The London Marathon ballot opened this week, which means that in October there is likely to be a large number of people who will be faced with training for a marathon for the first time. While I love running long distances, over the years I have realised that there are a lot of misconceptions about running half and full marathons. If you have entered the ballot, or have signed up for your first long distance race, here are some of the most common lies about long distance running.
You can eat what you want
This is probably the biggest myth about long distance running out there, but even marathon runners have to watch what they eat. It is true that running long distances means that you burn off more calories and therefore you will need to eat more, especially carbs, but it doesn’t give you the ability to eat loads of junk food and still maintain your weight. In fact, many new to long distance running put on weight because they overestimate the amount of calories they’ve burned off and amount they can eat. Normally, when training for a marathon I will up my carb intake by 1 or 2 portions and have 1 or 2 cheat meals per week, but generally I will stick to small, healthy and light meals.
Running is all physical
While it is important to be fit and physically in shape, long distance running is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. When training for a long distance race you are aiming to both physically and mentally train for the distance. This means running on days when your mind and body doesn’t want to train, running in all types of weather conditions and mentally pushing on with the miles when you want to stop at mile 10. One way to help with the mental challenge is to raise money for charity. When I ran my first marathon I did it to raise money for a charity that meant a lot to me personally, partly because I knew that running for the charity would mentally help me to the finish line.
Training runs are the same as the race
Training is a vital part of preparing for a long distance race, but these runs are just preparation and whether your training runs go well or don’t won’t determine how you do on the actual day. In the weeks leading up to the Barcelona Marathon my training runs weren’t going well at all. I never got past 20 miles, plus bad weather meant that I couldn’t run at all on the last few weeks before the marathon. As well as this, I had a slight injury that impacted the distance and pace of many of my training runs. On the day I got a much better time than I expected, despite not feeling fully prepared for the race. So while a training run will give an indication of what you can expect to achieve, there are many factors will impact how well you do on the day including the weather conditions, how effective your taper was and even the clothes you decide to wear.
The more running you do the better
Top professional athlete will be putting in about 140 miles a week, but for most long distance runners this amount of running wouldn’t be effective or realistic. Many good amateur runners only run about 4-5 times a week and add cross training into their training plan to get fully fit for the race. Strength training is becoming popular among runners as it helps to build muscle and prevent injuries. I view strength training a vital part of my marathon training plan and I use Crossfit as addition to running 3-4 times a week to help build my strength and stamina for running.
You’ll never want to run again
In the final weeks of your training you’ll probably hate running. In the final few miles of the marathon you’ll definitely hate running. But in the days after completely your marathon you’ll want to run again. Long distance running is physically and mentally tough, but it is also incredibly rewarding and there is no feeling like crossing the finish line and knowing you’ve completed something that very few people manage to achieve.