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Sunday, 20 March 2016

So how do you run 24 miles? (If I couldn't do it with a friend, I wouldn't do it at all!)


But before I start.....

I didn't manage to get a place in the ballot for the London Marathon, which means that I am fundraising for Coram, who do amazing work with vulnerable and underprivileged children. I feel really uncomfortable asking for donations from people, so instead I will shortly be posting about a fabulous competition that I am going to run on here to help reach my target. Do keep your eyes open! 

Twenty four miles is the most that my friend and I have run whilst training for the London Marathon. "How do you do it?" is a question that I've been asked a lot recently.  Compared to some, I've run very little. Many others have run much further than this and much more frequently too.  But the one thing that I do remember is being in the position, not so long ago, where I would look at others and think "How on earth do you do that? How is it physically possible?"


On reading this I really DID ask myself "how is that physically possible?" The author is an ultra-marathon runner. 50 miles, 100 miles - it's no problem to him!

The answer is you build up to it slowly. It's not as if you just wake up one day and think to yourself "Oh I know, today I'll go and run 24 miles." Having completed the Birmingham half marathon last October, my friend and I ran the half marathon distance possibly once a month until Christmas. The day after Boxing Day we did 13 miles, the week later 16 miles, then 18 miles, 20 miles, 22 miles and then 24 miles. So like anything, if you build up little by little, it's not so much of a shock to the body.


The day before, and the day of, a long run preparation is key. We do our long runs on a Friday afternoon and we do shorter sessions, and hill and sprint work, either together, or alone, or with other super lovely friends who run, during the week.

I don't do too much exercise the day before. On a Friday morning I eat a lightish breakfast, have a mid-morning nutri-bullet and an early lunch. Then, when the running watch starts charging, together with the FitBit, and the phone - when the bum bag gets loaded up, when the key and cash get stashed in the phone holder that I wear on my arm - that's when the adrenaline kicks in.


Unlocking the key to the success of the Kenyans in distance running. 

I wouldn't want anyone to be under the illusion that we run 24 miles non-stop. After five or so miles we'll have a quick stop. Out comes the M&S chocolate flapjack, the elderflower water, the Love Hearts, Twix - you name it, we've got it. In fact, if we're honest we probably spend most of our run working out when we can next stop to eat something delicious and sweet.  We could do with a Mrs Overall style trolley for our three course meal that we take with us. And thereafter we'll stop every 40 minutes or so to top up as once you've gone past the point of no return, you really know about it.


And as for passing the time? Well we go in phases. Mostly we chat - a lot. In fact a friend of mine said the other day that she heard us coming before she saw us, which was impressive as we were wearing huge amounts of pink lycra.


We talk about our children, work, schools, things we've read and how we're going to run on the day. What if one is faster than the other? What if one needs a loo stop? What techniques are we going to use to motivate ourselves through the tricky spots? And most importantly, how are we going to communicate given that, for once, we won't actually be talking? We un-pack things that need unpacking and when the going gets tough, which is does, we try to re-set one another's brains by the use of distraction, or pretending that we've only just started and that we're full of beans, whereas really we're at mile 18 and just want to go home.



Occasionally we'll just plod along in silence - but that's usually only when we're going up hill and we're breathing too hard to talk. Then one of us will say "I'll talk at the top" and on we plod until we've made it and normal chatting is resumed.

We have run in all weathers and sometimes the harshest weather makes it more fun. Blizzards, hail, snow, rain, wind (my least favourite) - it all helps with the stamina. I think that our greatest difficulty will be if it's too warm as that is something that we're not used to at all.

And crikey sometimes we're laughing so much that we have to stop running. We've been known to balance precariously over canal locks when the tow paths have been closed. We've clambered over, under, through and around barriers of no-go areas. We've run through the industrial backwaters of Birmingham, under the M5 bridges and under railway bridges with their huge concrete supports, expecting (in my case) to find a dead body at any moment.

And then, when we run up one of the hills to get us home, sometimes we get that fourth, fifth or sixth wind and it no longer hurts. It feels as though we're flying. Not out of breath, not aching just powering up towards the traffic lights that signal home. And then we stop. And then we can't move again because everything hurts and those seconds of pure joy have passed. But still we keep on chatting...

So my tips - none of which are revolutionary or revelatory because if you're training for a distance this will have all be covered in a training plan/manual somewhere:

  • If I couldn't do it with a friend I wouldn't do it at all. Of that I'm sure!
  • Whilst some people love them, I'm suspicious of the gels and would rather eat proper food, even if on the day I carry little bits and nibble it slowly - so flapjack, Naked bars - it's all good stuff. And sweets really do give you that sugar kick just when you need it;
  • On a long run avoid looking your watch too often. It's like going on a long plane journey - you just have to switch off and let the hours wash over you;
  • The long runs for us are to get used to the miles and to build stamina - not really for the speed, although we do wear running watches so that we know how we're doing. It's the other training - the hills and the sprint work that will help with the speed and a bit like baking a cake, hopefully it will come together on the day;
  • I find that core and leg work also help with strength, although it may just be psychological;
  • I love reading books about runners - Running with the Kenyans, Eat and Run, Running Like a Girl, books about Ultra Marathon runners - all of them have the page corners turned down at places where I find something helpful or inspiring;
  • Running is as much psychological as it is physical. Next on my reading list is "the Runner's Brain". If you can accept that it's normal to want to stop, then you're half way to keeping on going! 
  • What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. You may prefer to run alone, to listen to music or listen to podcasts, to re-fuel with gels - it's all just trial and error really. But the one thing that I am sure of is that never once have felt worse after a run than before. 






5 comments:

  1. I much prefer doing my long runs with a friends / a group - we keep each other going when someone starts to flag and the chatter helps pass the time. I suppose that's the benefit of belonging to a club, we have ppl traning for London, Brighton, Manchester and Kent Roadrunner (me!) so there is always someone that wants to buddy up.

    24 miles is a blooming long way for your long run for a marathon! We normally only go to 20 or 21, I don't know anyone that runs to 24 to be honest as it takes such a long time to recover. There again, last year I started my marathon training for York with a marathon, as I ran as support crew for a clubmate that ran 7 in 7 days :)

    Also - have you heard about Ben Smith The 401 Challenge? He's completed 202 marathons in 202 days now, wants to raise £250k for anti-bullying charities. I ran with him in Newbury back in November and he's back down this way in September. He was in Birmingham for a couple of days in December and is back to Kidderminster next month. Hoping to run his 401st marathon with him in Bristol in October :-)

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  2. What a great post Beth. I am in awe of your ability to talk and run at the same time. x

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  3. Love this post, thank you for all of these tips. I have just started running and it really helps to hear how others have extended their distances etc., as I am really only at the 5k stage at the moment. Must just tell you something funny. I did a charity 1k run at my 6 year old's school today. Beforehand I was feeling undaunted, as a result of my newly acquired running habit, and pleased to be able to participate respectably despite not being the youngest Mum at school. But my son ran the 1k so astoundingly quickly that it really was quite a challenge to keep up! He has now promised to come on some runs with me over the Easter hols! Thanks again!

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