Next Sunday, just over 40,000 people will lace up their trainers and set off to complete the London Marathon.
Tens of thousands of spectators will be cheering on family and friends, and probably thinking there is no way they could complete the 26.2-mile course themselves. In 2008, I was among them on the sidelines. But the following year I was out pounding the pavement towards the finish line and that overwhelming buzz of achievement.
The reality is, anybody in reasonably good health can run a marathon, particularly if they start their training regimen early. Feeling inspired? Here’s how to get prepared for next year’s race.
12 months until race day
Registration for 2019 opens a week after the big race so put your name down and keep your fingers crossed until places are allocated in October. If you don’t succeed in the ballot, you can still gain entry by running for a charity. This year, Ultra Sport Clinic has lent its support to Save The Rhinos by offering free treatments to runners raising money for the charity.
Start off on the right foot with a good pair of shoes. That means a proper gait assessment from a trained professional who will analyse the way you walk or run and recommend appropriate footwear from the outset. I always send my patients to Rasa from Runners Need in Monument; she knows everything and won’t sell you anything you don’t need.
If you’re a non-runner, start slow with a 10 to 15-minute programme of running and walking intervals. If you are a runner, getting started will be easier, but it’s important to get on the road and get pounding early to give your hips and knees time to adjust.
Nine months until race day
Start setting longer distance goals; two five-kilometre runs, then a 10-kilometre. At this point, any niggles should start to reveal themselves, which is why stretching is so important: you will see more benefits from a 10-minute stretch every day than a longer stretch a couple of times a week.
A sports masseuse will be able to identify any muscles that might be getting tight or niggles that could turn into bigger problems and recommend measures to prevent an injury.
Consult a marathon training plan only after you have a few miles under your legs. Most are designed for seasoned runners and can be quite intimidating if you’re just starting out.
Six months until race day
You should be around the halfway point and tackling a half-marathon. This might seem early, but it leaves you plenty of time to recover from any injuries and regain your fitness again before the big day.
If your trainers are on their last legs, buy new ones now so you can break them in. The same goes for clothing; work out what you’re most comfortable in and stick with it. There’s nothing like a scratchy tag to derail a distance runner so never buy new gear right before the event.
Three months until race day
Run parts of the actual marathon route when you can – it’s a huge boost on the day if you’ve done it before – and start pushing the distances to at least 80%, while leaving yourself enough time to recover.
Take note of your diet and which foods keep your energy levels up for the longest during the run. There are plenty of great nutrition guides with advice on what to eat throughout your training but the most important thing is don’t change anything. Race day is not for random experimentation.
If you’ve got friends and family coming to watch, plan ahead so you know where to look for them along the course and make sure they’re stocked up with supplies like vaseline or a snack.
Remember, the clock doesn’t start until you cross that starting line, so don’t feel like you have to race to the front of the group. Take things at your own pace and conserve energy.
Have fun – the London marathon is one of the best in the world, so try not to let nerves get the better of you, relax and enjoy yourself.
Ashleigh Wienand is the lead physiotherapist and clinical director of Ultra Sports Clinic. ultrasportsclinic.com
Cover image by Julian Mason (Creative Commons).