Have you signed up to the London Marathon 2018?!

Are you aiming for a fairly decent time and want some tips on how to eek out some extra speed from those legs of yours!?

Well lucky you because I’ve decided to write up 26 1 tips for running under a 3:30 Marathon.

Obviously these tips apply to any target you may want to give yourself! But, I thought I’d stick a time of 3:30 on there because I think that is a decent time that someone who is still fairly amateur (but fit!) could realistically aim for without drastically changing their lifestyle for years on end.

Disclaimer: I am no expert here and simply a guy who has been running for about 8 years and did a 3:28 marathon on my last attempt. My first attempt 7 years ago was 4:11 so I think I’ve learnt a lot since then. But anyway, take all of this with a pinch of salt and follow advice at your own risk… yadda yadda yadda.

With all that intro and T&Cs done with, finally, here are my tips:

1. Experimentation nation

The first thing to note here is that some of my tips go against the grain of the standard running advice, so don’t take this as gospel and experiment with yourself. There are many ways to skin the marathon cat and you will find many different kinds of advice out there, so the most important thing is to try as many as you can. Be sure to do this well in advance of race day to work out what works best for you! You don’t want to be fiddling with running style or pacing strategies the week before the race.

As everyone knows the first rule of life-hacking is experimentation!

 

2. Pen pals

Get into a fast starting pen! Possibly a bit too late for this one as I think you are supposed to put in your predicted time when you apply, which determines your starting pen, but ideally you want to be in the 3rd or maybe 4th fastest pen or lower. Also try to get relatively near the front of the pen you are in (I was about half way up pen 3 when I ran my PB).

The reason for this is that if you’ve accidentally put yourself in pen 10, the slowest and largest pen, you will be fighting your way past thousands of people dressed up like Popeye or carrying washing machines on their backs 2. This is incredibly energy sapping, so definitely get in a pen where there will be a lower amount of faster moving traffic. If you’ve messed up and put in the wrong pen already, you will probably be able to blag your way into a faster one on the day anyway.

One of the starting pens

 

3. Be an early bird

Start early – It’s now November 2017 so if you are running the 2018 London Marathon you should be getting out for a fairly regular run to keep those legs fresh. Most online Marathon training plans start in January, and while that is when the proper training starts, it would be silly to think you could go from nothing to caning an awesome time within the space of 4 months. So get out there as much as possible before Christmas and bask in the glorious dividends of that work when January comes!

 

4. Don’t be all the gear no idea

Here is something you must spend a decent amount of money on:

Running shoes

Also, if it’s your first pair of decent running shoes, you should get fitted at a proper running shop where they can check your running gait and so on.

For everything else there is really no need to spend much money at all. I wear my crappy old Umbro shorts and various old T-Shirts or running tops I’ve got from doing organised runs. You should be signing up to at least one organised run before the big race anyway (see #6 below) so you should get a few free T-Shirts along the way. I have got too many to know what to do with and use a few for decorating/DIY tops.

So my advice is don’t spend unnecessary money on expensive running T-Shirts! A decent warm sweatshirt will be required for winter running as well as gloves but I’m guessing you will own some of those already.

 

5. Get a good FREE running app

Leading on from the point above, you could go out and buy a fancy watch or something to track your performance. But why bother when you already own a smartphone with GPS, and there are tonnes of free apps out there that do the same thing?

I run with my phone in my hand which most people think is weird, but I’ve just gotten used to it over the years and it feels weird when I run without it now. Give it a go and if you really don’t like it, then you could always buy an armband like this one (<– amazon affiliates link) which is certainly cheaper than the watch option.

For the record I use Strava and really like it, due to it’s social features, segment competitions, online syncing etc…, although I suspect they all do a similar sort of job, so really just try a couple and stick with the one you like.

 

6. Sign up to some organised runs

I would try to sign up to at least one organised 10km run and one but preferably two half marathons as part of your training. Try to get the 10km in early January, and the two halves around February hopefully spaced out by at least 2 weeks. This will help you get your race day routine down, getting up on time, eating the right thing the night before and on the morning, and so on. As well as get you used to running with other people, and most importantly feeling the buzz of a big event and having fun.

 

7. Fast tunes = fast pace!

One tip I don’t see elsewhere very often is simply make sure you have a playlist of uplifting and fast music to listen to. I listen to Drum and Bass music because it’s fast and I can run to the beat which keeps my pace locked pretty steady. If you want to be running a sub 3:30 marathon you are going to have to run between 160 – 180 BPM 3 which is exactly where DnB music falls into so it’s perfect, and it’s fortunate that it’s also one of my fave types of music*

*Other music genres are obviously available. Here are some tools to help you find songs you like at the required BPM

  • A list of rough genre BPMs
  • Here is a cool tool that will tell you the BPM of most songs you can think of.
  • Jog.fm also looks great and has a list of songs by running pace
    • 5:00 mins/km list – I ran just under this in my 3:30 marathon so should be good for race day and for speed training towards the end of your training plan
    • 5:15 mins/km – Could be good for training and getting those legs up to speed.
    • 4:45 mins/km – Good for short speedy runs!

I actually just used Spotify premium on race day, so I could download songs without worrying about my connection dropping out, as tends to happen at large events!

If you can’t find any music in that range that you like listening to, there are also metronome apps out there so you can just run to a really boring tick-tock sound, although why anyone would ever want to do that is totally beyond my level of comprehension 🙂

 

8. Squat to trot

No, this isn’t a recommendation to do a Paula Radcliffe half way round the course, it’s about doing squats to strengthen your legs.

I have honestly found the best thing to do to strengthen your legs is to do squats, regularly. The best thing about this is that you can do them anywhere. I usually do at least 10 when I get up in the morning, before I go to bed, and every time I go to the toilet at work (after finishing my business and washing my hands, obviously). It may sound silly but this probably adds up to at least 50 squats a day and when I was training for the Marathon I would make sure to do even more. So if you put your mind to it you could easily get this up to 100 without really putting any effort in at all.

Another benefit is that it’s great to do them on days when you aren’t running to keep your legs building strength while they are still resting from getting a pounding on the asphalt, as squats are a ridiculously low impact exercise.

If you start this process early enough (i.e. NOW!) then your legs will be like two finely tuned cheetahs limbs* by the time April comes around.

*No money back guarantee offered. Sorry 🙂

 

9. Go hard or go home

The next three points are all very related so apologies if I kinda repeat myself a bit here…

First all of, I’m sorry to have to break this to you but to get a good time and rapidly improve your speed you are going to have to put in 100% to every training run you do. None of this “easy run” crap that many of the training plans espouse.

If you are not constantly pushing at the boundaries then your body will not get the signals to keep building even more muscle, and to make your lungs even more efficient at pulling oxygen out of the air and into your bloodstream.

Obviously don’t kill yourself, but in my opinion you should aim to feel, I think the technical term is “totally fucked”, at the end of each training run, no matter the length. Some of my best training runs are 5km but I just go at it really hard, I honestly think this is better than running 8 miles at a piss easy pace. Obviously this saves a lot of time as well so it’s a double win.

The huge and hopefully obvious caveat here is that you definitely do need to know you can run 20+ miles without collapsing so I’m not recommending you just do loads of 5km runs then show up on the day thinking you’ve got this… but I think you knew that already.

 

10. Recovery time

On the other hand, I would be a lot less harsh on how often you go for runs compared to most training plans I’ve seen. They would have you running 5 days a week, which personally I think is insane and likely to lead to injury at worst. At best you will fail to stick to it properly and become an anxious and self-loathsome mess for a few days each time you miss out on a scheduled run. These two points leads us nicely into…

 

11. Ditch the online plans

I would recommend taking most online plans that are out there, dousing them with jet fuel, tossing a match on them, and laughing maniacally as they incinerate in front of your face, as I think they are all pretty crap.

I know, outrageous advice right?

The thing is I haven’t actually seen one yet that doesn’t advise running far, far too often in my personal and non-expert opinion (IMPANEO – how’s that for a brilliant acronym!?) . My theory is that these things are generally written by expert runners who’s legs can easily take getting pounded 5 days a week and they’ve either totally forgotten what it’s like to be an amateur runner or have never really been in that position to start off with. It’s not their fault really, they just can’t relate to actually having sore legs for 2-3 days after a run.

As mentioned this also ties in with the go hard or go home point above as well. A lot of these plans recommend “easy runs” and so on. I mean really what is the point? What are you gaining about spending over an hour doing an easy run when your legs already are sore? You are not pushing the boundary at all here and are just making your legs ache for another day or two with little benefit. Best off to just rest up until you are ready to go at it once again good and hard.

Ultimately you need to see what works for you so definitely read a few plans (OK so the burning was a bit over the top) and take on board my advice as well, refer yet again back to #1 about experimentation.

I’d recommend that you actually write up your own training plan rather than take an off the shelf one which tries to be a jack of all trades but ends up being sub-optimal for 90% of the people that use it.

 

12. Don’t get injured

Possibly a stupid/obvious point but if you get injured at any point and your training schedule is already tight then you will struggle to get back on track. As already pointed out in #10 and #8 the best way to avoid injuries is to make sure you have recovery time in between each run and strength training in between with squats etc…

 

13. Sports gel hell!

Everyone and their dog bangs on about sports gels and how they boost your energy and whatnot. Well get this: I took some during my first marathon and was horribly sick when I finished. I don’t think my body can handle such a concentrated amount of sugar because even drinking a syrupy Lucozade tends to make me feel a bit sick as well.

I guess the larger point here is do not take the word of anyone giving you advice as gospel 4 whether it be about fuelling during the race, when you should take on water, what to eat for breakfast or the night before, or anything else.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record try different things and see what works for you

But I have to say, I do have a sneaking suspicion that expensive gels really are a big con, and 90% of people have easily enough energy reserves in their body to run a marathon in a decent time.

I’m 5’10 and weigh just under 10 stone which is pretty skinny by all accounts and run the whole marathon with only taking on water when needed so if I can do that I don’t see why anyone else would need an upsettingly gooey blob of weird tasting glucose to get them round. But each to their own and all that 🙂

 

Stay tuned for 13 more tips…

As usual what turned out to be a quick fire set of bullet point tips has ended up with me rambling on about this and that for over 2000 words! I’m sorry. I just want to make sure what is in my brain is getting over to you as well as I can.

Anyway so we’ll reconvene shortly for part two where I’ll cover tips on the night before, the morning of and the race itself.

 

And of course if you have any of your own ideas, or want to shoot some of mine down in flames, get involved in the comments! 🙂

 

The End! (Well, until part ii that is)

Notes:

  1. Yes, very contrived isn’t it
  2. Maximum respect for all of those people by the way!
  3. Beats Per Minute or in this case steps/strides per minute.
  4. Especially not me… hah!