Monday, 20 December 2010

Even more of my mates run!

After discovering that all my mates run, it turns out that even more of mates run too! These ones are even less disciplined about keeping to the 150 word brief than the last lot.

Victoria Knott, hardened triathlete and occasional med student, is now finally recovering from a broken leg (I presume) sustained in pursuit of some mad off-road adventure on a bike or in running shoes... 
I run because it is faster than walking. It is cheaper than cycling, muddier than dancing and more extreme than swimming. It is more dangerous than tiddlywinks, wilder than chess and better for you than drugs.  
I run because it both proves your insanity and keeps you sane. It challenges you, brings you to tears, your knees and the top of the mountain. You battle the wind, experience the rain, get burnt and wear mud (often not much else).
I run to get lost.
It turns every weekend into an adventure and every evening into a victory. Without it there is a gap, life is mediocre, distinctly lacking blisters and endorphins. I run because no one has been able to stop me yet.
Try it. I dare you.

I spent most of my schooldays watching in muted despair and quiet admiration as Alex Boyd produced a constant stream of athletic, academic and musical achievements. And all the while being utterly charming, enviably tall and universally popular. Grr.
I run because... running is for all. There are only two pre-requisites: owning a pair of trainers, and an ability to put one foot in front of the other. It was a great pleasure for me to find a sport which does not require any hand-eye co-ordination whatsoever, a sport where suddenly the mediocre (or in my case slightly disastrous) rugby/football/hockey (insert any other popular team sport here) player can be GLORIFIED for simply walking – a skill I like to think I mastered by the age of two - quite quickly.
This inclusiveness has led to some truly wonderful moments, whether it be hugging complete strangers on crossing a finish line, spontaneously breaking into song with 100 other runners while going through tunnels or indulging in geeky split-time conversations without having to be told it’s “bad dinner chat”.
Above all, I completed my first marathon last year (I’m the slightly less handsome chap in Dave’s start-line photo of the Brighton Marathon), and the feeling of successfully overcoming a real physical challenge was hard to beat. I’m not sure I will do another one in a hurry – and I don’t think I could save the world without collapsing in a crumpled heap if it involved running 26.3 miles – but on crossing that finish line I was the proudest man in England. 
I urge you to give it a try. 

Jo Walczak's facebook statuses have almost as much running in them as mine, and an awful lot more cycling. Next time you're overtaken in a race somewhere in Kent by a woman with a determined expression and a charity running vest, you'll find it's probably Jo...
I run because... I can!  
When I was at school I was really bad at sport. I was always the last to be picked, and everyone groaned when I had to be on their team. I left school and never did any exercise. In my 20’s I would occasionally go to the gym, in my 30’s I did the odd exercise class. 
Then I was 40! I had a friend who ran the London Marathon really fast (3hrs 15 mins!). She kept on talking to me about running – how good it is, how anyone could do it, how a group of beginners she knew were now running 3 miles in one go! I knew it was going to happen sooner or later when she announced “There’s a beginners' course starting – why don’t you give it a try?” Oh crumbs I thought – she’ll never shut up if I don’t at least go. 
Day 1 we ran for 30 seconds and walked for 30 seconds, then ran again. You get the picture? I wasn’t even remotely recovered from the first 30 seconds when it was time for the next run/walk cycle. We ran round Knole House in Sevenoaks. On the far side of the house we met an elderly couple out for their morning walk. “Good Morning” they said – all I could do was grimace. 
I really don’t know what made me go back a week later. Perhaps it was the £80 I spent on running shoes. Perhaps there was something in me that me stopped from giving up after just one go. 
That was 7 years ago. I now run 3-4 times a week, at least 4 miles each time. I have run numerous races: 5k, 10k, 5 half marathons and the big one - the London Marathon in 2007. That was slow but hey, I did it. The best thing of all was that my Dad saw me do it. He was so proud. He died less than a year later of cancer but nothing can take away the pride he had in me. His daughter ran the London Marathon!  
So I run because, after all, I can run. Not fast but who cares about that? 

Jess Lane, a final year biologist at St Andrews, ran her first marathon in Edinburgh this year. She was perhaps misguided in that she asked my advice on training and suchlike, and unlike most people she was reckless enough to follow some of it. Her sister Erin features in My brother runs.
I run because... it’s too cold to walk in St Andrews!
As a break from essay writing and statistics, a walk along the beach is always the perfect option. However, in the cold St Andrews climate this once-pleasurable experience starts to be less so when the November weather begins. Therefore running becomes a more favourable option. I think running is a much better way to enjoy the fresh air but remain warm at the same time. A run along the beach when its coated in snow is a beautiful start to the day and a good excuse not to be in the library without feeling too guilty, I would definitely recommend it! In addition the chance to run through the world famous St Andrews Old Course when it is too cold for golfing is a special experience. 
I see running as a peaceful and refreshing chance to gather your thoughts, blow off steam or enjoy a catch up gossip if headed out with friends. It is my reprise from student stresses of endless essays, lab reports and drinking sessions! Although in the winter months it can be a challenge to get motivated I like the chance to escape the heating of the house or library and think running is the ideal way to stay toasty and enjoy the freezing St Andrews weather that is likely to be sticking around for a while! 

Vic, Alex, Jo, Jess, thanks so much for your very varied answers! You're all awesome. Everyone else, you're very welcome to contribute - email me 150 words (or considerably longer, if you're as badly behaved as these reprobates...) and I'll aim to get another post together in the next couple of weeks.

There'll be a couple more posts on here before the New Year: a wrap up of 2010, a draft of my 2011 race calendar, and almost certainly more of the usual tosh. Stay tuned.

Happy running!


Thursday, 16 December 2010

On Nick's running adventures, and my running misadventures


After a very great deal of extremely positive feedback from My brother runs, I thought I should thank Nick again for writing that extraordinary and slightly heart-wrenching race report, and elaborate slightly on my own perspective. His post is fascinating and insightful - if you've not read it yet then go back and read it now.

Read it? Good. Then continue reading this one.

Just to be clear, Nick ran the Dublin marathon while I stayed home doing myself permanent lung damage in October 2009, not 2010. It would have been my second marathon in the space of 6 months. My various breathing problems are more or less resolved now, though I can still feel the scar tissue on my lungs when I'm running really hard. I think I probably always will.

A few things happened as a result of Nick's marathon glory and my respiratory misery: Nick ran a marathon, on his own, for one (quite a big one). It was his first race ever. I am incredibly proud of him and what he achieved by his own sheer force of will, and it inspires me in my running more than any elite performance could. Meanwhile I sat at home and felt incredibly guilty, but also very, very angry. My muscles were toned(ish) and ready to go. I'd committed to carb-loading and tapering. I'd broken in a new pair of running shoes. In short, I was ready to run a marathon (fluids and holes in my lungs notwithstanding). This anger led me to do two things. First, I got very upset and disgustingly jealous of Nick's achievement. And second, I decided that I had to run a marathon, as soon as bloody possible.

I dragged my pathetic frame over to a laptop and explored a few options. I quite seriously considered the Marathon de La Rochelle in France at the end of November, including eye-wateringly expensive flights and hotels. I actually got as far as signing up for the Bexhill Poppy Half Marathon just a few weeks away, a local and small scale race on a lapped course that I knew I wouldn't really enjoy. I even considered running a marathon distance, on my own, on a random Sunday in my home town. I mapped a route and planned my own aid stations. But as the dates for these plans and races approached I remained weak and unwell, and had to concede that I wasn't going anywhere in running shoes any time soon.

Setting my sights instead on the spring running season, I was very lucky to get a late entry into the 2010 Brighton Marathon. This really was lucky, as there were only a few hundred places up for grabs and they sold in under an hour, and more importantly I had a goal to work towards and a marathon in the pipeline. But it would be another 6 months before I had the opportunity to toe a start line and make up for lost time. It wasn't enough to lift my spirits. I decided that I could somehow atone for missing Dublin by running as many races as I could afford. I entered the Alloa Half Marathon, the England Kilomathon, the Great Edinburgh Run and the Edinburgh Marathon Relay. 5 races in 10 weeks from March to May 2010, over a total of almost 70 miles. Suicide.

But it wasn't suicide. It was glorious. I ran 5 PB's in 5 races, and at every race I had friends competing or supporting. I met Rosie Swale-Pope in Brighton. I got my photo in the paper in Edinburgh. I ran a time which ranked me in the top 500 in the world for the Kilomathon (it was the world's first Kilomathon...).

They were the highlight of my calendar, and I had a truly epic few months. I think it was this time of my life that I went from being a fairly casual runner to an obsessive. It was that combination of Nick's hard-won achievement and my own vicious annoyance that drove me forward. And now there's no going back.

So what I'm really trying to say is: pleurisy has its upsides.

I really need to work on my conclusions.

Happy running!


P.S. I'm getting a steady stream of guest submissions to this blog, and they're really all excellent and very welcome. I promise to publish every single one, though you may have to be patient until I've collected enough to make up a post. Do keep 'em coming!

Monday, 13 December 2010

My brother runs

My brother, Nick, has gone way above and beyond the call of duty to enter a guest post on this blog. It's long, but it's so worth it, I promise. I've read it four times already today.

Twenty miles in, and I’m in a world of trouble.

Tiredness, joint pain and a state of mild lunacy go without saying after this distance. What I hadn’t anticipated was the loneliness. My girlfriend was waiting for me at the finish, over six miles away. My running-mate, training partner and coach hadn’t even made it to the start line; he sat at home, more ill than he’d ever been, anxiously waiting for news on my progress. I’d no money, no phone, no means of doing anything other than run. Which was, after all, what I’d come to Dublin to do. I stood up from the pavement I’d taken refuge on, and got on my way.

How did that sad little picture come about? Naturally my brother was to blame. I’d enjoyed running in a casual, flaky sort of way, accompanying both my brother and my once-roommate Tom on their very serious training runs, for various charity races and RAF officer selection respectively. In my final year at university I’d come to enjoy running on my own, doing three or four flat, easy miles along the river and canals in Oxford. I’d never dreamed, however, of running any further. The idea of entering an organised race was just daft.

In April of 2009 my girlfriend and I travelled to Paris to support my brother in his first full-sized marathon. We learned there that this involves a weird combination of Maths, Orienteering and playing ‘Where’s Wally?’, one of which I am quite good at. Dave’s pacing being what it was, we were able to wave him on twice during the race and see him shortly after the finish, taking in Notre Dame cathedral, The Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysées, and the general Parisian ambience along the way. Marathon supporting is fun, we decided. Far better than actually running the bloody thing, at any rate.

And yet, somehow, by the summer of that year Dave and I were training hard, having both signed up to run a frankly ludicrous 26.2 miles through the streets of Dublin in late October. Soon I was buying expensive (but remarkably lightweight) shorts, discussing the relative merits of different energy gels, and inspecting with interest the changing consistency of my poor abused feet. By September we were covering twenty miles a week, and struggling slightly to fit the runs in around our jobs. As we entered October the runs were getting really rather long; we spent Sunday mornings doing 18 miles as two nine-mile loops, returning home halfway through for bananas and sugary snacks. All seemed to be going to plan, although as the days grew shorter and the weather colder it was becoming more difficult to get through the long runs. Two weeks before the big day we started tapering; shortening our runs to allow ourselves to store up some energy. This couldn’t have come soon enough; we were both feeling more than a little worn out by this stage.

The Dublin Marathon is run on the last Monday in October, which is a bank holiday in Ireland. This suited me just fine as this happened to be the first day of half term in England (being a teacher is excellent), but Dave had only taken that one day off. The plan was for us to fly out on the Sunday, visit the exhibition centre to register and collect our timing chips, stay in a proper Irish pub, run 42 kilometres on the Monday morning and fly back that evening. My girlfriend Erin was flying out on the Sunday evening as well, accompanied by her mum Bernie, to support us.

The Saturday morning rolled around and for the first time in months we were not going for a run. Eating, packing, and perhaps a few miles’ walk were on the agenda. Instead, I was woken with the news of Dave having collapsed into his breakfast. An ambulance was already on its way. He left in a tragicomic Arthur Dent style, oxygen mask clamped over face, dressed in pyjamas, dressing gown and tartan blanket. The hospital diagnosis was confusing to say the least; swine flu, double pneumonia, pleurisy and the classic hole-in-the-lung problem were all suggested, but the consensus was that there was to be no getting out of bed for him, let alone getting on a plane or running for four hours.

That weekend was a bit of a blur. Somehow I decided I was going it alone. If nothing else I’d already booked flights, hotel and girlfriend, so off I went. I drifted through Gatwick in a daze, and boarded a bus at Dublin airport which took me to the exhibition centre. There I collected my race kit (most importantly my number and timing chip), but couldn’t find much of the enthusiasm shown by my fellow runners. I took a taxi back to the hotel—the driver was impressed by my choice of establishment, which turned out to be a large and quite famous pub. ‘My brother booked it’, I told him, glumly.

Around then Erin and her mum turned up, which cheered me up no end. We had a large, late afternoon meal, and I handed over a race map and some suggestions as to when and where they might manage to see me. I went back to my hotel early, which served no purpose at all, as the pub was full of lively revellers who sang and danced into the night.

Racers were due at the appointed place by 8.30 the next morning; happily the hotel was very close to the start line. I breakfasted alone in the café attached to a supermarket, was pleased to see other runners drifting in, and even more pleased to see what they were eating so I could copy them. It dawned on me that I had really no idea what I was doing. I wandered over to the start zone in a bit of a daze. Groups of people milled about, psyching themselves up, stretching, adjusting outfits, and swapping energy products. Not wishing to feel left out, I took a register of myself, swapped my energy gels around, held one leg while stretching the other one, and issued myself a high-five. Noticing at this point that I was just a mad English person standing in the middle of Georgian Dublin in shorts and t-shirt, high-fiving himself, I was mercifully ushered to the start line. Naturally the Irish contingent started singing (‘Molly Malone’ and the National Anthem, ‘Amhran na bhFiann’), and suddenly we were off.

Once again I was confronted with the unavoidable fact that I had no clue at all what I was doing. I knew I was supposed to average the magic 9:09 pace if I was to achieve a 4-hour marathon (actually 3:59:43.8), but Dave’s magic watch suggested I was doing anything but. The initial trot through the crowds registered 10:45. I sped up. Suddenly 7:10. Slow down again: 13. Thirteen? Thirteen minutes a mile? Madness. I tried instead to replicate the pace we’d been training at; when I next looked at my watch a pleasing 8:55 was showing.

Suddenly all the training seemed worth it. My legs happily flew me along the roads, I kept pace neatly with the people around me, all of us keeping our eyes on the 4-hour pacemakers. At the far end of O’Connell street Erin and her mum waved me on at just under the two mile mark. The course turned west out of the city and entered Phoenix Park. The weather was perfect; cool, crisp, a slight dampness in the air. I sailed through the 10k mark as my watch showed a time of just over an hour: a personal best! The course turned back towards the city and my legs just kept on going. Erin and her mum saw me again around 11 miles, and why wouldn’t they? I was right on schedule. The course turned away from the city again and on to more residential streets. The locals, bless them all, lined the streets, having set up trestle tables outside their houses with cups of water and sliced fruit. Children offered sweets from huge bags, as their mothers banged saucepans together shouting ‘You’re doing grand! That’s great running!’ at total strangers. Old people just stood around, beaming.

The half-marathon point saw another personal best; I should say that I’d only ever noted how long 13.1 miles took once before, and I was a bit hungover. I struck up a friendship with an Irish woman called Nieve (no, not Niamh, she made that quite clear), who did all of her training on a treadmill, poor soul. She gave me part of a Twix bar, which seemed an odd choice of sustenance, but then maybe her treadmill was next to a vending machine. We ran together for a few miles; she kept telling me to go on ahead as I was clearly ‘gagging to go faster’, but in truth I could see she was keeping rigid four-hour pace and I was in desperate need of a good pacemaker. Eventually we broke apart after the mêlée of a water station and I was alone again, but still trotting along quite happily. I was firmly settled into my pace by this stage, and the balloons attached to the official pacemakers remained around a hundred yards ahead of me, as they had from the off.

Perhaps you can tell, I’m delaying getting to this next bit. Here goes. I passed the 18 mile mark, still on course, and quietly celebrated my having run further than ever before.  At eighteen-and-a-half miles, it was all still going fine. Less than eight miles, left, I tell Brain. That’s just a run from home to Knole park, a longish lap and then back again. Brain diligently relays this to Legs and Feet. This does not go down well.

It was Left Leg that raised a complaint, and without any attempt at negotiation, went on immediate strike. As the cramp yanked hard on all my muscles I had to stop, and the woman who had been angling to overtake me crashed into my shoulder instead. Remembering my manners, I apologised and fell over. Informing Brain that we were not stopping for anything I got back up, but Right Leg had joined in the strike and I hit the ground once more. Realising that I looked ridiculous and presented a significant hazard to other runners, I dragged my weary corpse to the side of the road and sat on the kerb desperately trying to relieve the pain of the cramp. It did eventually subside and I set off again, managing another mile or so before the pain overtook me once more. It was here, near University College Dublin, having run twenty cold, continuous miles that I realised the full extent of my predicament, and where I decided that, regardless of the pain and everything else, I was bloody well going to finish the Dublin bloody Marathon.

The rest of the race was spent in some sort of mad stupor, more ridiculous and awful than any night of heavy drinking and yet somehow brilliant too. I was definitely going to be in massive pain at the end of the day; what difference could an extra six miles make? I thought I might as well pick a fight with a horse or wrestle a bus while I was at it. There were more stops, oh yes, and I’ll take this opportunity to thank the delightful Irishman whose front garden I collapsed onto around the 21 mile mark. He had been registered to race himself but had fallen ill and so hadn’t managed to train properly. I told him about my brother’s plight. He offered me a cup of tea. I turned it down, but somehow his kindness and enthusiasm revitalised me anyway.

Around 23 miles, a big crowd caught up with me, amongst them some idiot with a load of pink balloons attached. Brain quietly mentioned that this was the four-and-a-half hour pacemaker, and somehow I managed a big push in a desperate effort to put some distance between me and him. After what seemed like a Herculean effort I looked over my shoulder to see that I’d gained only about twenty yards, and try as I might, I couldn’t hold them off. Entering the final stages we re-entered the Georgian part of the city. Erin and her mum waved me on near Trinity College with half a mile to go, and some absurd part of my brain suggested a final sprint. I overtook about a dozen people and sailed over the finish line. My watch showed 4:37:01. A personal best.

Me winning the Dublin Marathon. The 7008 people who crossed the line slightly ahead of me were all disqualified.

Someone gave me a medal, someone else a t-shirt. A third person removed the timing chip from my race number, and asked what my initials were. He then wrote ‘NJH’ on the battered piece of paper, as he put it, ‘just for the craic’. Odd, I thought. It hit me again that I had no idea what to do. My whole body was completely ruined. Every instinct told me to sit, but there was literally nowhere to do so. I was hopelessly disorientated and began to wonder how I might find Erin and her mum, or indeed my hotel. I resorted to simply sitting in the middle of the street to consider my options. I began to shiver, hard, and thought the St John’s Ambulance tent might be a good place to visit. They gave me a space blanket and ordered me to replace my damp t-shirt with the brand new dry one I had just been given. I realised that all the people I’d seen instantly donning their new gear weren’t, as I’d thought, very uncool, they were actually quite clever. I hobbled out and found Erin, who helped me to the hotel. I remember speaking to Dave at this point, I think it safe to assume a phone was involved. A very hot shower and the application of every item of clothing I’d brought went some way to warming me up. We decamped to a restaurant, pausing to cheer on runners still at it. I ordered three pints of water and one of Guinness, and felt a lot better.

Since then I’ve never run more than six miles in one go, having vowed never to do anything quite so stupid as run a marathon again. Whenever anyone asked what it was like, I answer simply that 26.2 miles is really really far. And yet I still enjoy distance running. Now back in Oxford I’m enjoying the flat terrain once more, slowly building up the mileage running with Erin, now my fiancée. We’ll be entering the Reading half-marathon in the Spring.

I’m afraid I don’t really know why I run, any more than Dave does. Since Dublin I’m actually more impressed when people tell me they’ve done a marathon, not least because most people do a far better job of it than I did. I’m not going to urge you to run a marathon, because in many ways it is completely awful. Instead, I’m going to suggest that next time someone points you to a justgiving or facebook page announcing that they are running their first, second or umpteenth marathon, sure, give them a few quid, but go and support them. Wave, cheer, and hand over water, high-fives and energy gels. Scoop up what’s left of them at the finish and buy them a beer. They’ll appreciate it more than you could possibly imagine. 

Extraordinary, eh?

Thanks, Nick. And sorry.

Happy running,


P.S. Hello Croatia!

Friday, 10 December 2010

All my mates run too

I am fortunate to have a number of very good runners among my friends. Some of them have been running for years, others only took up the sport recently, and a select few only run because someone's bullied them into it. I thought I would ask some of them to scribble down a few words on what motivates them to lace up their running shoes. I've collated the first batch of answers here - more to follow.

Rich Harker, one of the people who gave me a huge amount of support when I was a beginner, is not as fat as we like to pretend he is. He insists he won't run another marathon until I beat his PB.
I run because…I’m fat. Well I guess that’s not strictly true; I run because I love food. At least I think that’s the reason. It’s simple logic you see: running burns calories, I enjoy more calories per day than is allowed; thus running allows me to enjoy a gluttonous lifestyle. It all started a long time ago as a way of getting fit for the various sports I played: rugby, football etc, and then became a sport within its own right, and now I’m hooked. Although I didn’t start running so I could eat a lot, after years of running a lot I have spent a comparable amount of time replacing the extra calories to the extent that I am concerned that if I stop running I will end up like shamoo [the Sea World Killer Whale]…Maybe I run because of fear? Or maybe I just love to run…

Chris Martin, a very talented runner from San Francisco, California, was put on this earth to run all over it. His 3:20 marathon PB inspires and terrifies me.
I run because… 
It's probably the only way to play in the mud and still feel like a kid…and it's ok.   In what other sports do you run UP a hill, stop, go back down, then run up AGAIN!? I can turn to non-runners and say: "I ran 13 miles today and was glad to have the opportunity." I still enjoy the slack-jawed expressions I receive from that one. 
Basically, we can be proud to count ourselves amongst the craziest of athletes.  
What is "off-season?"  
Dare to spit into the wind -  
There is no hill. 
I think that counts as a shoddy attempt at haiku, right? ;) 

Megan Crawford is too outrageously modest to admit to being one of the most successful runners I know. Next time you're watching a road race on TV, look for her loitering at the back of the elite field, chatting incessantly while the Kenyans are desperately trying to zone her out enough to focus on the race ahead...
I run because... it keeps me sane. The road is never bitchy- she never tells me my hair is a mess (and she has seen it at its worst). The trail never lies to me- she is long, she is tricky and there will always be obstacles, but she never failed to tell me this. The path is always happy to see me, she laughs and is tickled by my tinkering feet upon her surface. The course is consistent- she guides and supports me whilst encouraging me to deviate, to get lost and to be independent. I run because she has been the closest friend that I have to this day, but she is still throwing up things to surprise me (or trip me up!). 

Andrew Duncan, who seems to specialise at every distance from 1500m to the half marathon, has been running all over the UK and USA for more years than he cares to remember. He is usually to be found in the shortest of short shorts on the muddiest of muddy trails.
I run because I like it. I can run in any weather, anywhere, at any time. I can run in a pack of thousands, alone, or with a good friend. I need no particular equipment beyond my shoes. I can compete against other people or against myself. 
For a sport that can be almost proverbially lonely, the camaraderie is superb. Conversations spark up with the person sitting next to you at the shoe-shop, standing next to you at the start-line, or heading the same way on some muddy trail. 
Running all year round can be grim at times, especially on cold, dark, wet days where leaving the house is miserable. But it's no good hiding indoors all day; braving the weather toughens, and makes the return to a warm and dry house all the more pleasant. When halcyon times roll round, in glorious sunshine and warm zephyrs, the runs are all the sweeter, partly because it's easier to appreciate the good weather, and partly because all the people who didn't train in the grim winter are well behind!

Kylie Rodier, an Aussie in London with unstoppable running drive, has probably seen her health and wellbeing improve now she's escaped St Andrews Cross Country socials for the bright lights of the city...
I run because it's the only sport I can actually do. At least, that's how I started out. After going through various phases of apathy and depression with my ability to run, I have discovered that I'm best when running longer distances. Now, when I'm doing six+ miles, I love it. So: I do it because it eases my soul, it's therapeutic, it puts me in tune with my body, it pushes me physically and mentally, it's a form of ingrained discipline and respect for myself, and it's possibly the only healthy habit I have. It makes me feel fantastic. And it gives me the firmest arse out of all my non-running friends. KACHING.

Nature hasn't yet invented a terrain that Annie Le can't dominate. Barefoot. She enters the kind of races dreamt up by lunatics and evil masterminds, ideally with a mountain or two in the way.
I run because it gives me freedom. It gives me a chance to be in my own world, to think things through and sort out my life. Friend, uni or relationship problems all seem small and insignificant when I'm knee deep in mud, covered in nettle stings and lost several miles from anywhere. Running up and down mountains, over rocks and through bog forces me to be in the present, the only worry I have is where to put my feet so I don't face plant. It breaks life down into simply putting one foot in front of the other. Running lets me get a bit closer to discovering who I am and gives me amazing adventures along the way.

Rich, Chris, Megan, AD, Kylie, Annie, thanks so much for contributing. There's another answer for me in there too - I run because all my mates run too.

I wouldn't normally make a plea for readers to post comments, but if you enjoyed reading, are horrified by or somehow relate to what our guest bloggers have written, please take a minute or two to say so - click '0 comments' at the bottom of this post or type in the box at the bottom of the page.

Happy running


P.S. If you know why you run (or at least have a rough idea) and would like to contribute to this catalogue of running theory, you can email me a paragraph of roughly 150 words which I'll almost certainly post in the next batch of answers. Unless it's full of obscenities, or lies. I reserve the right to add a bio of you, unless I don't know you at all, in which case perhaps you might like to write it yourself...

P.P.S. Hello Egypt!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Race Report - Edinburgh Christmas Run 2010

Here are some things I never do the day before a race: drink alcohol, go for a run of more than 3 miles, or eat spicy food. Here's what I did the day before the Edinburgh Christmas Run: drank mulled wine, went for an 8 mile run up Arthur's Seat, and had fajitas for dinner. Ho hum.

Amazed that the run was going ahead at all given the outrageous weather we've been enduring recently, I wandered over to Inverleith Park yesterday morning in the company of my dedicated support team; Linds (who has been to more of my races than she cares to remember) and Lydia (who was taking a brief break from being the Manchester Evening News's X Factor correspondent).

Feeling somewhat ridiculous in my cheap Santa suit and expensive trainers, I was relieved to eventually come across a small start area with around 150 runners milling around in classic pre-race fashion, with probably half of them Santa. My plan to be the first Santa across the line was going to be challenged today.

Me, costume still intact despite very baggy trousers, ready for the off.
I'll make a confession here: I'd been practising for this race. Not in the sense that I've just been running, which is a given, but I've been running the specific route of the Edinburgh Christmas Run, to familiarise myself with the terrain and corners, hoping to press home my local knowledge in pursuit of a strong placing. So imagine my dismay when the tannoy announces 'Due to the snow we will be using a modified course for the race today. You'll run down there, turn right, follow the perimeter of the park until you get over there, turn right, then a left, loop around the pond, take a right, then straight on...' I lost track of these instructions at this point.

Ready for the off.
So my race plan was out of the window - the only thing to do was race 'blind' and see what happened. After the ubiquitous awkward mass warm-up, we lined up for the start. A mass countdown and a shout of 'GO' over the tannoy signalled the start, and we were off.

That's me, number 205, on an overtaking mission.
I worked my way to the front running pack, matching stride with another Santa and with only one or two other runners staying near us. Being at the front is great, except, of course, with no-one to follow, you've no idea where the course goes. The marshals did a great job of keeping us on track - however - there's a certain irritation in not knowing where exactly you're going, and how far into the race we are. I had no idea how long the modified course was, and there were no distance markers to keep me on track. In fairness, this was a 'fun run', and I suppose I had no right to expect the usual trappings of a race. But I've never thought of running or racing as 'fun'. It's tough, and it's brilliant. But not fun.

Immediately my Santa costume started to fall apart. The 'one-size-fits-all' theory does not extend to men with 29 inch waists and 37 inch chests trying to run sub-7 minute-miles. The ensemble was held together with a rubbish plastic belt, which loosened after just a few hundred yards. When I tried to tighten it on the run it fell apart all together, and then my Santa jacket was only held together by my running number and safety pins. Between the snow and ice underfoot, my disintegrating costume and the extraordinarily low crotch on my Santa trousers, this was no ordinary race.

An extremely fast runner dressed in his lycras and hi-vis broke away from our group and sped off into the lead, with me and the other Santa (a chap around my age) amicably trading places for 2nd and 3rd. Out of nowhere another fast runner, again not in fancy dress, overtook us in a hurry. You can see him about to steam past us in this photo, where you'll also notice that my costume has started to fall apart:

"Stop waving and look behind you, Dave!"
The bloke in blue sprinted off in pursuit of Hi-Vis, and Other Santa and I were in no hurry to pursue. This was now a race for third place, and first Santa. As we headed towards the pond, I put on a little surge and snuck ahead of Other Santa, confident that I could hold on to my placing. The next turn pointed us back in the direction of the start/finish line, and we were nearly there.

I pushed harder, leaning into a fast run for the finish. I looked for Hi-Vis and Bloke-in-Blue on the approach to the finish line, but couldn't see either of them. This was wrong. The leader wasn't more than 50 yards ahead of me when I last saw him, he can't have finished already. Then it dawned on me. "loop around the pond, take a right, then straight on...' I lost track of these instructions at this point. Oh, shit.

The marshal sent me left, away from the finish line. There was another loop to do before the finish, and I'd already started my last-gasp acceleration. I slowed down, and Other Santa capitalised. I could hear him close on my shoulder, and before long he pulled alongside me. Just before the last turn he pulled ahead, and I knew I was beaten. As I rounded the last corner a marshal shouted at me to catch him, so I put on one last, heart-exploding sprint.

The final push.  Note that my jacket has burst open after my running number ripped off.
And where is my beard? But no other competition!
It wasn't enough. I finished as second Santa, and fourth overall. I was genuinely gutted.

But then I realised: this is my best ever finish. Out of over 150 runners, I came fourth. Fourth. Three years ago I could barely run 5k in one go. Yesterday I beat 146 other athletes over the same distance. That's pretty good stuff, I reckon. Yeah, it was 'only' a fun run, and there were only 150 people competing, and it was over mad terrain, that I'd practised on. But whatever. I was happy.

Me and Linds at the finish. A few more racers have made it over the line by now.
A leisurely stroll home (while the rest of the race crossed the finish line) for breakfast and more coffee. And then we were done - by 11.30am we were on our way into town for brunch. I like 5k's.

That's it for races for me until at least the spring now, and I've just a few more miles to go before I reach my year's mileage goal. But more on that at the end of the month. For now I'll just concentrate on keeping moving through the slush...

Happy racing!


P.S. Hello Canada and Israel!

P.P.S Coming soon: guest bloggers! Stay tuned for other voices on irunbecause...

Saturday, 4 December 2010


No time for a lengthy, thought-out post with purpose and things, so here's a speedy update on my life in running shoes.

As reported in Let it Snow!, Edinburgh (and much of the UK) is a playground at the moment, and really just too much fun to miss out on. Since posting that entry on Tuesday I've been for two more snowbound runs - one short one in the middle of a snow shower, and I'm just back from an 8-miler through the city and Holyrood Park, including nearly 800 feet of climbing. Most of that was trudging up an icy slope on Arthur's Seat, dodging skiiers and seldgers coming down much faster in the opposite direction. Oh, and I ran in shorts. Win.

Why so much climbing? Well on Thursday night I registered for The San Francisco Marathon. This will be my third 26.2, unless I sneak in another one in April, and is world-renowned for being a challenging, hilly course, with over 1200 feet of climbing spread over its incredible route, which takes in the waterfront, the Golden Gate bridge, beautiful parkland and the city's incredible Victorian architecture. I absolutely cannot wait. You can bet my training will include an awful lot more climbing in the run up to 31 July 2011.

I was a bit panicked about getting into this race. Registration has been delayed in opening several times, and as we've already booked an eye-wateringly expensive 12,000 mile round trip for me to run this race (and to enjoy another fortnight's holiday...), it would have been an utter nightmare to have missed out on a place. But when it did open, I was almost first in the queue. Happy Dave.

Finally, I'm supposed to be racing in the Edinburgh Christmas Run tomorrow. (I say 'supposed' because the snow and ice looks murderous...) A 5k fun run in Inverleith Park, I've even bought a cheap and cheerful Father Christmas outfit to run in. My original plan was to be the first Father Christmas home, and to set a new PB in the process, which would have been easy because until recently I'd only ever run one 5k - Run with Rory 2007, which took me over 26 minutes. Success was a given. Unfortunately I was accidentally quite fast during Parkrun, and so I've got to beat 20:43. In a Father Christmas suit. On ice.

I'll let you know how I get on...

Jog on!


P.S. Hello Australia and Russia!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Let it snow!

Just back from my second run of the week. Neither has been very far, and neither has been very fast, but both were through about a foot of snow and both were absolutely brilliant.

There's been a lot of snow in Edinburgh this week. It started on Friday night and has been pretty consistent since then, laying a lot of the white stuff across the city. The roads are a disaster - our car has been immobile for days, and very few people have bothered even trying to drive on the icy cobbles. Buses are delayed, diverted and cancelled. Cyclists are foiled from the get-go. The roads are practically deserted.

This is running territory.

I love running in the snow. The icy bits of the road are mad and unpredictable, the deep snow is crunchy and grippy, and the slush is a hilarious obstacle course. I chose a ridiculously hilly route to make things even more interesting. Leaning in to the hills and gripping with my toes on the uphills was fun, but slipping down the icy descents with one hand hovering near the railings was absolutely brilliant. I managed to avoid losing it completely, but had a few near misses. Exhilarating doesn't cover it. I've run out of superlatives.

The hill up to work this morning. 
There are one or two downsides to running in freezing conditions. It's -2C out there, so I've had to give in to wearing extremely uncool running leggings, much to my displeasure. I'd rather just be in shorts, but if I do slip over on an icy patch then I don't want to risk losing all the skin on my legs to grit and other nasties. I've also had to wrap up in a baselayer, shorts, hi-vis jacket, gloves, hat, headtorch and reflective bands. But ordinary socks and ordinary trainers. Because I don't own anything else.

I particularly enjoyed running at full out-of-control downhill sprint past several groups of wellington-booted pedestrians swaddled in heavy coats and wrapped in scarves - I recommend sneaking a glance at their shocked and appalled faces. I only regret missing out on their reactions were I wearing shorts... Once or twice I exchanged knowing looks with other runners out tonight. There was no self-congratulation or smugness in this look - all it said was: 'Screw the snow. There's running to be done.'

Enjoy the snow - go lace up your trainers!


Friday, 26 November 2010

Marathoning for beginners - part three

Something happens in a marathon which does not occur in other athletic events. It's a physiological event associated with running very long distances, and often stops or slows runners so significantly that lazy writers liken it to hitting a brick wall - personally I think it's more like having a wall thrown at you, whilst trying to cook a soufflé with a blindfold on. Underwater. Wearing clothes made of sadness.

This point often comes as much as 8 miles before the finish line, leaving the poor runner to endure an hour or more of perhaps the most wretched existence in sport. Just thinking about hitting the wall is making me feel nauseous and worried, slightly faint and nervous. Though right now I'm planning to do it again, and again, and again, which would suggest that there's something extraordinary and amazing about overcoming it. Here follow my thoughts.

‘Hitting the wall’ (the metaphor we'll stick with, for brevity if nothing else) occurs when your body has used up all its available glycogen, the primary fuel for muscles. Glycogen burns very quickly and efficiently, which makes it an ideal source of energy, and energy for running in particular. However, most people are only able to store enough glycogen to get them through 18-20 miles’ running, at which point the body switches to its auxiliary fuel supply: fat. Fat is much less efficient for fuelling muscles and this makes running (and thinking, among other things) much, much harder. What's more, strong runners don't tend to have much fat going spare...

Back to that point in the marathon. Despite your devout training and having diligently read part one and part two, every part of your body and mind is suffering. This is normal. As you approach the wall your feet, ankles, knees, legs, hips, and back are likely to be hurting, your arms may start to go numb and your neck may start to ache - this is ordinary discomfort caused by the impact of running for a long, long time. But once you hit the wall you realise that every atom of your being is throbbing with pain. Your eyelashes hurt. Your fingernails hurt. I distinctly remember laughing during the latter stages of the Brighton Marathon because my elbows hurt so much.  Why my elbows?  No idea.  After I hit the wall during the Paris Marathon I realised, with bemusement, that I couldn’t remember how to speak French.  Seeing as I’ve been bilingual all my life this was something of a surprise. I was exhausted. I was miserable. And there were still miles left to go.

Somewhere around mile 23-24, Brighton 2010. The thumbs-up is a lie.
As their bodies start to fall apart, marathon runners set themselves apart from normal people. A normal person’s self-preservation instincts kick in: they slow down, then stop, sit down, and probably call an ambulance.  A marathoner assesses the damage, sighs a tiny sigh, and ploughs on for another 7-8 miles, drawing on a deep, primal reserve of energy and self-belief.  As the final miles are slowly but surely covered through grinding pain and increasingly creative swearing, the end draws into view, and the sheer, unadulterated joy of having overcome the wall releases a hard-won surge of endorphins. The marathoner crosses the finish line, is handed a medal, and enters a different world.

This is how marathon runners are different to normal people. They’ve discovered how to keep going after they’ve done everything they possibly can but still find themselves significantly short of their goal. They’ve found an extra level of ability, a spare reserve of energy and drive which they didn’t know they had, and they are rewarded for finding it. 

This knowledge (I hope) never fades, and my perception is that marathoners retain a greater confidence in human ability than most.  They know that they are capable of going beyond the visible spectrum of possibility, of doing that little bit more than anyone might reasonably have expected. Whenever anyone asks me about running a marathon, I tell them they can do it – not because I think it’s easy, but because I know that everyone is capable of achieving the feat.

In short, life is just better ‘beyond the wall’ - it’s a 24/7 festival of optimism, self-confidence and faith in humanity, and there’s always pasta on the menu.  Come and join the party.

See you on the other side


P.S. Hello Guernsey and Denmark! 

Sunday, 21 November 2010


I am too cheap and ill-disciplined to join a proper athletics club. I'm not good at speedwork and track sessions and hill reps and I generally begrudge anything that replaces a nice long run in the countryside. This is why the Edinburgh Hash House Harriers suits me as a club, with no pressure to attend training sessions and very little pressure to do anything when you do show up (except to drink beer...).

However, the Hash is perhaps a little too far away from actual running for my liking. Sometimes I really do want to know how far I've run, and how fast, and have some friendly competition. And now I've got it, because I've discovered parkrun. Parkrun is a national organisation offering free, weekly races, on professionally measured courses where every competitor's time is digitally recorded. All you have to do to get involved is register online and print off your personalised barcode. Mine looks like this (though not actually, because I've scrambled it - can't have you lot turning up to races and skewing my stats...):

I showed up on Cramond promenade for my local parkrun just after 9am on Saturday morning, and was bowled over both by the wind and the sheer number of people warming up for the race. A quick briefing for the first timers and then we're off with very little drama. We battled against a monster headwind for 2.5k, heading east towards Granton, before turning around and coasting back on the same tailwind for the rest of the course. This isn't really a race - it's supposed to be an opportunity to measure your progress and chase your own PB.

This doesn't stop me racing. I have a 5k Christmas fun run coming up on December 5th (more detail to follow), which I'm taking excessively seriously and so I've been working on this distance rather more than usual. I settle into a brisk pace against the wind, astounded at the range of ages and abilities of the people around me. An 11 year-old stays consistently ahead of me - every time I catch up with him he brings on another enormous surge. At one point he stops to tie his shoelaces, then gets up and sprints to catch up to his pack. Unbelievable. Behind me a rather older chap with an impressive moustache seems to be chasing me. I just about stay ahead. After the turnaround I'm passing whole families, mothers jogging with buggies and older men and women. This is an extremely inclusive event.

Just crossing the finish line, man with impressive moustache behind.
Linds took this photo, when she was very cold...
I make it to the finish line, a few seconds behind the incredible 11 year-old, but a few seconds ahead of the impressive moustache. A marshall makes a note on a tablet PC as I cross the line and I'm handed another barcode. I present both my own barcode and this finish-time one to a marshall with a scanner and a laptop. An hour later very detailed results for the whole race are posted online, and my personal data emailed to me.

"Your time was 20:43. You finished in 29th place and were the 28th gent out of a field of 178 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category SM20-24.

You achieved an age-graded score of 62.27%. 
You have earned 73 points for this run, giving a total of 73 points in this year's Edinburgh points competition."

This is really impressive stuff. With 178 people finishing the 5k course, this is a really good-sized field for this kind of event - a proper community feel. I finished in 20:43 and 29th overall, and this suits me fine, as parkrun tracks how much you're improving online so it would be nonsense to try too hard on the first go...

If you need a bit of motivation or just want to run a perfectly-measured course, consider having a crack at your local parkrun - you've got literally nothing to lose.

Happy running!


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Marathoning for beginners – part two

Last week I blogged (insofar as ‘to blog’ is an acceptable verb...) that Haile Gebreselassie retired from distance running in the wake of his disappointing performance in NYC. However, since Haile has now unretired, I suppose I shall have to unblog. He has since stated that he loves running and racing too much to give it up – which I can sympathise with – and that his sights are now set on London 2012. Hooray!

I can only assume that Haile has made this decision having read Marathoning for beginners – part one, and realising that actually running marathons is superb and he should carry on doing so for as long as possible. Well, Haile, here goes part two: tips...

Your weekday training runs will have to fit around your life, which means running at non-ideal times of day. First thing in the morning, straight after work or last thing at night may not seem like optimum times for exercise, but unfortunately the miles have got to be done and this is the only time most people have to do them. There are a few things you can do to make them easier:

- Try to eat a high-energy, healthy meal or snack 2-3 hours before your run. If running first thing in the morning, have a big dinner the night before and look forward to breakfast after your workout.

- Stay hydrated, not just during your runs but throughout the day.

- Vary your routes to keep things interesting – get hold of a map showing local footpaths and cycle lanes to plan these, which will give you more options than following roads. Or use websites like to plan your run before you start.

- Use your training runs to explore new parts of town, such as areas you’ve only ever seen from the road or on a map. When I first moved to Edinburgh I did this to learn my way around. Unfortunately this knowledge proved almost no use at all when driving around this ridiculous city...

- Every so often, plan a ‘destination run’ and drive to a different area to train in, ideally meet someone to run with and get them to show you their favourite routes. This is a great way to break up your routine and to give you some training to look forward to. (In time, you'll end up running to your destination run!)

The Long Run
The weekend long runs in the mileage chart may look intimidating if you don’t run much at present, particularly the 16 and 18+ mile runs. Which is fair enough, that’s a bloody long way on foot. But don’t worry. You’ll build up to them gradually, and your body will be ready to tackle a 36-mile week because it will have had 11 weeks of preparation by the time you make that demand.

It’s impossible to overstate how important the long run is. You and your body will learn certain things during your long runs which you won’t get anywhere else; you’ll learn how to cope with the inevitable aches and pains and test out how your body reacts, how to manage your eating and drinking before, during and after the run, whether your clothing and kit is comfortable, and how to overcome or manage the temptation to stop or slow down. At the same time your body will learn how to efficiently turn glycogen into energy, which will help you to avoid hitting the wall on race day, or at least delay hitting it for as long as possible. (I'm going to blog separately on hitting the wall, it's a big concept).

More than that, long runs are awesome. When you meet your mates on a Sunday afternoon, walking into the pub like you’ve got no knees, you can tell them with a calm sense of pride that you ran 18 miles before lunch, and will probably go for an ‘easy 5’ tomorrow to shake off any tightness left in your epic leg muscles. I like to add an element of drama to this by planning a route to somewhere specific – pick a town 9 miles away for an out-and-back route and tell your friends you ran there this morning. I used to run from my parents’ house to the next county and back, turning around at the border, which sounds much further than the 10-12 miles it actually was.

Food and Drink
During training, eat a lot of food and drink a lot of water. Straightforward.

Try to cut down on alcohol during training, and go teetotal for at least a week before the race. I avoided drinking (almost) entirely for 6 weeks before both of my marathons, and it was a revelation of health and wellbeing, regardless of the athletic benefits. I also cut down on caffeine, though not by much...

You can see my energy gels on my fuel belt above, 
waiting for the Brighton Marathon to start.
You can also see my friend Alex,
who beat me by a solid 15 minutes.
Make a plan for your raceday nutrition, which you should practice before/during your long runs. This means planning exactly what you’re going to eat on the day, at exactly the right time. This might be more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you’re staying away from home the night before. If the race starts at 8am, will you be able to get a bowl of porridge at 6am in Berlin, for instance? If you’re using energy gels or other products during your run, will you be able to take these with you? Or buy them there? For your reference, I have a bowl of Oatso Simple and a banana, with a small black coffee and a glass of water with a berocca vitamin tablet, two hours before the race starts. Then I use energy gels containing carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine, typically one gel every 45 minutes or so. Buy these from running shops for about £1 each. Above all, go the loo before the gun fires. The consequences of not doing so are grave indeed.

The Race
If you're new to running, consider entering a half-marathon or a 10k before your big race, so you can learn the basics of race day protocol. However, in brief:

- You'll be issued with a race pack, which may be posted to you in advance or you may have to pick up at the race 'expo' the day before the event. In here you'll find your race number and some safety pins. On the back of the number you'll have space to fill in your details - do this immediately - if the worst happens the first aiders will rely on your info being correct. You'll get a brochure explaining the course and any other special arrangements for the race. If it's a big race, you'll also be given a timing chip. This goes on your shoe and will record your time as you cross the start and finish line, ensuring you get a result accurate down to the second, which will probably be posted online for all to see...

- You'll probably be assigned a 'pen' behind the start line, based on your predicted finish time. This is so runners of roughly the same ability are grouped together, so everyone can start running immediately without having to waste energy weaving in and out of slower runners. Inevitably, a lot of people lie when registering, or overestimate their ability, or just sneak into a faster pen. This is antisocial and bad form - when you're trying to run an even-paced race the last thing you want is to spend the first 10 miles dodging walkers and people in banana suits who've put themselves in your way.

- You'll be handed water, energy drinks and possibly food by volunteers. Don't take it if you don't want it, particularly if you've made a careful nutrition plan, though make sure you're taking on at least some water throughout. But if you get to the end of the race and you're feeling rough, then you may as well just pig out. This logic is how I ended up eating pastries and drinking cider in the last few miles of the Paris Marathon...

- For god's sake, thank the volunteers, or next time there may not be so many. The same goes for marshalls and police who control the traffic. Similarly, smile and at least acknowledge spectators and fellow runners - this will make the race a much happier environment for everyone.

- When you get to the finish (and you will get there), keep moving once you've crossed that magic line. Suddenly the world will be a different place, colours will be more vivid, life will have more purpose, trumpets will sound and elephants will dance, but before you enjoy all that you need to hand over your timing chip, collect your medal and goody bag, drink some water and try not to seize up...

This post has got extremely long, so I'll leave my musing on hitting (and overcoming) the wall and my pseudo-philosophy of marathoning and marathoners to another day. Perhaps part three. If there's anything I haven't covered or anything which seems peculiar, please leave a comment below and I'll try to address queries as best I can. Equally, if you're planning on running a marathon next year let me know, I'd love to hear your plans.

Happy Marathoning!


P.S. Hello Singapore!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Marathoning for beginners – part one

You’re thinking of running a marathon. Maybe you don’t know it yet, but somewhere, deep down, you love the idea of being a marathoner. You’re thinking that everyone seems to be planning a marathon: badgering you for sponsorship, starting narcissistic blogs, swapping the pub for the gym and investing in high-vis lycra. You’re thinking that there must be something in it, if everyone’s doing it... Just yesterday yet another friend of mine asked me for advice on training for his first 26.2. He reminded me that making the jump from ordinary human to extraordinary higher being is as easy as completing 16 weeks’ training and enjoying a few hours’ ground-pounding and soul-searching on race day. So I'll try to write down some things I learnt from training for my first marathon and hopefully convince you that it's worth your time and effort...

Me looking rather pale, somewhere after mile 21 in Paris, the wrong side of the wall.
The reality check first: not everyone can run a marathon. It isn’t easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be extraordinary. It requires significant dedication to a demanding physical regime; sacrifice, hard work, and a certain willpower just to get to the start line. The race itself will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It will probably be the best day of your life, but you will suffer for it. The pain is real, as every joint and muscle will ache like never before, ‘hitting the wall’ can make you want to stop existing, and (to me at least) the pressure to finish the race can be so draining it becomes almost unbearable.  However, for those who are willing to put up with this torment, the rewards are immense.

 Still sound like a good idea? You may just be unhinged enough to approach a marathon. In classic Blue Peter style, here are some things you’ll need before you start:
-          A pair of properly-fitted running shoes and a few pairs of running socks
-          A few pairs of shorts and T-shirts, ideally some specifically designed for running/sport, but ordinary cotton ones will be fine when you're starting out. You'll be much better off buying some good quality kit to race in, and it's best to do this at least a few weeks in advance so you get a chance to train in it and make sure it's comfortable.
-    Layers for the cold, and a lightweight jacket for the rain.

You should already be able to run or jog at a consistent pace for at least 30 minutes non-stop, without any pain in your chest or significant muscle pain. If you can't do this you'll find the programme below very tough going, and potentially quite damaging. If you've had respiratory problems in the past or serious issues with your hips, knees, ankles or feet you may want to have a chat with your GP to make sure you're in a good position to start training. (This is massively hypocritical of me, I love running too much to concede to doctors' instructions to stop or slow down...)

Next you need a plan for training. To prepare for my first marathon in Paris in April 2009, I started 'training properly’ in December 2008, following a 16-week training programme I lifted from a book. The schedule I worked to was based on running just four times a week: two short runs, one medium run and one long run. As you can see, this starts out at 3-4-3-5 miles and tops out at 5-8-5-18 miles. The long run is typically best placed at the weekend, allowing you to take a day off either before or after it (or both). 

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
walk 3

The first sixteen weeks of the rest of your life...

You'll notice that the schedule peaks in weeks 12 and 13, then tapers off. Tapering is just as - if not more - important than getting all your miles in, as it allows your body to recover and store up energy to carry you through raceday. Likewise taking proper rest days, and not increasing your mileage to fast or too soon, will give your body the best chance to deal with the increased demands you're going to make of it. Too many beginners (and experienced runners, come to think of it) do too much too early, and end up suffering overuse injuries or burning out before raceday. 

You might be surprised that the longest run in this plan is 'only' 18 miles. This is a major point of debate in marathon training circles - should your longest training run be 18, 20, 22 or even 26 miles? My advice is that 18 miles is enough, 20 would be good, 22 is probably too much and 26 is madness. This is because hitting the wall during training is miserable, and that if you push too far it will take you too long to recover and interrupt your training as a result. If you're new to running leave it at 18. If nothing else, you probably don't want to know the full scale of the pain that awaits you after mile 20... Bear in mind that the atmosphere and vibe of the race is likely to carry you at least a couple of miles further than you can comfortably run in training.

There's the basics - get some kit, make a plan, follow the plan as best you can and enjoy it. In part two I'll go into more detail on training advice and what you can expect during the race, as well as musing on why marathoners are very different people to the rest of the population...

Happy training!