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Preparing for, or considering a sporting marathon?

What constitutes a Marathon...?

I love a dictionary definition for which marathon is defined as follows:

  1. A long-distance running race, strictly one of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km)

 1.1 A long-lasting or difficult task or activity


In general terms, I would go for the second part of the definition in relation to any distance running or cycling, deciding to take part in a triathlon, mud run, iron man or large obstacle race.  Anything you have never done before could constitute as a long-lasting or difficult activity; even an hour of boot camp training.

There is a trend at certain age milestones to get up one morning and say "I'm going to do a marathon!" and there is really nothing to stop you.  Big sporting events are pretty accessible these days either directly or through a charitable organisation offering marathon places for money raise.  Consequently, the bar to entry is low with no assessment on current health or physical ability.

Andrew you're just a spoil sport...

Not at all, I am very much an each to their own type of person.  If you want to run the London or Beachy Head, or any other, marathon or embark on a big cycle ride, like the South Downs Way, it's not my place to convince you otherwise, conversely, I would absolutely encourage taking on such a challenge, or two, in your lifetime.  Here's checklist, however, of things to think about before commencing training:

  • When was the last time you ran, cycled, swam a good distance or clambered over big stuff?
  • How far did you go or how big was the obstacle?
  • If you're active what is your go to activity (walking to a station and back doesn't count!) and what is the most you have done of said activity?
  • Do you get any aches or pains when participating in your favourite activity, during or after?
  • If you're not generally active when was the last time you undertook any activity or training (doesn't include chasing kids around a garden!)?
  • Do you have any aches or pains undertaking everyday tasks e.g., driving, lifting, carrying a small child?
  • How do you think your posture is?

Think long, hard and honestly about the questions.  As a result, you can start to think about the best way to start your event training.

Is that it?!

Not really!  It may sound odd but the best way to start your training may not be to immediately start running or cycling long distances.  I would, personally, err away from immediately downloading a training plan from a marathon specific magazine or website; specifically if it is the personal plan of someone who has done the event you want to do; the first is likely to be quite generic, the latter may be very specific to that individual's needs.

Unfortunately, humans are not built generically.  Each individual will have significantly different lifestyles, postures, previous injuries, family time or work pressures and levels of stress.  All these could be significant factors in your approach, ability to train, starting point and ultimately your success.

My recommended approach

Get help...  In relation to the earlier questions cross check agains the following:

  • Check when your desired event is.  Do you have time for the suggested training plan?
  • Now go back to the list of earlier questions.  How ready are you really, considering how much training you will need to do?
  • If you answered yes to any of the questions about aches and pains I would make my it my first priority to find out what is causing those little grumbles and groans.  Visit a sports masseuse, Chiropractor or Physio or even your Doctor.  I would suggest the latter as a matter of course if you haven't had a general health check for a while
  • Look at your local clubs, running or cycling.  You will find seasoned runners at ParkRun, now in many towns.   Go along, talk to the club members and discuss your plans.  I guarantee you'll get advice, ask plenty of questions - maybe some of the above to ascertain how they started
  • Think about your current physical condition.  Combining strength and conditioning training, specific to the event, will dramatically improve the specific discipline; running, cycling or clambering over things
  • Think about your mental strength.  As much of the endurance comes from the mind.  Its surprising what the body can achieve if the mind is in the right place

Why should I listen to you

In short you don't have to, but I guess if you got this far I will offer this.  My long distance passions are cycling, mostly mountain biking, South Downs hikes and recent weekend adventures in the Swiss mountains.

I took on the South Downs Way on my bike, three years ago.  In a desk job at the time, I asked myself the same questions, knew I would come up short.  My posture wasn't great, a grumbling back and whilst I was pretty active at the time there were things that needed cleaning up to be truly successful.  I knew I needed to train solidly so hired a Personal Trainer to help me.

During my first trip to Switzerland, for a hike in the mountains, I had pain in my knee.  As a result I discovered that I sweep my foot, ever so slightly, but that was enough on the rocky terrain and scrambling to cause it to flare up that I hadn't noticed on long walks over the Seven Sisters.  I now have the knowledge to resolve that and have started working on my hips and keeping my foot in line.  Consequently my weekend in Scotland was plain sailing as was my last trip to Switzerland.

My advice is to be honest with yourself and then seek the appropriate help and support you need to truly achieve success in your chosen event.

Whatever you choose I wish you good planning, the right approach and the very best of luck.