With all the usual caveats about not being anything like official advice, having only done this once and therefore definitely not being an expert, and only being what seemed to work for me; if you are thinking of signing up for the classic distance for the first time, there are a few things to consider.
• Location, location, location – is there somewhere which means something to you which has a marathon? Or a place where you really want to go, or have maybe run a half before? Some people will only ever contemplate taking part in a marathon if it’s London, but especially if you are not in it to raise money there are loads of choices open to you. Having a meaningful location helped me to keep going. I have only happy memories associated with Rome and wanted that to continue.
• Limber up – you need to do strength and flexibility work when training for a marathon. Lots of people will tell you this – listen to them. Better to put in the time up front and reduce injury risk than to wait til something goes twang.
• You are what you eat – think about nutrition. Not just what you eat every day to keep yourself healthy, but also what you will take during the run. You might not like gels, lots of people don’t. That’s ok, but whatever else they may be gels are convenient. I know one runner who re-fuels with cheese and marmite sandwiches on the go. Works for her, but might be a bit cumbersome for others! You might also find that a simple flavour change helps you with gels. I take lemon and lime ones (which if cold enough almost pass for a gin and tonic) but nearly threw up when I tried a raspberry one of the same brand. Unless you have the stomach of a concrete elephant you will need to practice.
• Looking flash – you don’t need a million and one bits of kit. I love running kit, but it costs a small fortune if you’re a kitaholic like me. What you actually, genuinely need is the right pair of shoes for the way you run (x2 for marathon training so they can be rotated), decent socks that will help you avoid blisters (not necessarily twin skin ones – these make my toe blisters worse!), comfy sweat wicking kit that you feel three kinds of awesome in, and some sort of running watch to help you pace yourself and track your progress.
• Be realistic – you might start out not really knowing what your marathon pace might be, and you might get a lot of people telling you to push harder and run faster, or telling you the exact opposite and to slow down or you’ll injure yourself. Only you know how your body is actually coping – let it guide you. For your first marathon it’s about getting round in one piece. I had a real mental block about going under 5 hours, like I would have let myself down or something. That’s complete rubbish – your best is always good enough and if that’s over 5 hours then it’s over 5 hours. Hell, it’s about endurance isn’t it? Those people doing a sub-3 marathon are barely trying when it comes to running for a bloody long time!
• Misery loves company – join a club, go to parkrun, coerce a mate into doing long runs with you. It is so much easier to keep going if you’re not on your own. Also – and this is a direct recommendation – for ladies, give Women’s Running magazine a go. I started reading it last year and it’s great. Other running magazines can be a bit bloke heavy or fast people centric. Women’s Running covers a lot of beginner aspects and is aimed squarely at the fairer sex, so there is usually something to relate to!