- Do a bit of training
Yes, 13.1 miles is a long way. It’s an even longer way if you can’t run three miles without stopping, trust me. The reason that most people will sponsor you money for charity is not just the time spent walking round the race course, but the effort you’ve put in in the lead up to it. The hours of training, the mental growth, the cold/hot runs, the early starts, the DOMs, the abstaining from alcohol, the chaffage, the blisters, the dietary change as you realise that a McDonalds/apple/chilli an hour before a run ‘doesn’t agree with you’ and so on.
Do yourself, your fellow runners around you and your waiting spectators a favour and put some training in.
This is a great app to get you started: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k-plan.aspx
- Don’t get the start time wrong
Check, double check and triple check the start time. Make sure you leave enough time to get there and then leave half an hour earlier. The queues for the toilets will be long, the baggage queues might be massive, the queue to the car park might take thirty minutes to get in. It’s better to wait around a bit and know you’re ready to go, than to do what a friend of mine (yes, this might be me) did and mis-read the start time as 11am when it was actually 9am, and realise this at 8:10 am on race morning. Apart from the stress of getting there (which we did), we were in a slower pen than we wanted to be , hadn’t had breakfast and weren’t really in ‘race mode’ when we started. Oops.
- Dress for ten degrees warmer
It might be chilly when you’re waiting around, having got in early and done everything you need to do with plenty of time. Do wear old clothes for this, or bring a spectator along who’ll be happy to hold your jumper while you do the run. Don’t do the run in layers which you then have to peel off within ten minutes – that’ll be really uncomfortable for you and if you ditch your clothes, might get in the way of runners, marshals or spectators.
A general rule of thumb for any runs, races or otherwise, is to dress for ten degrees warmer than it is as you’ll soon warm up. So, if it’s 15 degrees, you might want to be in shorts and a vest. It’s something that’s really personal but worth thinking about – you don’t want to be schlepping a jumper and joggers or tying them round your waist while you’re in mile 6 of a half marathon.
- Pin your number on your front – four safety pins, one on each corner
I’ve seen more and more people with their numbers on their back. I can’t see the reason for that (if anyone wants to enlighten me, please do).
The reasons you put it on your front are: so marshalls and other officials can identify you as an official entrant and that you’re in the right place and so that the photography software can identify you for photos.
- If you must stop to take selfies, don’t do it in the middle of the track
You would think that this would be fairly obvious, but apparently not. Running down the finishing straight of my most recent half marathon (and in the miles before that) I had to dodge other runners fumbling with their phones in an attempt to take a selfie. There’s no need to do that mid race (or in the last 400m) but if you must, at least try and do it off to one side, away from other runners who are probably tired and looking forward to crossing the line. I’ve witnessed a guy in the last 100m of Paris marathon stop in front of the official photographers, unravel a flag and bust out some different poses. Not only was he blocking other people from getting their photos taken, but he looked like a berk doing it. Still, he was happy.
- Don’t overtake without looking behind you first
In some ways, running is like driving. Keep to the left if you’re slowing down/walking and if you’re overtaking, take a little glance over your shoulder. That tells you if the path is clear and it also lets the people behind you know that you’re looking to move out.
If you launch yourself sideways you run the risk of causing a pile up which, in the best case scenario, interrupts your rhythm and the runner(s) behind you. At worst you’ll trip someone up and they won’t finish the race – or you won’t. I’ve heard of runners who’ve been involved in a trip and been out of running for months, requiring operations and physiotherapy too.
There is another point to this – if you are walking, stick to the left and be mindful of other people coming by. By all means walk with your mate, but keep an eye out for other runners coming through and move over when they do, especially on a hill. It’s tough to keep running when there are others walking in front of you. It’s even tougher to use more energy than you would getting up that hill, by needing to swerve around people as well.
- Water stations as Spaghetti junction
Most races now have water stations on both sides of the road, well signposted ahead of time. Don’t careen across the road to the first table, tripping over discarded bottles and pushing through people on the way. Take your time, move to the right side and know that there will be plenty of water for everyone, usually at lovely long tables.
There’s that driving metaphor again – you wouldn’t drive cross four lanes of the M25 without looking, would you?
Also, be careful of stepping on discarded bottles. A runner next to me in the London marathon stood on a nearly full Lucozade sport bottle, spraying it everywhere and scaring the life out of everyone (mostly herself, I think!). Besides getting sticky (arf) you could fall over and hurt yourself.
Ah you lovely, lovely supporters. Thank you. Thank you for standing in the heat/cold/wind/rain/snow for hours, shouting at random strangers shuffling along a course. We wouldn’t tell you this normally, but you as our loved ones are a big part of doing the race. It’s the reason we lie to your faces as we grin and cheer past you at mile 25 of a marathon. Heck, most of the time it’s the only reason to get to mile 25 of a marathon.
There are a couple of things that would make you even more angel like, if you would care to take heed:
- Keep off the path
I love races where there aren’t barriers all the way along the footpaths, separating the runners from the spectators. It makes for a nicer run as with metal fencing along both sides of you, it can feel a bit claustrophobic.
I do not love it when spectators do that thing that most people do when they’re waiting for their luggage to come round a carousel. You know what I mean. One person edges forward so they can see. The person behind them edges forward so they can see. Before you know it, there’s a beautiful rainbow effect pattern with twenty people in it, straining to see their bag/runner but actually spilling onto the carousel/road.
When you’re concentrating on pace, cadence, breathing, thinking, eating, drinking and whether or not you might need to wee, one other thing you don’t want to do is think about the path narrowing by 50% up ahead because the over zealous spectators have infringed onto the race course. I’ve seen the racing line obscured by crowds, making for an uncomfortable bit of the run.
- Shout and cheer and make loads of noise
This is a big ask, and I know it’s hard if you’ve already been out for six hours and your hands are sore and you’re losing your voice, but there’s nothing like a bit of encouragement to ‘keep running’ to, well, keep running. Spot that face in the crowd, shout out their name, spur them on. I know it’s tempting to save all of your energy for your runner(s), but it’ll make the time pass more quickly to pick on other people and it’ll get you all warmed up for when you finally see the person you’ve been waiting for! If you don’t want to clap for eight hours, why not bring something noisy? Cowbell, bike bell, air raid siren – they’re all great.
Apart from anything else, it’s a bit eerie to run along a road enclosed by entirely silent people…
- Get ready for lots of high fives
High fives are great. It’s a bit of human contact within an hour/two/ten when you’re battling physically and mentally which pushes you along, into the next meter/km/mile.
Including jelly beans/babies in this are welcome too, as are witty signs. When I did Plymouth half marathon (in the rain) I was so pleased to see my family, all holding a beautiful handmade banner, I stopped and gave them big, sweaty, damp hugs.
- Be truthful
This is a really specific one. When you’re at mile 2 of a marathon, hearing ‘not far left now, you’re doing well’, is actually a bit demotivating. I know, that sounds really ungrateful of me, but it would be so appreciated to hear a cheer or words of encouragement that are meaningful. Think of stock phrases which fit your position, such as ‘looking good’, ‘good running’ etc.
This also sounds churlish but if you’re going to cheer someone on using their name, getting it right would be good too. I’ve been called ‘Susie’, ‘Sam’ and ‘Sarah’ in races, which is just a bit confusing. The intention is honourable but it would be even better if it was aimed at the right name.
I was once cheered on by a bored looking guy who told me to ‘go on Big Suze’. I spent the last three miles of that race wondering if he meant the Peep Show character or if I was just so much bigger than everyone else. Still, it made me run a bit faster!
And finally, my favourite gif ever – after the race – relax! Have a beer/tea/ice cream. You did it!