London Marathon: Should You Take The Challenge?

London Marathon 2008 entries are open, and you're sitting on the fence. Your can't-do demon reminds you that even five miles can leave you gasping at the moment. Your gung-ho self counters that a friend of your cousin's ran 3:28 with just two weeks' training and a curry the night before.

They're both distractions. If you can run even two miles now, you're a long way ahead of thousands of people who can barely make it round the block as late as January. With a little consistency, you'll be able to achieve more than you ever thought possible by April.

"What a day! Fantastic – I did it in 6 hours 41 minutes, first time. To do that I have had to lose nearly five stone in weight, combat asthma, deal with a medical history of quadruple heart bypass, all since a year ago when I saw my daughter run the marathon and I said, 'I wonder if...'"Norm, age 60

... But don't underestimate the need for solid training. Of course a handful of people wing it with a week's preparation. But you'd have a 2% chance of an enjoyable marathon like that. Build up using a little intelligence and you have a 98% chance.

Enough of the lecture. Here are some pointers to help you make up your own mind:

Here's what it's like when it goes well

"From the day I got accepted, to the moment I finished, it has built into one of the best things I will ever experience."Andy Gillespie, 4:08

"The crowd numbers and support are absolutely AWESOME and the whole event gets under your skin. I never tire of playing the video; I smile, I choke back tears, my skin tingles."Slotwin, 4:17

"I learnt a great deal about myself – my inner strength and my sense of determination! I would recommend this event to anyone looking to achieve a goal in life: you will never match the high."Lesley Fitzgerald, 5:02

Even when you've run many marathons, the feeling of crossing the line is extraordinary. It's public and private at the same time; unassailable proof that you've dedicated yourself to months of hard training and had the willpower to pull yourself through a race of immense highs and lows. For many it symbolises a confidence they've never had before; a proof to doubters; possibly a huge change in lifestyle.

Here's why it can be agony

Undertraining
A six-mile walk is a long way. A six-mile walk with legs like lead, a pounding head and a knotty stomach can feel like forever. Now picture the sorry souls who have to drag themselves over 12, 14 or more miles like that. Most of them simply didn't train enough.

"My training had gone well, up to a point. That 'point' having been five weeks before the day of the marathon, when work and backache conspired to prevent much happening in the crucial period of build-up... By mile eight I had gone..."Richard Sanders, 4:50

"I was woefully under-prepared, having trained for six weeks. I used the Runner's World emergency schedules, which were excellent. But work pressures and a nasty cold cut into this last-minute attempt at training. I had logged just 50 miles through my preparation... From 11 miles my left thigh began to cramp and I seriously doubted whether I would make it round."Lennonesque, 5:36:40

What you need to commit to:

  • A four-month training period. Ideally you should be running 25 miles a week by the time you start the four months
  • Building up from a minimum of 25 miles a week to a regular 35, 45 or more (depending on your goal)
  • Weekly long runs throughout the training period, building from two hours to three hours plus

Injury
In the bad old days of the 1980s, thousands of people took up running with the single goal of training for four months to run a marathon. Masses of them got injured – they were doing too much, too soon. For maximum enjoyment and minimum injury risk, we recommend you have at least a year's regular running under your belt before you tackle 26.2 miles.

"Next time, I would make sure that I had at least one running season under my belt before launching into a marathon build-up, to make sure that I did not have these overtraining injuries."Lollykins, 7:24:06

Indigestion
Like so many elements of marathon training – including kit – eating and drinking on the run comes down to practise and a bit of trial and error. You'll need to do this seriously, over long-run distance, at least four or five times before race day. Sometimes it takes months of patient training to get your body used to it.

Pure bad luck
You have to accept that despite the most dedicated preparation, what should be one of the best days of your life can go horribly pear-shaped through no fault of your own. You could catch a virus, twist your ankle on a drinks bottle or just have a duff run for no explicable reason.

"I am so disappointed to have done a lot worse time-wise than I did last year. My preparation was better, I had no asthma problems (which troubled me badly last year), and the weather was so much better, etc. It beats me totally..."An Coppens, 6:07

"Even with the best preparation (I even managed appropriate long runs, ate well the week before and tapered), the marathon is an evil unpredictable beastie which bites back."Plodding Hippo, 5:35

In short

Like all running, there are no shortcuts in marathon training. It's totally honest, completely unforgiving, and phenomenally rewarding because of it.

"Miles 19-23 were the toughest and the despair and the pain were the worst I have ever felt. Had you asked me then, I would have said Sunday was the worst day of my life, and was close to crying by the side of the pavement and giving up... The thought of my son Josh's words that morning ("Mum, when I next see you, you will be a hero") and the thought of missing out on a medal kept me going."Sarah Ficken, 5:36

Convinced you want to try it? 2008 entries close on October 19, 2007. Here's how to enter