As I crossed the timing mat 10 kilometres into the London Marathon, a nearby runner let out a joyous exclamation: “Yes! Two parkruns down.” That made me laugh – and to suggest he not want to think there were still six-and-a-bit to go.
Around 15 kilometres from the finish of the London Marathon, I spotted a spectator holding up a sign that read: ‘Just three parkruns to go!’ Given how my legs were feeling at the time, the word ‘just’ seemed a bit out of place.
Those two moments demonstrate two things. One is that parkrun has become so ingrained in British running culture that ‘a parkrun’ is now an accepted unit of measurement for five kilometres. The second: there are plenty of ways of trying to make a 26.2-mile marathon seem less daunting.
Thinking about it: running 26.2 miles is a pretty intimidating prospect. So when you’re running a marathon – or any race, really – it makes sense to break it down in your head into smaller, manageable chunks. Doing so gives you little targets along the way – such as having completed two parkrun distances – that give you little victories long before you reach the finish line.
Splitting up the race distance makes it feel more manageable, and is also a good way to distract yourself. So much so, that I found myself thinking up multiple ways to divvy up the marathon distance. These included:
The Lucozade splits: The Marathon course featured water stations every mile or so, and Lucozade Sport stations every five miles. I’m not a huge Lucozade Sport fan, but found myself counting down the minutes until I could have a quick sugar slurp of sweet orange liquid.
The brother-spotting splits: As I’ve mentioned, my brother was out cheering me on in the marathon. He’d plotted out his route quite carefully, so I knew my two chances to see him were just before the seven-mile mark, and around 14 miles in. Counting down to the moments of spotting a familiar face (and actually trying to pick him out of a huge crowd) was a great distraction – at least until I’d seen him the second time. Because then I realised I still had 12 miles to run, and wouldn’t see him again until the finish…
The London landmark splits: Bit uneven this one, but it was fun to focus on reaching the really famous bits of the course: the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament. The only trouble was that I didn’t know the course well enough to really know the distances in between…
The in-race dining splits: Refuelling is necessary on a marathon, and is also quite motivating. My mid-race energy boost came from running jelly beans, an SIS berry caffeine energy gel, water, Lucozade Sport and the Lucozade Sport Energy Gels they handed out at two points on the course. Knowing roughly how long I’d be running meant I divided up my dining, giving me something to look forward to. An hour or so into the race? Jelly beans! Two hours down? berry gel time (which may have been a slight error – leaving it in my shorts pocket for that long meant it was quite warm and even gloopier than usual when it was time to tuck in…)!
There were others, probably because I just couldn’t stop thinking up fun ways to distract myself from my aching legs. None were an exact science, of course – and my primary guide always remained the Garmin watch strapped to my wrist. The clock never lies, etc.
Oh, I should mention the one motivational split I thought up that I figured would inspire me, but almost had the opposite effect: the halfway point.
I figured reaching the halfway point of a marathon would be a greatly motivational moment: ‘I’m halfway there! Yes! I can do this!’
Not quite. It was more: ‘That’s halfway. Wow, halfway, and I can feel my legs ache. And I’m only halfway there?’
Given I’d never taken part in any race longer than a half-marathon previously, the halfway point in some ways felt to me like the true start of the marathon: it marked the beginning of a voyage into the unknown.
It also struck me that the halfway point wasn’t really the halfway point, anyway. My marathon plan had accounted for me slowing down a bit in the second half, so I knew the second half was going to take me longer than the first. So although I was halfway there mileage-wise, I wasn’t actually halfway there time-wise.
So I stopped thinking about that, and thought of it this way: ‘Right, 13.1 miles left – that’s only four-and-a-bit parkruns…’