Christine Appel

Lessons from Lockdown 5: The last minute marathon

runABC's Christine Googled 'six-week training plan' to take on 'The 40th Race' ... but what will she find on race day?

When it comes to running marathons, I’m nothing if not prepared. 

When I’m getting ready for race day, I pack everything: everything, it can fairly be said, except my sense of humour.

I might not be the fastest, or the youngest, or the most experienced marathoner out there, but my theory is that being well-prepared might help me overcome those disadvantages – even just a little.  

As race day approaches, I’ll memorise every twist of the route and plant a mental pin in every water station and mile marker. I’ll get myself ready for every incline and descent, and plan my carbs to the gram – 30 per gel, since you’re asking.

By the day before the race, I’ll be able to draw the elevation profile from memory, and tell you what I did on every single day of my 16-week training plan.  

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself Googling ‘six week marathon training plans’ earlier this summer.  

At the last minute, I’d decided to take the plunge and join the thousands of others who’ll be running ‘The 40th Race’ this Sunday.

The problem was, unlike the thousands of others still stuck into their miles, I’d already long abandoned any serious marathon training. 

When given the choice to run in October or defer, I chose to kick my London Marathon race entry into the long grass of next April: a great idea for enjoying a summer off with the kids, but not so good when staring down the barrel at 26.2 miles in six weeks time.

It was time to get serious about training. Asking the Internet for a short marathon plan was no use: the words ‘madness’, ‘idiotic’, ‘injury’ and ‘misery’ kept coming up, which didn’t seem to me to be overly encouraging. 

Instead, I dug up an old 16-week sub-3.30 plan I had used before. Drawing on all my years of knowledge, the opinions of experts and the latest scientific and medical advice, I very carefully and methodically amended the plan … by just drawing a line through the first 10 weeks!
What I ended up with was a curious rump of four weeks of hard running and two weeks of tapering: not a bad ratio, I thought to myself.

And so it began. If you’re my physio, please stop reading now: I upped my mileage from practically zero to 50-ish for four weeks. 

I intervalled and fartleked when I could, but more often took advantage of the hills around me to build strength. 

And, most importantly, I did my long runs: they weren’t pretty, but they were done.

By and large, everything went well – except for one hot, miserable long run involving a new type of gel and the instantaneous, unstoppable and disastrous effects on my stomach you’d expect. (To the people of Barthol Chapel: I’m very sorry about your layby. You should be able to use it again now).

As for my race route, my own running club – in common with many others – has now organised an informal, COVID-compliant event for about a dozen of us marathon orphans on Sunday morning. 

I’ll be joined by would-be Berliners, Loch Nessers, Manchester-ers and Chicagoers in what looks like atrocious conditions – all of us hoping to salvage something from a pretty miserable year. 

There’ll be no mass crowds or famous landmarks. But on the plus side, I won’t be overtaken by a giant broccoli or pensioner carrying a fridge as I grind out my last few miles, either.
In short, it won’t be the London Marathon – but then again, even the actual London Marathon won’t really be the London Marathon. 

Given everything, I don’t know what to expect on Sunday. Twenty six point two miles is a heck of a long way. I’ve yet to formulate a plan, or commit every inch of the route to memory – which isn’t like me. 

Perhaps all that lockdown banana bread is to blame for my uncharacteristically slack approach to this event ... or maybe I'm just chilling a bit in my old age. 

But whatever happens – rain or (the very unlikely) shine – I’m guaranteed a PB for the route.  Just remind me what gels not to use.  

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