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5 Things to learn from watching London Marathon on the TV

Apr 22, 2024

There is something addictive about watching London Marathon on the BBC. For hours I can gaze at a sea of colourful smiling runners bopping up and down along the streets of the city. If you witnessed it on Sunday, I bet you too got emotional as runners shared their personal stories of joy as well as heartbreak, resilience and determination.

The race starts out in East London and I listened with butterflies in my stomach as runners shared their hopes for the day ahead. I was a first time marathoner in those very fields nearly 20 years ago and the nerves, excitement and fear of the unknown came flooding right back. I wished I was there with them now not lazing on the couch. 

  1.  A marathon is a lot more than a day out

But I catch myself dreaming knowing this happens me every year. It is hard not to be seduced by the party like atmosphere and experience of these big city marathons. Each smiling face waving at the camera makes me jealous, but I know many months, and sometimes years, of hard work and dedication go into getting marathon ready. Watching the marathon may inspire you to run one but be sensible in deciding if this is the right time for you. I would highly recommend training for a marathon to anyone, but only once they have the right foundations and the time, energy and respect for the training ahead. It is an incredible experience but the marathon day is often the easiest bit of the whole journey. What goes on behind the scenes can take a lot more out of runners than race day itself.

  1.  Life doesn’t always work out as planned

The volume of runners who are raising money for charity in London Marathon is astounding. One of the big questions asked by the BBC along the route is “WHO are your running for today?”. I choke back tears as I hear passionate runners share their deeply personal reasons for investing their energy into fundraising in the hope of helping others less fortunate. Charity runners have a purpose far beyond their own performance goals. There is the added pressure to get to the finish line as you have collected money but running for charity also puts race day performance in perspective. No matter how much training we have done there is an element of luck on race day. Even the most prepared athlete can have a bad day. But seeing the charity runners reminds me that many people will never get to run or train for any race, be it 5k or longer. This is enough to get me up off the couch and out running today. Let’s move while we can, we never know what life might bring us next.   

  1.  You don’t have to fall apart in the last few miles

Despite the encouragement from the crowd in the last few miles, it can be hard to stay upbeat when you are feeling both mentally and physically weary. As I watch I notice the distinct difference in how runners are now moving compared to the energy of the early miles. While some have maintained their rhythm many have dropped their gaze, cadence and posture. They may not realise it but they are making running much harder on their body in this position. The running coach in me has to resist shouting at the TV. I want to tell them to look up and try to run tall. A bent over body takes a lot more effort to move forward. As fatigue takes its toll on us all we need to remind ourselves that simple technique tips can lift us out of that hole. It is not just for marathon day, most of us could do with this boost in the last 1km of our Saturday morning parkrun.

The finish line time doesn’t tell the full story

Some runners have clear time goals and have their eyes firmly on the finish line while others are focused purely on the experience. There is no right or wrong way to define marathon success as long as the initial goal is realistic. What one runner will determine as amazing performance another will deem as failure. Two runners will cross the finish line in exactly the same time but will have had completely different experiences along the route and in training. One might be disappointed that they are 30 seconds slower than last year, while the other might be thrilled to have got to the finish line injury free. So try not to judge any runner, or yourself, solely by the time it takes to run any race distance. We never know the full story. A better question might be to ask them about the experience rather than make an assumption based on just the number. Some of the marathoners who finished in the top 100 will be more disappointed than others who finished in the final 100.

  1.  You can do anything if you break it up into small parts

As the runners pass Big Ben in the final mile many relax as end is almost in sight. They enjoy the crowd and the view. Others grimace giving one final push as they strive for that important finish time. Weirdly my memory of that last mile was wishing the marathon wasn’t going to be over so soon. I was loving the crowds and feeling relatively good. I knew it would be near impossible to recreate that experience for a long time again and I didn’t want it to end. I never thought I would be able to run a marathon just a year previous, but by breaking up the journey into small steps I did it. Today when I coach runners I strive to make sure they celebrate each of the mini milestones along the way to their big race and focus not solely on the final hurdle, this big day out. So much is out of our control on race day even if we do our best. Putting all the focus on the marathon day only prevents us from appreciating all our body did along the way to make race day even a possibility.

A deadline for your dreams

You may never wish to run a marathon but there probably is something you dream of doing but it seems too daunting. Start by aiming for that first stepping stone on the path to getting there. Once you hit that target another door will open. Watching the awe of the marathon on television is a reminder that if you put a deadline on your dreams you gain focus and momentum. A date in the diary means you follow a plan, you take it step-by-step and your big adventure is underway.

This article was first published on 23rd April 2024 in The Irish Times


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