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Beginners’ Guide to Training for the 2011 London Marathon

Published 20 September 2010

Have you stood on the sidelines, watching the London Marathon runners in awe, thinking ‘’I could do that?’’  Or do you just relish the idea of a real challenge with Winter ahead?  Well, running the 2011 London marathon may not be as far beyond your reach as you might think!  With charity places still available, it’s not too late to enter.

I spoke to Steve Brett, nine times London marathon runner for the warts-‘n’- all reality of taking up the challenge of running next year’s London marathon myself.

Traditionally a male-dominated sport, more and more women are now striding out, and in Steve’s running club the Serpentine, women dominate the 2000 plus membership. The fact that their ages range from 20-74 is very encouraging for us 30-somethings, particularly that one woman approaching 60 who runs ‘ultra marathons’ – ultra being any distance more than a marathon.

Steve Brett running the 2007 London Marathon (in the red vest)

So how does a mere mortal start the seemingly daunting task of running training? For a start, there are lots of benefits of taking it up, even as a hobby. So often we peruse the latest gym memberships in the city, but it’s worth knowing that running is a cheap sport that you can do anytime, with no joining fee, with a much more scenic backdrop than the treadmill!  It’s also a sport you can grow to love, which can become a part of your lifestyle with a little consistency and enjoyment.  Other benefits are that running is relaxing, and because it makes you sweat (unavoidable unfortunately!) running will boost your immune system to help resist those winter colds.

I asked Steve how he transformed himself from an out-of-shape office worker who was partial to a few pies, to the streamlined running enthusiast that he is today. There were a couple of tips he could offer for us newbies, first to think in terms of time, not distance when taking our first steps.  He started out by going for a 20 minute run and building up from there.  The second tip was that he used his local park as a training ground, and progressed from running a single lap of 3 miles over a month, to 2 and 3 laps, totaling 9 miles. He got this distance under his belt long before having the idea to do a marathon.

For those of us who are overweight or out of shape and know even a run round the park will nearly finish us off, Steve’s advice is to think about your diet first. Logically, if you can reduce your weight a little before embarking on moderate exercise you can avoid putting too much strain on your body. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’, as the saying goes!

The good news is fast walking is an ideal start, and living in a busy city should make many of us commuters national champions!  Steve’s advice is to go for a long walk, and alternate jogging and walking as we go until we are eventually running. I was surprised to hear that even in the London marathon itself, although the idea is to run all the way, some people run three miles, then walk a mile, alternating this for the whole distance.

To find your pace as a beginner, a good indicator that you are not going too fast is that you can sustain a conversation whilst running – just like they told us at school on those long runs up the hill, while the P.E teachers took the car up – you know who you are. Steve suggests finding a running buddy or joining a running club, which can be very sociable and will give you a boost when your friends would rather you were in the pub with them of an evening!

If you’re still weighing up running and stopping in front of the TV with your favourite goodies, here are a few more incentives that might make you pop on your running shoes and get out there:

  • Running will help you sleep – Steve says once his head hits the pillow after a long run, he is out for the count and sleeps very well
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money on running gear, with shops like Sweatshop, Runners Need, Run and Become and Decathlon at your fingertips in London – according to Steve the latter sells the best running socks he’s found at a bargain price. You only need minimal items of clothing for running, and they’ll last you for years – in fact a lot of people sustain running because it is a cheap sport.
  • Running is a great escape, at the weekend you can get up, get out there and explore and see where the road takes you. The one tip with areas is to keep your wits about you, especially at night, as whilst training into the small hours our daring Steve has stumbled across the odd sketchy area. He also advises us not to run with music on, to be fully aware of what is going on around you once you start running.
  • Running can be worked into a busy Londoner’s working day – Steve likes to run to and from work, alternating this with cycling either there or back. You will also feel more alert and energetic in the morning, amidst your tired colleagues dragging themselves into work
  • You will find you lose a little weight – in fact the bodies running past me during the London marathon were more than enough of an incentive to want to start up running! However Steve’s advice is not to have weight loss as your goal, but to make running part of your lifestyle that you actually enjoy. With this in mind, losing weight and toning up will be more likely to happen naturally, you will feel healthier, and may be less likely to want to fill up on junk food
  • Your diet doesn’t have to change that much, as eating carbs helps fuel your body for running – Steve sticks to the foods he enjoys, and eats what works for him- he still enjoys a nice bit of white bread and white pasta!

Fortunately in London we couldn’t have a better training ground for this sport. Steve counts the Thames South Bank riverside as one of his favourite running routes, the path taking you from one side of the city to the other. There is no shortage of parks, with choices such as Hyde Park, St James Park and Green Park, the total distance around the three being 7.5 miles, which is a ready-made run. Added to this list are Regents Park and Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath, Greenwich and Richmond Park, all great places Steve recommends running – so you can’t really go wrong with London’s parks. For the tourist or someone who does not know London that well, Steve maintains that running is the best way to find your way around, as the best way to see London is on foot – either by running or walking.

If you live further out there are some lovely country runs, and Steve has recently discovered some trail running, which is a little kinder on the legs than running on roads with the soil of the woods under your feet. There are some nice forest runs around the Green Belt and some great walking trails too, which Steve recommends you discover.

The advice with areas is to get out there and explore, and find where you feel comfortable running. With the sunny days waning, it’s good to know that London’s weather is perfect for running: light drizzle and cool weather are ideal conditions – thank God!

So you’re now past your shaky beginning and are getting into your running, you may even be googling charities to run the next London marathon for. What tips are there for getting yourself ready for this event and keeping going over the coming months?

  • Contrary to popular thinking, don’t start by stretching, as this would mean stretching cold muscles. Steve’s suggests starting with a 5-minute warm up run, then stopping and stretching a little before starting your longer run. Once you’re running on a regular basis you will need to stretch out your calves and hamstrings afterwards, when your muscles are warmed up.
  • Be as fresh as you can be before you start running, but many agree that even if you feel tired, you will never regret having gone for a run. The hardest part is always getting out there, especially when it’s raining or cold, but at least with running you haven’t got far to go – just get your kit on and get out the door!
  • You may experience a few minor bodily twinges, aches and pains over your first few months as your body adjusts itself. Steve’s advice is to run through these within reason, but to seek medical advice first if you have had any serious medical conditions.
  • Although he does not claim to be a nutritionist, Steve has noticed that eating fish has had a positive effect on his running, and has made him run better the next day
  • Eating pasta will fuel your body, especially for long distances, but as everyone is different you will learn what to eat by what gives you the most energy
  • Make sure you drink enough fluids when you’re training, so that you don’t cramp up because of dehydration. A ‘camel pouch’ is a good option – a hydration back pack- for use during long distances and training runs when there are no water stations, and to avoid being laden down with bottles. Water and Lucozade are both good options to carry, water being preferable for the beginner runner, supplementing this with Lucozade as you run longer distances to sustain your energy.

If you fancy the challenge of running the London Marathon 2011, Steve’s advice is to start planning now:  think about changing your diet and losing a bit of weight if necessary. So if you have the willpower to put down that chocolate bar, switch off the telly and drag yourself out of the house for a run, just think, you might get to participate in the glory of the London marathon!

To get in touch with Jeanine or Steve, please email jeanine (dot) hack @london-insider.co.uk

  • http://www.londoneye2eye.com Vanguard

    Yes. I have watched people running the London Marathon and think: If I could do that, I’d still prefer running a 7K for charity though. :-)!

    Let me know if there are invitations to run 7 kilometres or less — or even a walk, for charity. I’ll be in my element then, I can tell you.

  • Jeanine Hack

    Yes, if you contact me I can pass your request on to Steve and he can let you know about future races. Otherwise there is a very good magazine called runners world that will give you that info, Jeanine

  • Norrie Hansen

    Very well written, Jeanine. I flew through it with ease. Very fluent. Interesting peice too! Keep them coming :)

  • http://londoniscool.com William K Wallace

    My knees feel wrecked just thinking about running a marathon…I think I will give it a big miss. I will stick with walking…