The Life Lessons I Learnt From Running The London Marathon

The real meaning of commitment

Going to the gym or a fitness class is one thing, but realigning your entire life in order to achieve an end goal four months in the future is quite another. Training for a marathon requires a 360-degree approach spanning food, sleep, running, cross-training and – all-importantly – the mind. Friday night espresso martinis took a backseat, and instead I developed a penchant for my boyfriend’s seafood risotto the night before a long training run. I cut down to twice-weekly strength sessions in the gym, where I deadlifted, squatted and bicep-curled my way to a physical condition that would, I was assured, carry me through the final five miles. My race statistics spoke for themselves: in the final seven kilometres, I overtook 3,000 other runners, while only 17 overtook me.

The importance of stretching and rehab

Fail to stretch – properly – at your peril. For me, the best solution was to keep a foam roller in every area of my life, making the gnarly pain as it ground along my quadriceps utterly unavoidable. One in my living room, one under my desk, and one favourite one at my local gym that I routinely hid in a cupboard lest anyone use it other than me. Yoga can often be something that goes out the window when calendars get busy, and I’m sure I’m not alone in prioritising a 45-minute spin class over the vinyasa flow I know I should do, all in the name of fitting maximal sweat into the minimum time window. But, it’s a necessity for nourishing and restoring a body you’re asking more of than you ever have before.

Your body is more than what it looks like

Before training to run a marathon, my fitness goals had only ever centred around the aesthetic. “Look better” was my intangible goal for several years, but as anyone who has tried can attest, it’s an aim that’s almost certainly unachievable. I’d conquered half marathons before, but frankly knew I wasn’t performing as well as I could, because I was unable to let go of seeing aesthetic goals as both the key priority and endgame. Running a marathon changed all of this; a rising dawn in which where the new focus was what my body could do – not what it looked like.

Control and freedom can be found in the same place

The mental health benefits of running are well documented, with Bella Mackie and Bryony Gordon’s books making their way onto the bedside tables of runners and non-runners alike. I only ever trained solo, meaning three hour training runs were a long time to spend inside my own head. What was once a means to getting fit (or losing weight) became the escapism I needed from my own turbulent relationship and family problems. Heading out the door, my ears were filled with the often unpleasant words I’d absorbed that day – two hours later, I wouldn’t necessarily return home with the solution, but I’d feel simultaneously more in control of my emotions and free from the negative impact others had on my life.

How to properly take in the moment

There is no underestimating the lengthy slog of marathon training, where you would perhaps be foolish to live in that precise moment – it would likely crush you. With the London Marathon taking place in late April, most of your long runs will take place in the icy depths of February and rainy March Sundays. It will probably snow, or at the very least hailstones will slip down your back, while you play mental maths games in your head counting down the miles. Mindfulness and “taking in the moment” is something we are often encouraged to practise, but I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to be present until I was in those four hours of race day. The volume of runners in the first few miles while the different start pens merge is mesmerising. Crossing Tower Bridge (the race’s half-way point), six-bodies thick, with vibrant supporters cheering my name, is in my top-five life moments. At the final stretch by Buckingham Palace, I had enough in the tank to sprint the final 500 metres, but chose not to, instead slowing to a jog because I wanted to milk every last electric second of running that race. Living for the moment indeed.

Even superheroes need a day off

Training plans were, in all honestly, made to be broken. After slogging my way through four of London’s parks and the entire western wing of the Thames for what was, according to my plan, only the second longest run on my schedule, I wasn’t especially motivated to increase the distance by 10% seven days later. I tried, I gave in at 27km, and I went to the airport and boarded a flight to the Maldives for the ultimate in luxury tapering.

Never, ever underestimate yourself

On race day itself, I was mentally prepared for not finishing, or, at the very least, an intensely painful final two hours. Somehow, I breezed the entire race without even breaking for a walk, with a smile on my face the entire 26.2 miles. Six years earlier, I’d watched the London Marathon on television at home, as I had done every year of my childhood. Spontaneously, I went out for a run. I managed around four minutes before stopping in a gateway, gasping for breathe. Clearly, running a marathon wasn’t all that easy – but six years later, there I was crossing the finish line. The focus, drive, and self belief I learnt from running a marathon is something I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. As my sister once said to me “Ally, you’ve run a marathon – you can do anything.”


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