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Marathon Principles

By Michael Crawley

Respect the Distance

The thing about the marathon is that it’s just a little bit too far. Even for the very best runners in the world, those last few miles are a mysterious and unpredictable territory. Considering that the legend after which the distance is named dates back over 2,500 years, it may be surprising to learn that the marathon distance was only standardised at 26.2 miles less than a hundred years ago. The extra couple of miles that were added on to the distance for the convenience of the British royal family often account for much of the drama of the race. Because it’s just a little bit too far strange things can happen to people in those last few miles. It’s worth reminding yourself of that when you’re feeling good early on. ‘The race starts at twenty miles’ is a good way of thinking about it. Or – my coach’s advice – try breaking down the race into ‘the first ten miles, the second ten miles and the third ten miles’ in your head. That way you’re less likely to get a nasty shock towards the end.

Be Patient, Be Consistent

This is probably the most important thing. You’re going to be tired when you train for a marathon and there are going to be times when you don’t want to get out running, Try to strike a balance between pushing through and knowing when to back off. With any distance, to run well you need – first and foremost – to have been able to do the training. This means avoiding illness and injury as much as possible by getting plenty of sleep and eating plenty of healthy food (and – you’re training for a marathon after all – unhealthy food too).

Accept Fatigue

No matter who you are or what level you’re running at, you’re going to get pretty tired during marathon training. In my coach’s old training diaries there is a single word description next to the mileage and time run for each day: ‘tired’. Accept accumulated fatigue as part of the training, and know that it will diminish, and you’ll feel better, when you start your taper. As Ron Hill himself put it, responding to the question he was asked most frequently during his 52 year run streak, ‘what if you feel really bad?’

‘Look, all you’ve got to do is get your kit on, go to the front door, open it and go out. Within five minutes you’ll be fine.’

Michael Crawley is one of our sponsored athletes, and focuses primarily on the roads. He is also an ESRC-funded PhD student at Edinburgh University, studying the culture of long-distance running in Ethiopia.

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