Nikki’s Marathon Monday – Week 7 – John McKenna

I’m Nikki and I’m about to run my first marathon. To help me (and other first timers) with this mammoth task, I’m speaking to WH runners who have run a marathon and asking them to share with us what they’ve learned so far.

I recently ran the Surrey Half, as part of my training and found myself feeling comfortable and very much enjoying myself – something that I really didn’t expect on the day. Whilst running along, I chatted to a few people as I passed, asking if they were OK and a few replied that they’d spent the last few months training in the cold wind and rain and were not expecting this run to be quite so sunny or warm. So much so, that they weren’t carrying water. It seemed we were all having a surprising run, with me enjoying it when I was sure I wouldn’t and others having a terrible time.

That brings me to our marathon runner this week, John Mckenna and his advice this week to be aware that things don’t always go as we plan and that there’s no such thing as a perfect race. John’s an experienced marathon runner and he’s been great at giving me running advice and has been known to shout “Keep your head up!” as he runs by me. So, here’s John to share his experiences.

1. Why did you enter your first marathon?

I always looked at running a marathon as a bit like passing your driving test and proving yourself as a real runner (it really isn’t by the way, don’t rush into it).

2. When and where was your first marathon?

Basel, Switzerland (I had entered Brighton twice prior to that but never made it to the start line).

3. What was the most valuable thing you learnt whilst training for your first marathon?

I don’t feel like I learnt anything in particular. I knew it would be hard and it was. There are no shortcuts.

4. What did you learn that no-one had told you?

That if managed carefully, it needn’t be a hellish experience. You don’t have to slow down after 20 miles.

5. What did you do immediately after and the next day?

We continued our Swiss mini-break! The next day I went to work (I was working with a client there) and my wife went home.

6. How many times have you run a marathon since?

I have run three more road marathons, three trail marathons and a few longer distance races.

7. During later marathons, what have you learnt that you wish you’d known for your first marathon?

Nothing which would have helped me first time around but I have learnt that each time I toe the line I am a slightly different athlete and cannot expect the same experience.

8. What tips do you have for overcoming the wall?

Don’t hit it. It is not inevitable. Be realistic with your goals and eat regularly throughout the race (every 5k or 30 minutes).

9. What tips do you have for race day?

Don’t expect everything to be perfect on race day. It may well be too hot, too wet, too hilly or too windy or you might miss a gel or even need to go to the loo in a busy section and be unable to! You will almost certainly not sleep a wink the night before.

Practice for this so it doesn’t throw you when it happens: seek out a hillier course occasionally, practice missing a gel, don’t pause your watch every time you stop. Train while tired. You won’t be able to control everything on race day so learn to be adaptable and adjust expectations accordingly.

Likewise, in training: you WILL get sick and miss days. Don’t give up if you miss a week (or even two). Just do what you can.

10. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t expect to go farther AND faster on race day than you’ve ever gone before. You can do one but not both. Start cautiously, no matter how good you feel.

11. Who’s been a big help to you whilst training?

I train mostly on my own these days owing to circumstances but for my first few races I found it helpful to join the long run group on a Sunday, particularly when they did their ‘speed up at the end’ long runs. These really gave me faith that I could continue to run at a good pace even when fatigued.



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