How to walk a marathon

I ran the San Francisco marathon two weeks ago today. Previously (back in 2008), I ran London. San Francisco is hillier than London, and it doesn’t take much of a hill to tire you out. After getting close to the coast at 15 miles or so, I took a few walking breaks.

And, to be perfectly honest, I had a lot of company. Not even from just the full marathoners, but from the halfers too – and they’d only been at it for a couple of miles!

When you get to the top of the hills at around the 20 mile mark, you’d think it’s easy. The truth is that your legs muscles are just blown. You’ve been running for 3 or 4 hours at that point, and you can’t even walk down the hills. You just limp along with a grimace.

At 20 miles, I quit. I sat down by the side of the road. I said I’d had enough.

But then I thought, what now? I could call a taxi and get to the end, but really it’s only five miles. I could just walk the rest. so I did. And apart from some muscle pains for the rest of the day (and week), and some foot pain ever since – it was fine. I wrapped up in just under 6 hours.

If you look around online you’ll get lots of really great help on how to run a marathon. This will be from those California fitness freaks. They’ll be all eating healthy and training and yoga and sensible and stuff. But there’s not much out there for the slackers. Where is the guide for the fat, the lazy, the unwilling, or merely too busy? Here are my tips:

  • It’s a good idea to do some actual training. I can run 2 miles to the Bart station. That’s my training. Twice a week for four months. I’d call it the minimum.
  • Don’t eat before you run. You’ll get cramps. Eat after.
  • You should do one long run as practice. I did Bay to Breakers, which is an easy 7 miles. Don’t walk this one.
  • If you’re getting blisters after half an hour running, you need new shoes. That’s why you need the long training run. Get new shoes and wear them in. If you can also wear them at work, then you don’t need to carry so much on your commute.
  • If you’re tired or hurting, don’t stress – just skip a training session. You don’t need an injury. You don’t need to run until you hate it. Just enjoy it.
  • Don’t turn up early for the race. Why get tired standing around? Be there 10 minutes before your start time – no more.
  • Run light – there’ll be plenty of water stops with electrolyte. Maybe even food. Carry as little as possible.
  • Don’t go mad with the water. Don’t go mad for the gels and electrolytes. Take a little here and there. Take your favourite candy for the 18 mile mark.
  • Run with a friend who matches your pace. Seriously more fun. You can people-watch together, admire the views of SF and complain about how bad the gels taste.
  • If you don’t have a friend, get your playlist ready. Have some variety – after 3 hours you’ll be stressed out by everything and need some chill.
  • Know your route – you’ll be able to look forward to the flat bits and know where you can pee.
  • Run London if you can – there are crowds all the way. It’s flat.
  • Walk if you must, but try to avoid it. Get into a rhythm, or follow someone at your pace. There will seriously be lots of walkers. You’re not alone.
  • Wear a visor or a cap. While the pros will finish before breakfast, you’ll be out running at noon. Sunburn is a problem, and so is the sunlight.
  • Don’t try and hop up and down curbs while you run – your legs will suddenly stop working sooner than you think and you’ll fall.
  • You’ll be running for 5 or 6 hours. That’s not a marathon, that’s an ultramarathon. You’re awesome and let nobody tell you any different. All you need to do now is finish.
  • Final note: don’t die. Take a phone for emergencies.