The idea of me doing a marathon would have been laughable just a few years ago. Indeed, the only form of marathon I could contemplate then was the type now known as Snickers – and I have to admit I was pretty accomplished at completing those! Now I’ve become a fitness fiend, people often ask me for advice, especially those in the same over-50 age range as me. And one of the questions I’m often asked is if I’ve ever done a marathon – and I always feel rather ashamed to say ‘no’.

I felt that someone who is an advocate of all-round fitness should be able to comment on marathons from personal experience – so I set as an objective for 2013 to complete one. I entered the ballot for the London Marathon and was both surprised and shocked to learn a few months before race day that I had indeed been awarded a place in the event. Surprised, because only 1% of ballot entrants actually receive an entry and shocked as I realised I now really had to do it. Had I failed at the ballot, I could have entered as a charity runner to get a guaranteed place.

However, I had agreed with my friends that I would only ask for charity event money from them once per year – and this year’s charity sponsorship was already allocated with an overnight walk in July. Typically, for a prospective runner in London the news that they were running in the most famous marathon in the world would lead to them designing a detailed training plan over the preceding months comprising of longer and longer runs leading up to the event itself. This wouldn’t be the case for me, however, as I had already entered the Miami Pro World Championships for Fitness Models (over 50 category), and – with less than ideal timing – this event was due to take place two weeks in advance of London.

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The training for the two events is far from identical – endurance and stamina are obviously required for the marathon and decent musculature and low levels of bodyfat for the World Championships. I decided to put all my training efforts into the World Championships – and just ‘wing-it’ untrained at the marathon (now, I hasten to add this is not something that I would recommend for my clients or any body else for that matter). The reason for this priority is that I believed I had a chance of winning the World Championships (actually I came second) but no possibility of finishing first in the London Marathon!

Thanks for all the jelly babies

With that decision made, the training runs idea was dropped – although I did have that intermediate weekend between the two events to get a single long run done – which I did, a half-marathon in Vienna. Marathon day dawned and I arrived at Blackheath not only untrained, but indeed still a little sore from my ‘half’ the previous weekend. With a reality check in place, I wasn’t keen to get a good time, instead I was keen to have a good time – enjoying myself and completing the course uninjured. I’d established a couple of strategies to help.

Firstly, I took the RDA of Ibuprofen on the event day itself and for two days in advance to build up some resistance to any aches or pains and to calm down some residual hip ache from Vienna. I’m not a fan of painkillers or anti-inflammatories on a regular basis, but I made an exception for these three days. Secondly, I had some great advice from my wife Jenny, an established marathon runner. She recommended that after an initial 25 minute run – my usual time for 5km – that I complete the rest of the marathon on a run/walk basis – five minutes running followed by two minutes walking, repeating this pattern until Buckingham Palace and then running like mad for the line and the cameras!

The run/walk strategy worked and I crossed the line in 5hr 25min, an unimpressive time for a first marathon but I was happy to finish in one piece, with no significant aches and far from totally shattered. I found that there’s a lot of recovery to be gained to a stressed CV system, joints and muscle in those two minute walks. And I thought about my time and a few ‘what ifs’, I feel I could have taken 11 minutes off on my time due to two separate loo queues, one with a waiting time of 7 minutes and one of 4 minutes. And by the way, can I give a big raspberry to those in the line of event spectators who formed most of the loo queue for the mobile toilets at Deptford who wouldn’t let me, as a participant, jump the line ahead of them.

‘We’ve had to wait, so should you’ – was one comment. Is it me, or is that just a little unsporting? Most spectators, unlike the loo-queue guys, were fantastic supporters. As well as cheering the runners on, many offered free goodies – most often jelly babies, other sugary sweets, chocolate digestives, some Jaffa cakes and even one very generous person near Island Gardens a tray of home-made cakes with appropriate signage. I took many of the donations, but the sign about the home-made cakes only registered with me 10 metres after passing it and I couldn’t face the disruption in going back to get one.

In any case I had just started a five-minute run segment. And I decided the best in-run offerings were the Fruitellas and Starbursts – as well as being 100% hygienic due to the wrappers, the concentration involved in unwrapping these items while running proved a useful mental diversion for about 50 metres of the course for each individual sweet! I had far too many of these goodies – so much so that I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day upon finishing. And I suspect the two loo trips were driven by overdosing on these offerings. Lesson learning time, I believe. Many runners had their names on their shirts, which lead to many members of the crowd shouting their names in encouragement.

Thanks for all the jelly babies

I didn’t have a shirt-name, but I ran alongside a couple of others labelled Chris’s for a few kilometres at different times. I was happy to accept a proportion of the enthusiasm directed at my namesakes, and they didn’t seem to mind sharing. The generosity of spirit of this verbal encouragement, combined with the generosity of sustenance offered by many, restored my faith in the kindness of the citizens of my home city. I achieved my goal of crossing the finish line uninjured and happy – well pleased with both my Ibuprofen and run/walk strategies. No aches resulted and indeed I was back in the gym weight training the next day with a full session on the cross-trainer for morning cardio on the Tuesday.

Surprisingly, I seem to have caught the marathon bug and have scheduled a second one for September in Bordeaux, which Jenny will also run. Now that I have done it once, I know that I can physically handle the distance and it will be interesting to see the effect then of more training, and considerably fewer on-course nibbles. So having run those 26miles/42km, I can now answer those queries directed to me about marathons in a positive way from my own experience. I’m looking forward to giving relevant advice on the subject – especially to any other over-50’s who are considering their first attempt at the distance.

And I guess the first question from many will be whether I would recommend a marathon to others in my age range? Absolutely, assuming there is the requisite base level of fitness, commitment to the preparation and a build up to the event over several months of training, increasing mileage over time. But beware, it’s addictive!

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