Your plan should start well ahead of the race itself. Calculate how long it will take to get to the start and then add on half an hour. If you are going by public transport, buy your ticket the day before. When you get to the start, get into the loo queue early, then hand in your kit, keeping back an old t-shirt and a woolly hat if it’s cold and a bin liner if it’s wet. Because of chip timing, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to cross the line, but even so, you may lose a little time in the first mile, because of congestion. Don’t panic!
You have a long way to go and plenty of time. So don’t waste your energy barging your way through – you’ll need that energy later on. Just try to get into an easy rhythm and see how long it takes you for the first mile.
If all you want to do is get round, you are probably a little light on training, so I strongly advise regular walking, even in the early stages. Eleven minute miles gets you 4hrs 50, so if you jog for ten minutes and then walk for one minute, or to the mile marker, you are going to be alright.
For those who have trained sensibly and have targets, the secret is running even pace, or even with slightly negative splits. First, your target must be realistic. For an elite runner, I say double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes, so for the person who has run 90 minutes for the half, I would say double it and add 15 minutes. Other estimates are three times your ten mile time or five times your best 6 mile time (10k is 6.25 miles). Calculate your probable marathon time and then set yourself your goals. You should have a ‘dream’ time – the best you could possibly expect, a target time and a ‘respectable’ time. If your target is sub-3hr 30, your dream time might be low 3hr 20s and ‘respectable’ would be under 3hr 45.
With the adrenaline created at the start, you may feel very easy indeed. Running 3hrs 30 only requires 8 minutes per mile and you could easily be running 7.30s without effort. Resist that temptation. Start at your target speed and stick to that for at least ten miles. It’s a good idea to have target times written on your arm, for 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles, because calculation can get tricky in the excitement of the race. If you reach halfway feeling really good, then you might increase your pace by 10 seconds a mile.
The two best bits of advice I can give are:
1. Find a group which is going at your tempo and help each other along. After 20 miles it is a huge help to have a buddy to run with.
2. Take some energy drink – Orbana if you can – every 5k. The faster you are running, the more essential it is to keep fuelling. If you are a 5-hour runner, you will be breaking down body fat, so you have plenty of available energy, but the boost of a high-carb drink will help you mentally.
Whatever your level, enjoy the moment. Even when it’s hurting, running a marathon is a great experience.