourite charity, or prove to yourself that forty is nowhere near the end of the line. There are few things that can beat the pure joy of running into the rising sun on a brisk autumn morning with only the screeching of seagulls for company.
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