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How to Run a Marathon with Zero Training

Image Credits: Photographer - Michelle J Procter; Styling - Christie Simpson; Hair - Danielle Abbotts at The Strand, Make-up - Smudge Make-Up Artistry: Location - Upper House Hotel; Top and Leggings - lululemon; trainers - Nike

I googled these exact words nine hours before my first marathon in Tokyo with Flight Centre three years ago. It was my first proper road race, and I was justifiably terrified because for no particular reason I completely ignored my running shoes and just tapered, tapered, and… well… tapered. I think I was so worried that I would fail to transition from trail running to road running so just avoided it altogether. So, there I was, shuffling up to the start line, literally shaking in my lululemon shorts about to start running as fast and as far as I could.

I knew there was no way I was going to bail on the race which left the fact that I had to figure out how to run 42 kilometres in the most efficient and least painful way possible. Here’s what I did that helped me survive every minute of my 3 hours and 59-minute journey that day in Tokyo.

Disclaimer: I don’t condone doing this but if you find yourself in this situation (like I did a few hours before my first marathon) here’s how to give yourself a good shot of making it to the finish line. Traditional marathon training schedules begin 20 weeks pre-race, and for the Berlin 2017 marathon that I'm heading over to with Flight Centre I'll be sticking to a proper routine. If you're reading this with a few months before a marathon I highly recommend training properly... trust me, your legs will thank you.

1 – Make a Playlist that Coincides With your Target Time

I didn’t just want to run a marathon; I wanted to do a sub-four hour marathon. So, I made a playlist that didn’t go a second past 4 minutes. I find running without music torturous so I knew this would be a key motivator to ensure I got past the start line with a few (literally two in this case) seconds to spare. For my most recent marathon in New York, my brother Joseph gifted me the Spotify playlist he created for my wedding as a surprise.

2 – Run for Someone Else

Running a marathon is a great way to support a charity, raise awareness for a cause or even prove someone wrong. A few hours before the marathon started I woke my husband up and asked him to bet me that I couldn’t do it in under four hours. He did, and when the last song on my playlist came on (I Kissed A Girl by Katy Perry) and I knew I was going to lose the bet if I didn’t sprint my heart out, the thought of losing that bet got me over the finish line 53 seconds short of four hours. During my Dublin marathon, I ended up right behind someone wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I’m doing this for Maeve’ which happens to be my mum’s name, I pushed my pace up and stuck with them for 10km. I promise that running for a cause or dedicating your efforts to someone else will help you finish the race and keep your mind off your aching knees at the 30km mark. I like to dedicate each mile or every two miles to different people; it’s a nice way to break up the race. Save the last mile for someone special!

3 – Come up with a Mental Game Plan

I firmly believe that most challenging fitness activities are far more mental than physical. You have two voices inside your head, one says that you can do anything you want, the other one is the doubtful, procrastinating, worrisome one. You need to override ‘Doubting Thomas’ by shutting him out using positive messages, mantras and slogans. When I get tired during a race or workout, I say the word ‘energy’ out loud or in m head to flip the situation on its head. When I think I can no longer run a foot further, I lift my chin high, raise my chest and focus on a landmark on the path ahead. A friend who is an Iron Man writes positive mantras on his arms, I did this in Tokyo, and it helped when times got tough, and I wanted to quit.

4 – Coffee, Sugar and Painkillers are your Friends

Before I give this advice, I need to stress that I am not a qualified doctor or nutritionist so feel free to skip this next tidbit.

Caffeine and painkillers combined are a force to be reckoned with. They help us battle the common cold and flu (think Lemsip/Panadol Cold + Flu) and also help take the edge off the excruciating body rattles that can happen during a marathon. I usually drink one cup of filtered coffee a day, so the morning of the race I brought a quadruple espresso with me to the start line and downed it five minutes before taking off. I was on cloud nine for the first 20 km, and when the caffeine rush subsided, I took the edge off with two aspirin to dull the pain that was slowly creeping over me. On kilometre number 30 I popped another panadol, and on kilometres 38 and 42 I downed caffeinated energy gels. I got my sugar hits by taking non-caffeinated energy gels on kilometres 15 and 30 to pep me up a bit and stayed hydrated by drinking at each water station while I ran by. The trick with gels is to take them before you feel depleted or exhausted so that they can keep you going, not ‘restart’ your engine if that makes sense, so time them wisely.

Note: Some painkillers like Ibuprofen are processed through your kidneys so can be quite hard on them and make you dehydrated. Panadol is processed through your liver so it's a better option in this particular scenario. Ibuprofen gel on your knees may also help to relive some pain.

5 – Don’t Stop

I can’t stress this last one enough. Whatever you do during a marathon, don’t stop to ‘walk it out’. Think about a car. It takes more energy to restart a car than just to continue driving… the same goes for running. You need less energy to keep running than you do to stop and restart. It’s also not great mentally, all you’re going to have to do once you stop is motivate yourself to start again. Slow down to a snail’s pace, by all means, take a breather, but keep trodding along and if you look around, I promise you’ll find a friendly face who is struggling too. The urge to stop will pass and probably come back again but fight through it.

6 - Go with the Flow

Your energy and enthusiasm during a marathon will always ebb and flow. You will have times where you think you can run for days and other moments where you won't want to step a single foot further. In yoga, this is called 'spanda' the ebbing and flowing nature of the universe and life in general. What's important to remember during the agonising moments is that pain is temporary and that there is something great on the other end of the pain cave. It also helps me to remember that Mohammed Ali never started counting reps until it started hurting.

Hope all the above helps, now have fun while you run!

Dervla xx

Image Credits: Photographer - Michelle J Procter; Styling - Christie Simpson; Hair - Danielle Abbotts at The Strand, Make-up - Smudge Make-Up Artistry: Location - Upper House Hotel; Top and Leggings - lululemon; trainers - Nike

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