Ok, stop watching Jeremy Kyle. You don’t NEED to vacuum the entire house. The kids can sort their own school uniform out. So what if the grass in the back garden is a little long? Leave it. Yes, Grace Dent is a good read but The Guardian can wait. You’re not going to die if your pants go another 24 hours without being washed and put your bloody phone away. Yes, you! PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY!! Now, get your kit on and go running and get that Good For Age time!
Ballot and Charity Entry
I know what you were doing. You were on Facebook, posting about how you’d love to run the London Marathon but it’s just impossible to get in. I’m guessing it went something like this, “The ballot is open for so long, absolutely everyone in the entire world puts their name down. What are the chances of getting a place? Slim to none, right? And charity slots are almost as hard to come by. Even if I am ‘accepted’ then I’ve got to raise £4000 in sponsorship. That’s some ask”.
Every April, around the London Marathon race. Every May, when the ballot opens and in October when the magazine drops through the door, people jump on their favourite Facebook running group, telling us how they’re not bothered because they didn’t want to run London anyway. “I’m a trail runner and I love the hills. You wouldn’t find me on the streets of London. Can’t imagine anything worse”. Or, “There’s plenty of other marathons! Manchester, Paris, Brighton, Southampton, all around the same time. They’re all easier to get into and just as good”. Secretly though, they’re gutted they didn’t get in, if someone offered them a place they’d jump at it, because there’s no marathon with an atmosphere like London, it’s actually cheaper to enter than all those others and as big city marathons go, it’s totally way better in every way.
Then there are the others who freely admit they are desperate to run London. You might have entered the ballot a few times but never been successful and you’re beginning to lose hope. But look, there’s no secret way in, there’s no way of gaming the system. The ballot is the luck of the draw. That’s just the way it is and arguably, it’s as fair as it can be. Yes, charities ask a lot of you. Why, because if you won’t put the work in there are plenty of others who will. There are thousands like you who desperately want to run the most iconic marathon in the world and will work their arses off to raise the money.
Good For Age
If something is worth doing, you will make the commitment, find the time, dedicate yourself, put the effort in and #getitdone. Which brings me to the point of this post. Qualifying as Good For Age. You don’t think you’re fast enough, do you? You don’t think you can do it, do you? I think you can. You know why? Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but at no point in your marathon career have you committed enough time to training. When you have trained, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough. When you did push yourself, it wasn’t fun, so you didn’t do it again. If you’re honest, you could try harder. True about most things in life really, isn’t it?
Let’s look at what you need to do to get a Good For Age entry into the London Marathon. If you are male and between 18 and 39 years old, it’s pretty tough, but not impossible. You need to be able to run a marathon in under 3 hours. Now, if you’re 18 you have no excuse. You have 22 years to train and achieve your goal! If you’re 37 you might want to wait three years for the next Good For Age time bracket of 3:05, but to be honest, if you can do 3:05 at 40 years old, you can do sub 3 at 37….if you train properly! If you’re around the 25-35 age group, it’s time to set some goals. Start with your parkrun time. Run parkrun religiously every Saturday and try to get your time down to under 20 minutes. Your 10k time needs to be as close to 38 minutes as you can get and your half marathon time needs to be comfortably around 85 minutes. For someone your age, this IS doable if you put the effort in.
If you’re over 44, as I am, you are still capable of running fast. YOU ARE!!! I would argue this is a very achievable goal for many men. If you run a parkrun comfortably in 22:30, 10k in around 45 minutes and a half marathon in 1 hour 35 minutes, with energy to spare, then you are well on the way to qualifying for the London Marathon with a Good For Age time of 3:10. If you are a woman over 44 you get 43 minutes more time to complete the distance. If your half marathon time is anything around 2 hours, I am certain that, if you put in the work, you could knock enough time off to finish a marathon in 3 hours 53 minutes. That’s parkrun in 27 minutes. 10k in 55 minutes and a half marathon in about 1 hour 56 minutes.
Get It Done
Of course, this is all dependant on where you’re starting from. You have to be realistic, but at the same time, you are capable of far more than you give yourself credit for. It really is about dedicating yourself to the goal. Having a plan, executing it and sticking to it. It may be a 3 month training plan. It may be a 5 year total lifestyle change. Regardless, it will involve three things; running, eating and sleeping. It may involve other things like cross-training (swimming, cycling, core exercises) and arguing with your partner about the fact that they never see you anymore, you don’t spend any time with the kids and the house is a tip. Dedication my friend, dedication. If you’re still married by end of the process, you didn’t train hard enough. Look, I know you haven’t got the time. I know it’s a strain on your relationship. But if you want it bad enough then these are the problems you have to overcome.
Your training plan should be something akin to this. Approximately four sessions a week. Listen to your body, don’t overtrain. Shin splints, ITB pain, runners knee. These are all signs of increasing your mileage too quickly. Anyway, one long run a week, usually on a Sunday morning. Anything up to 20 miles, longer of you like. To start with, your long run might be 5 miles but just build up gradually over time. Run this session slowly. Run it slower than marathon pace. (You should probably work out your ‘marathon pace’). One speed session or interval session a week. Your speed session could be parkrun, but you might also try intervals where you run at 90% for one minute and then rest for one minute. Or you could look up Yasso 800s. You should also do a hill session once a week. Choose an incline and run up it 8 times, recover on the downhill. You could alternate the hill and interval sessions each week. Finally, do at least one tempo run a week. This is a run of between 5 and 10 miles run at a steady pace which makes your heart work quite hard but still feels manageable. About 70% effort.
THINK about what you’re trying to achieve in each session, THINK about your strategies for hydration, nutrition and pace. It’s likely you have a GPS running watch. It’s there for a reason. Not just during your run but afterwards too. Most new watches have an optical heart rate monitor on the back. If yours doesn’t, you might want to consider a chest strap for measuring HR. Heart rate data is used to measure a runners’ level of effort. LOOK at that data afterwards on Strava. It will tell you if you’ve put the effort in or not. Zones 1-5. Zone 5 is anaerobic. If you’re going for it, your parkruns should be in this zone for at least 20% of the run, if not more. Your long run should be in zone 2 mostly and your tempo run in zones 3 and 4. If you’re not on Strava, why not? Just kidding. It’s a tool and some people find it useful, but it’s not for everyone. Still, look at your data and analyse it on your preferred platform (Garmin Connect, Runkeeper, Map My Run, Movescount, Endomondo, Training Peaks or Sporttracks).
Examples of how Strava displays your heart rate effort in zones 1-5
Click the images above to see them in more detail.
Sleep and rest. Training is hard work and your muscles HAVE to have time to recover and rebuild. You brain also needs time to do the same. If you fail to rest adequately or sleep enough, you will become fatigued, you will lose motivation and you will probably end up injured. Go to bed between 9 and 10pm and get up between 6 and 7am. Or whatever suits your lifestyle. I’m just saying, get your sleep. Don’t stay up watching endless crap on Netflix, YouTube or Channel 5 for crying out loud. Have you seen “The Boy With An Arse For A Face”? That’s the stuff you shouldn’t be watching. It’ll rot your brain.
Nutrition and Hydration
Finally, eating food. Eating food is a good thing. But when it comes to running, it suddenly becomes very complex for some reason. Generally, the best advice is to eat a normal balanced diet. A mix of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Avoid processed foods, avoid sugar and avoid starchy carbs. This is not about losing weight. It’s about fuelling your body so you can run and recover. I’m not a big fan of carb loading. I think you should just eat normally even in the days before a long run. There are a million and one articles out there on sports nutrition and hydration and I could go on about it forever. Just remember to eat the good stuff. You know what the good stuff is. It is not doughnuts, ice cream, sweets, Pot Noodle, ready meals, most breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks. It IS vegetables, it is fruit, it is porridge, nuts and seeds and if you’re not vegan it can also be oily fish and chicken. To be honest, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes should be consumed in moderation in my opinion. Runners think eating tons of pasta is great. It’s not. It’ll just make you fat and bloated.
While I’m on about nutrition I guess I’d better mention hydration. Please ignore any advice which tells you to drink a certain number of millilitres of fluids during your run. First and foremost, drink to thirst. If you feel thirsty, drink. You DO NOT need to replace all the water you lose during exercise. It is perfectly acceptable to finish a run slightly dehydrated. In fact it’s normal. Just replace those fluids when you’ve finished. Also, a word on electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium. There is no evidence to say that blood sodium levels decrease during endurance exercise. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. As you lose fluids your blood sodium level becomes more concentrated. So there’s no need to take electrolytes. Don’t take salt tablets, S-Caps, Nunn or any of those other electrolyte replacements. The benefit is purely placebo. Although, I guess if that works, then great. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that potassium (bananas), magnesium or sodium helps with cramp. If anything, cramp is likely to do with muscle strength and fitness, but to be honest, no one really knows. I get severe cramping in my left calf only and I’m convinced that’s to do with residual aftereffects of sciatica from years ago.
Your Best Is Always Enough
So, a proper running training plan, lots of sleep and decent food. You haven’t been doing those things, have you? No, neither have I and I must be better at it, because I have goals too. I know I can improve on my marathon PB and I know it is only dedication, hard work and commitment that will get me there. Good For Age is achievable. Don’t start complaining about elitism and snobbery. Get your arse off the sofa and get some serious training done. I truly believe that Good For Age qualification is within the reach of so many of you, even though you think it’s not. No matter how much you love the trails, no matter what your opinion is of big city marathons, the London Marathon is something to experience.
If you are lucky enough to get a ballot place, that’s fantastic. If you decide to go for the fundraising option, again fantastic, well done and kudos to you. London is all about charity runners and making a difference to those less fortunate. But honestly, those are not your only options. Good For Age is genuinely achievable for many, many people. If you weigh it all up and you decide you can’t give it everything, then you won’t qualify for the London Marathon. If you don’t work hard you won’t be able to afford a Ferrari or that holiday in the Maldives. Similarly, if you don’t put the work in, you won’t be able to run the London Marathon. Yes, some people are lucky, some are privileged. C’est la vie. Forget everyone else. Do what you can, to the best of your ability, because you know what? That’s almost always enough.
Thanks for reading. If you loved my article on Good For Age qualification please do comment below, give it a ‘like’ and share it. If you hated it feel free to hurl abuse. After all, that’s what the internet is for!
Recap of Training Plan
- Long Slow Run (Sunday morning 10-20 miles zone 2)
- Interval Session (one minute on, one minute rest or Yasso 800s)
- Hill Session (Perhaps alternate weekly with Intervals)
- Tempo Session (Threshold run HR zone 3)
- parkrun (Speed Session Zone 4-5)