Running a marathon: Are you ready for the challenge?

Brussels Marathon

You know how it is when the London Marathon is on TV: you admire how Brigid Kosgei pounds the pavements barely breaking a sweat to come in first; you watch Mo Farah and David Weir cross the line in fifth, the crowds cheering them on; and you watch the 40,000 other runners follow them, challenging themselves for a greater cause.

You hear heart-warming stories, like that of Eileen Noble, who became the oldest woman to run this marathon at 84, and you laugh at the ridiculous costumes people don on the day. It all seems wonderful; a fantastic day out. You know, somewhere along the way, you have to run 26.2 miles but, with crowds lining the route, you’re sure the atmosphere will carry you along. At least, that’s what everyone says.

Caught up in the marathon madness, you find yourself making ill-advised pacts with colleagues and friends, you buy yourself a new – and very expensive – pair of ASICS and you find yourself, at the last minute, applying for a charity place for the London Marathon 2020. Game on!

Then Monday morning arrives, and you remember that the furthest you’ve ever run is 5km and the jubilant crowds and water stops are non-existent at 6.30am in the morning.

Thankfully, you realise you have an entire year to prepare for the big day, but then you realise you have an ENTIRE YEAR to prepare for the big day.

When you’re slogging through the park in the rain on a cold Wednesday evening, that’s an awful thought. Game over!

OK, so maybe this doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you’re taking a good look at your options and weighing up the pros and cons of signing up to run. However, whether you are the former or the latter, here are a few things to consider before you decide to enter.

1. Do I have the time to train? 

This is probably the most important question you should be asking yourself. Providing you are healthy and able to undertake exercise, 12 months is more than enough time to prepare for a marathon. However, you should be prepared to dedicate a fairly large portion of your week to training, and this will only get bigger as you progress towards the race. For beginners, I would say you should look to run three times a week over varying distances, or twice a week at the beginning with one other day set aside for an equally healthy pursuit, like swimming. Once training progresses, and in the final few months after Christmas, you may even find that you wipe out one day each weekend: for a long run and then flopping on the couch for the rest of the day (depending on your motivation to move).

What’s more, you should increasingly be thinking about what you are putting in your body nutrition wise. That doesn’t mean ‘clean eating’ for 12 months, but it does mean looking at the amount you are eating, the types of food you are eating, whether you are getting enough protein for recovery and the amount of water you are drinking. As a beginner, you won’t need the same kind of macro-tracking as the elite runners, but it will involve some effort on your part to eat the right foods, especially in the lead up to the race.

2. Do I have support?

As with any personal challenge, having a supportive team around you is very helpful. This is why running the marathon with friends or colleagues could be a good option, as you’ll have each other to lean on when training gets tough.

However, having friends and family supporting you during your training could make or break its success. Are your family prepared for you being out of the house training? Are they prepared for you to be tired and, at times, thoroughly miserable after your long runs?  If you have children, do you have someone to take care of them at the weekend when you go out and train? Are they prepared for your conversation matter to become increasingly limited – unless they’re keen to talk about energy drinks, muscle recovery and your runner’s belly?

Admittedly, you can mitigate a lot of the above by being conscious about how training is affecting you. Maybe you need to set aside more time with friends and family, particularly if you want them on the finish line, cheering you on!

3. Can I raise the money?

One of the best things about running is that it is, generally, accessible for most people. If you have a pair of trainers you can get out and run. It doesn’t involve – at least, at a beginner level – expensive equipment.

However, entering the actually races can get expensive. There are multiple expenses to consider: entry fees, travel and accommodation if your race isn’t local, new trainers (yours will probably wear out), extra food and any supplements, and any sponsorship money you need to raise.

This last point is probably the most important to consider, as sponsorship promises can run pretty high. If you don’t manage to secure a place through a ballot, one option could be to run a marathon for a charity. To gain a place, you usually have to pledge to raise a certain amount of money for the charity. Sometimes, this can be £800 or more. Ask yourself whether you are able to raise that amount of money, or, if not, would you be able to cover the shortfall yourself? You don’t want the added stress of reaching an unattainable goal, when you’re trying to concentrate on training.

4. Are you ready for the challenge?

How much do you really want this? Really? Honestly, there’s nothing like achieving a personal goal; challenging yourself to undertake something new, pushing yourself to your limits and coming out the other side with a big medal, a goody bag and bragging rights for at least six months. However, running and training for a marathon will take a huge amount of commitment.

Of course you will have bad days and sometimes your running and nutrition will slip, but, overall, you need to know that you will pull yourself out of any slumps and get back on track. Luckily, when you have a year to prepare, you can start by taking it easy, but you will also need the commitment to get out in the rain, wind and dark to train.

Are you prepared to turn down some social activities in favour of running? Are you prepared to get a bit scabby at times – chaffing, missing toenails and chapped skin are all fairly common? Are you prepared to pull pained faces and deal with a running nose in front of other people, are you prepared to deal with runner’s belly, are you prepared for the cold and dark runs, and are you prepared for the truly awful photos at the end?


Then you’re probably ready for a marathon! Game on!

The London Marathon ballot is now closed, but plenty of charities offer places to committed runners. Alternatively, why not run in another UK city, such as Brighton or Manchester?

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