Gerard Westhoff introduces his new regular column, on training for the London Marathon.
On the 24th April 2016, I will be running the London Marathon.
The thought of traversing the iconic 26 miles and 385 yards course for the first time is both exciting and daunting. Over the next six months I plan on providing you with regular updates on my training progress, and sharing any lessons I learn in the pursuit of this challenge. But how did I come to enter the marathon? Let’s start at the beginning.
I first started to enjoy running when I discovered in secondary school PE lessons that I was a good sprinter. As a young teenager I was lanky, clumsy, and terrible at all sports. From football, where I was usually shoved in goal due to my propensity to miss the ball and kick people’s shins when playing in midfield, to gymnastics where I once managed to knee one of my own teeth out of place. But in athletics I was in my element. Nothing too technical for me to get wrong – just look ahead and run.
My school running career included breaking the year ten 100m and 200m records, winning multiple county relay competitions, and reaching the Welsh finals for the sprint events. As exhilarating as sprinting was, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to remain competitive unless I started training intensively, and so drifted away from the sport. However, around about the same time, inspired by watching the Brownlee brothers dominate the Triathlon world on TV, I began to gain interest in running longer distances.
I started, like many people do today, with the ‘Couch to 5K’ podcast. Fast forward a year and I decided to undertake my first half marathon. In hindsight, I was pretty unprepared for this task. I had trained poorly – having never run further than 13km (8 miles) in one go before the event – and I had made the mistake of choosing a half marathon that was not only one of the hilliest in the UK, along the Pembrokeshire coastline in South Wales, but was also held on the weekend after Glastonbury. So you could say I wasn’t in the best of physical condition in the days leading up to the race… Nevertheless, I completed my first half marathon in a reasonable time of under two hours – even if it did lead to an ankle injury that put me out of action for months.
When I began university I dabbled with the cross country club. But amongst the constant nights out of first year and the occasional injury, I didn’t stick with it and drifted away from running again. Until midway through second year, when in a deluge of never-ending coursework deadlines I rediscovered the astounding mood-elevating and stress-busting effects of a long run.
Then on one fateful April morning, as I sat at my desk revising for exams in a state of post-run euphoria, I noticed on Twitter that it was London Marathon day. I turned on iPlayer, and after five minutes of watching I knew I had to enter. Several days later I saw a news headline stating that 247,069 people entered the ballot for places – a record breaking number, all vying for one of the 38,000 places at the start line of the world’s most famous race. I found this number weirdly reassuring as it meant I would be unlikely to get a place, and not have to commit to some ridiculous training plan.
But in the first week of October, when I had all but forgotten about the London Marathon ballot, I got a letter in the post confirming my entry. Shit got real.
So now I face lots of tricky questions in order to prepare me for my first marathon. What training regime should I stick to? What gear should I buy and wear? What ‘refuelling’ food should I eat? What charity should I run for? Will I hit ‘the wall’? Why am I doing this again?
Tackling these questions is going to be part of a long and tough journey, and if I succeed in none of them, I’ll at least try and tell you what the wrong answers are.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons