At Sports Tours International we believe that preparing for your first marathon is a fantastic journey, one that should always be savoured and one that will be remembered. The journey to the Virgin Money London Marathon 2020 has been a bumpy road for one of our team, Tom, who is attempting his first marathon. But as many of us around the world are facing challenging times and widespread disruption to our training and race calendars, due to COVID-19, Tom is happy that he found running before this and is planning to continue with his marathon preparations for the rescheduled event.
Over to Tom:
Back in April 2019, I entered the ballot for the London Marathon; I just filled in my entry and then thought nothing of it. It’d be nice to get a place; it’d be amazing if I could run alongside my brother, who had also entered, but I knew how unlikely it was after all this is the London Marathon (there was actually less than a 4% chance to gaining a place through the ballot!) Months then passed. I had totally forgotten I had even entered the ballot when a magazine dropped through my letterbox in September.
“You’re in!” It read on the cover.
Cue a mixture of emotions and feelings. Wow, what an amazing opportunity and how lucky am I! But also … Oh my god, I’m actually going to have to go through with this! I’m not sure I can actually drag myself around 26.2 miles.
I became the envy of many of my friends. They told me how lucky I was to gain a place in the ballot, especially at the first time of asking! I’d heard stories of people entering the ballot for years, even a decade, without ever gaining a place! This really put into perspective the magnitude of the occasion and, if I’m honest, it was a little daunting.
In the following weeks, I spoke to a number of friends who have run marathons previously; I did some research into training plans, and began to hit the road. I have a background in semi-professional football so I had a reasonable foundation of fitness to build upon. So, after a few months I was running between 3 and 5 miles again regularly. My goal was to build up fitness in preparation for a solid 18 week training plan. However, after running 4 or 5 times a week, I started to wonder if I would actually cope at 5 times the distance that I was running now. Also little niggling injuries would flare up, and my knees in particular were struggling to cope with the mileage.
Initially, I didn’t set myself a target time. I’d be happy just to complete it, as long as it’s in semi respectable time – (whatever that is!) However, the more I got into it, the more I caught the bug. I was reading blogs and training plans, and I started plotting everything from timing and mileage splits, down to what I was going to wear, my pre-race diet and routine. By November I’d really gotten into it; I really couldn’t wait to race!
With my focus and my race firmly in sight, I kept on training as we headed into winter. However December is always a tough month to keep up training, with darker, colder nights setting in earlier and earlier each day; as well as all the social activities of the festive season. My progress had inevitably slowed, therefore I decided that I was going to go for it after the New Year. I’d simply amend my 18-week plan to a 16 week plan. Not the end of the world.
A few weeks later and I was gradually building up the mileage again. I was loosely following a training plan by Hal Higdon that a friend had sent to me. It involved 3 or 4 shorter runs followed by a longer run each week, with the distance gradually increasing. I’d say I loosely followed it, and to be honest I didn’t always get all my shorter runs in, however I was told by a friend that the longer one was the most important to get in. So I focused on that.
Every weekend, I would gear myself up for a longer run. The hardest part with those runs were the first couple of miles, finding my pace and getting into a rhythm. Once I got going, I felt good; I had a running playlist, and a few podcasts to keep me company on my way around.
Up to this point, I had been using a pair of trainers that I already had but now I was taking my running more seriously, I decided to go and have my gait analysed and invest in a proper pair of running shoes. This would give me plenty of time to wear them in before the marathon. I checked the video footage of my gait; a completely neutral gait! I chose a pair of Saucony runners, that were much lighter on my feet than what I’d been using and left the store happy.
By this point, I’m running up to 20 or 30 miles in a week, and eventually managed to run a half marathon; the furthest I have ever run!
As we edge closer to the marathon, there’s one topic that’s dominated the news, and it seems that wherever you turn talk of the COVID – 19 outbreak is everywhere, but I never imagined what was to follow.
The postponement and cancellation of major events, widespread travel restrictions, lock down and working from home, and all the time we are getting closer and closer to the London Marathon. Then we get the news…postponed until the Autumn. I have to admit, I’m massively disappointed.
All the time and effort I’d put in up to this point started to feel as though it had been a waste. It was a huge blow. All my training had been tailored towards one date, so to then have to start again feels like a huge step backward. However, in the grand scheme of things, my marathon preparation is irrelevant, compared to what is happening around the world. So, after a day of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to continue with my training, and that I would prepare for the rescheduled date in October. There is a part of me that feels like I wasn’t as prepared as I could be for the original date, so the rescheduled date gives me another 6 months to attack it in even better condition.
The new date of the 4th October carries added significance to me, as it would have been my Grandad’s birthday. Three years ago we lost my Grandad, who had been battling with cancer. His fight had been one of the main reasons I had decided to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
Now, working from home, my routine has changed, and an escape from the house for a run is much welcomed! My training continues with a few runs each week, all in isolation, and avoiding others en route. There are so many people running and walking now. More than I’ve seen on my runs before. It seems people have an added appreciation now that we’re restricted to our time outside.
“As for me, the training is giving me a focus, and an outlet to help me deal with the current situation. The distances I’m running at the moment aren’t great, but I’ll have chance to work on that nearer the time. I’ll start my 16-week plan again around the end of June.”
I’m still excited for the marathon. I can’t wait to get down there, take in the expo and get on the start line. Almost as much as I’m looking forward to the beer afterwards!
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