Seven Things I Learnt Training for the London Marathon


This Sunday, OLIVER PICKUP will be running his third – and possibly final – London Marathon. Here he offers key learnings from his experiences in training, and presents streetwise advice and shortcuts for those taking part this weekend and others contemplating a marathon in the future…

Running a marathon – especially the Virgin Money London Marathon, the biggest one-day fundraising event on the planet (hitherto, in 37 editions, almost £900 million has been amassed) – is on the bucket list of most people. Alas, a high majority of folk never manage to tick it off.

Why? Well, it’s an overwhelming challenge for those looking at it from a standing start. And even for the part-time trotter, training is a drag, and increasingly difficult to squeeze in was work and family commitments swell with time.

But, for those brave enough to sign up for a 26.2-mile run – and there will be upwards of 40,000 pounding the pavement from Blackheath to The Mall on Sunday – training is essential to make the London Marathon as enjoyable as possible. The old maxim, attributed to American polymath Benjamin Franklin, that “by ailing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” is apt. And it will be damn painful, too, in this instance. Here follows seven tips designed to help you make the most of the big day.

It pays to spend big on running gear

To maximise the chance of making the most of what many runners label one of the best days of their lives (and I would agree, at least for the first time I ran the London Marathon 10 years ago – the second, five years ago, was not so rosy, and I will explain why below) decent kit is vital. It might seem obvious, but using substandard equipment can be seriously damaging.

Data from fitness app Strava shows that over 10,000 of last year’s finishers clocked up around 350 miles in the 13 weeks prior to the event – for those aged between 51 and 60 it was 370.9 miles on average, and for runners in their 20s it was 310.7 miles. (I’ve just totted up my mileage in the 13 weeks ahead of this year’s London Marathon, and I’m slightly alarmed that it’s only 156 miles, though there are mitigating circumstances – more of which below.)

In sum, the likelihood is you will have to do between 250 and 350 miles to prepare properly – so comfortable footwear is crucial. Do your research online. Even better, visit specialist sports shops, jump on the treadmill, have your running style assessed (usually for free) and take advice on appropriate running shoes. You should be looking to spend about £150 on a decent pair of running trainers – and that will be by far your biggest outlay, which is not bad considering a half-decent road bike will set you back around £500.

This year I teamed up with American sportswear giants Saucony (pronounced “sock a knee” – as used to be printed on the company’s shoeboxes), and have been delighted with my pair of Liberty ISOs. Of all the dozens of running shoes I have owned, these have proven to be the most comfortable, durable, and supportive. It didn’t surprise me that they won Runner’s World Best Debut award this spring.

Other kit tips? I knew about 1000 Mile Socks, which guarantee not to give you blisters, in 2013, when I last ran the London Marathon. This time around I have discovered Runderwear, and what a find they have been. Much like the 1000 Mile Socks, they have two layers that minimises friction and chafing. Also, extra credit must be given to the brand name Runderwear. Heroic.

Nutrition is an essential part of training

That’s enough talking pants. Once you have the right kit it helps to supplement training by putting the right things in to your body. And London start-up Tribe is one of the best places to go for endurance-based nutrition. Not only does Tribe have a great backstory – the three running-mad co-founders kicked in their high-flying City jobs after a 1,000-kilometres jog for charity convinced them to establish the company four years ago – their products are both seriously tasty and good for the body. (Check out my favourite pre-training bars: Infinity Choc Salt Caramel; and Infinity Peanut Butter and Banana.)

Technology makes training more enjoyable

Before starting my training I tracked down the best running-based tech available, and bought some Heiyo Wireless Sport Bluetooth Headphones (only £15.99 on that have been ace – gone are the days of poor sound quality while on the run. That clarity combined with smartphone advances means that I can balance out the drudgery of training by catching up on podcasts or the news (The Economist’s audio downloads are handy).

But too much tech can be harmful

For coaching Lumo Run (available on seemed to be the most impressive. This clever piece of kit, which clips snuggly in the back of the user’s running shorts, is somehow able to monitor one’s cadence (ideally at least 180 steps per minute), bounce (less than three inches please), rotation, and a raft of other things. It coaches you through your headphones via the smartphone app, and dramatically helped improve my speed.

That was until I tweaked my hamstring, and a couple of weeks later strained my calf on the same (right) leg. It transpired that the Lumo Run had been coaching me wrongly for marathon running. I had been advised to run on the front of my feet (“Imagine you are running though a big puddle on tip toes.”), and that placed stress on my muscles. As such I had to miss out on three weeks of training at a critical time – hence my lack of mileage.

A great physio is invaluable

In a bid to repair my body and dial down anxiety levels, I sought out an excellent physiotherapist: Brett Davison, of Physio Boutique. Having never before required the services of a physio I was unsure of whether it would solve my leg issues. But Brett, formerly employed by Wasps Rugby Club and the Rugby Football Union, knew just what to do and a couple of (painful, elbow-in-muscle) sessions with him boosted my confidence immeasurably. Another tip he gave me was to use magnesium flakes to aid recovery. A liberal sprinkling in a hot bath and then a 20-minute post-run soak helps the muscles a great deal.

Don’t stop running on the big day … whatever you do

Again, this is just common sense, you may think. But this is the most important bit of advice – trust me. Even when it hurts, and your pace has slowed to a walk, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and continue pounding to the end. Because, 18-or-so miles in, as soon as you stop, it is nigh on impossible to begin again – at any great speed, at least. Injury aside, there is no reason to stop.

That voice telling you that you must halt the pain by stopping is nagging doubt in your head. The notorious ‘wall’ needn’t be hit, and will be avoided for those with the mental strength. As someone who has previously not stopped (in 2008), and then stopped (2013), it is orders of magnitude more enjoyable when you keep going. If you think your body wants to stop, distract it by playing time games, or a spot of mindfulness and concentrate on your breathing for a mile or so. Whatever, so long as you don’t stop.

To all of those taking part this Sunday, see you at the finish, and good luck.

Oliver Pickup is a multi-award-winning journalist, and on Sunday April 22 he will run his third London Marathon (with number 22952 on his vest). Follow Ollie’s progress on Twitter at @OliverPickup.

Header Photo: Jed Leicester for Virgin Money London Marathon