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Part 2: Beginner’s Guide to Running the London Marathon 2011

Published 1 October 2010

For further inspiration for my running challenge, I asked Steve Brett about his own experience in marathon running and his first taste of the London marathon.

Click here to read Part 1

Steve ran his first of nine London marathons in 2001, from a total of 21 marathons he has run internationally. After hitting the wall at the 22 mile mark, he vowed he would never run another marathon and was just happy to finish! Completing the race in a remarkable 3 hours and 9 minutes, Steve discovered he qualified for the Boston marathon which requires a time of under 3:10. This motivated him to run the Boston event as his second marathon, which after 114 years is the oldest in the world.

Steve running the London Marathon 2010

In 2002 Steve completed the Boston, New York and Monaco marathons, the last two only two weeks apart, talk about a challenge!   The following year he achieved a personal best in the Paris marathon, followed by London’s only a week later, and Melbourne’s later that year. His London finishing time taught him that running marathons one week apart is not a good idea!

This impressive list of destinations has certainly whetted Steve’s appetite for travel, and he admits the marathons do give him an incentive to broaden his horizons. He often looks for marathons in countries he has never visited and eagerly signs up for them, seeing this as a great opportunity to get an overall perspective of a city before revisiting his favourite spots. Three of the longest races that exist – the 7 day Sahara desert, the 100 mile Himalayan challenge or the Comrades in South Africa (London to Brighton in distance) – are on Steve’s hit list for the future.

Steve plans to be running the London marathon for years to come, and having managed 4 marathons in one year, he hopes to fit in at least one other race during the year.

The London Marathon began in 1981 and hosts several types of runner including the ‘elite’ runners. These runners are attracted from all over the world, for both the enjoyment of the race and financial incentive.

Places are limited for the London marathon, and approximately 35,000 applicants out of over 100,000 are accepted each year. This number consists of elite runners, club runners, and recreational and charity runners, who are motivated both to raise money, and through the once- in- a- lifetime experience the marathon offers.

The joy of participation seems to be the common denominator, whether or not participants run or walk, as according to Steve there’s nothing more exhilarating than the experience of completing 26.2 miles. The advantage of running for a charity is that walking on the track is not the end of the world, and of course you have the crowd’s support all the way!

There are several ways of entering the London marathon – firstly by ballot, the most popular option, with an online application procedure at London-marathon.co.uk. Although the ballot is closed for London’s 2011 marathon, it is advisable for next year to register online as early as the day of the event when the ballot opens – it always reaches capacity. The likelihood of you being accepted by ballot is about 1 in 20, but Steve has been lucky having been accepted on both applications. However he does know people who have applied 5 years in a row and have been unsuccessful, so considers it the ‘luck of the draw’ to be accepted by ballot.  It costs less than £40 to enter the London marathon, which is the same across the board. This is great value for money considering the amount of organisation involved, and the amount of volunteers on hand for the event.

An additional means of entering is in the ‘good for your age’ category:  –if you have previously run a marathon in good time, this will qualify you automatically to be accepted.

You may have also seen the wheelchair race, which starts minutes before the marathon from the same location and is extremely inspiring to watch.  Its participants have to maintain an equal level of fitness as the runners, and they put in as much if not more training in preparation for the race. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and team spirit on the day, especially amongst the club runners who participate in their teams, and people encourage and greet each other along the way.

An increasingly popular means of entry is to run for a charity. Charities charge their own fee for participation, and most major charities have a fixed number of places in the London Marathon every year. These are allocated on the premise that an agreed sum of money will be raised by the participant for their charity.  To be in with a chance for a charity place, you will need to get in touch with the charity of your choice to see if they have any places left. The list of charities is available here, and you can register your interest at any time, and they will keep your name on file: http://www.virginlondonmarathon.com/marathon-centre/enter-virgin-london-marathon/charity-entries/

Being a marathon connoisseur, Steve Brett has quite a few tips and anecdotes from his own experience to offer for marathon day, for both participants and spectators:

  • Be aware of people around you, and if you need to spit, make sure there isn’t an unsuspecting passer-by in the vicinity
  • As well as spitting, expect runners to drop water bottles as well as hurling them into the crowd – Steve has been hit by a water bottle before – if you must drop a bottle he advises dropping it near the edge of the road or in a bin
  • Beware of other runners – a runner once clipped Steve’s legs and he nearly fell over, very much like in the Ben Hur chariot race. The advice is to hold your arms out and create your own space, as if you do get your leg clipped it could spell the end of the race for you. Alternatively you could be carrying this injury for the whole race – 26.2 miles.
  • If you are a club runner, there is a strong possibility you will have to find your way around the celebrity runners lined up in front of you. However you may enjoy some celebrity spotting on the day, as the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Nell McAndrew are regular participants.
  • Don’t be put off by those around you running faster– everyone has peaks and troughs; run your own race, at your own pace!
  • Some people do end up walking the marathon, and people are known to take their time –stopping along the way to have snacks they have brought with them. The advice is to stop only if necessary to avoid seizing up. Surprisingly some people have taken days to complete the marathon – Lloyd Scott took his time in 2002 competing for charity in a deep sea diving suit, he walked the whole distance moving at a slow pace, finishing in a time of 5 days, 8 hours, 46 minutes!
  • Be careful of what other runners are carrying – Steve recalls a near miss with the ‘Maasai Warriors’ in 2008, who were right in front of him carrying real spears!
  • Not all runners stop to use the toilet on the way – one lady ran to victory having soiled her white running pants, which was very visible. Bare bottoms and people going to the toilet are quite a common sight – Paula Radcliffe was famously seen relieving herself at the roadside.  If you’ve got to go you’ve got to go!
  • Don’t expect the event to be easy, and be realistic about the challenge – you can’t be prepared enough for what you’re going to experience. Gradually build up your endurance to this distance over several months, with an absolute minimum of 6 months training for the marathon, depending on your level of fitness, although the sooner you start training the better. 26.2 miles is roughly half way to Brighton, which is quite a distance, and on the day you can’t get the train!
  • Expect physical injuries like bleeding nipples and skin chafing, especially male runners who are less supported than women in loose fitting garments. Bleeding nipples are a common sight, and Steve advises applying Vaseline to the area before you start. You can also buy nipple plasters such as those women wear for breast-feeding – Steve fashioned his own nipple pads with some tissues and masking tape in the early days. Similarly if you are a little overweight your inner thighs will rub, and the advice is to wear lycra shorts for support and to reduce chafing.
  • The large plastic marathon bag runners are given at the finish can be cumbersome, containing both your belongings and the items given to you – after 26.2 miles this will be a considerable weight on your shoulder. Steve now takes his own backpack and puts it into the plastic bag just before the race. He then uses his own backpack after the race, which is much easier to carry!
  • If it’s raining your shoes and socks will get soaked, so Steve advises taking a fresh pair of shoes and socks for the end. The first thing you will want to do is relieve those tired feet!
  • As well as dry shoes and socks, Vaseline and nipple plasters, your pre-race bag should include toilet paper, energy gels, food, a clean t-shirt and a change of clothes.
  • Arrive early to allow time to queue for the toilets, and the final thing you should do at the starting line is apply your Vaseline – it is not uncommon to see runners sticking their hands down their shorts just before the race!
  • Many spectators like to position themselves at the finish line, but the advice is to spread out and choose a shady position– the London marathon is a long day and it can be very wearing standing in the sun or rain. 

With these good, bad and ugly realities in mind, what are the reasons then to enter the London marathon 2011?

  • There is room for everyone, from beginners to elite athletes, and you can run the race at your own speed.
  • Completing 26.2 miles is an amazing thrill, and you can expect amazing support from the crowd, especially during the last half of the marathon when the going gets tough. The London marathon crowd are particularly supportive, who lift your performance and drive you on!
  • You’ll remember the event for the rest of your life, particularly your first marathon.
  • Taking up running will improve your health and endurance.

With so much experience to offer, Steve Brett has started his own company, Runabout London, offering running tours of London. The inspiration behind the idea was his own need when venturing abroad to an unknown city to have someone on hand to show him around, combined with a leisurely run at his own pace. He has often travelled to other cities and headed out for a run, but has stayed in a straight line to avoid getting lost. He would have loved to have another runner who was equally passionate about the sport, pick him up at his hotel room and guide him around to the most interesting spots. This would enable him to fit in his daily run, as well as find his way around and receive local knowledge such as restaurant tips.

Steve would also often come across runners on his commute to work, who would stop and ask him for directions. When one man asked him how to get to Regents Park, as he was going in that direction Steve ended up running with him to the park, chatting and showing him round, for which the runner was very grateful.

Runabout London provides just this service, and is not a historical walking tour, rather a means to explore the city and find your way around in the experienced hands of a local streetwise marathon runner. 

For most of his clients who are runners, Steve would expect you to have planned ahead, booked your hotel, brought your running kit and be ready to run. However he does not expect you to be an elite runner, sprinting round the London streets, which is not feasible due to their size and the busyness of certain areas. Whether a beginner or more experienced runner, Steve will guide you at your own pace, through the open spaces and the streets with the widest footpaths.

Steve wishes Happy Running to everyone, and promises that if you are ever in need of a run, he will show you the sights as well as answer any further questions you have. To contact Jeanine or Steve, email jeanine (dot) hack (at) london-insider (dot) co (dot) uk

  • Sarah

    Hey, Action on pre-eclampsia has 7 2011 marathon places left, check it out on www. apec.org.uk
    they urgently need your support!!!


  • http://www.london-insider.co.uk The London Insider

    Thanks for the tip Sarah.
    Now that all public ballot places for the London Marathon 2011 have been announced, those who have been unsuccessful in securing a place should try to get a sponsored place through the many charities involved with the London Marathon!

  • http://www.leprahealthinaction.org Lizzie Dearling

    Hi love the article, it so hard to get into the London Marathon via the ballot these days – its such a fantastic event and such a wonderful achievement! – LEPRA Health in Action has guaranteed places availble so check out our website if you would like to run to fight diseases of poverty http://www.leprahealthinaction.org/virgin-london-marathon/