Wisdom From a 20-Something Elite Marathoner for a 65-Year Old 4-Hour+ Plodder

Shod in my new Asics Nimbus, I’m suddenly running on air again. 30 to 35 miles a week. Satisfying long runs on Sunday mornings. Uncomplicated – light-hearted even? – medium-distanced midday runs during the week. And what a difference a touch of Mediterranean weather makes. When you can literally just pull on shorts, top and trainers and fly out of the door without worrying about numb fingers. Yesterday, out before 6 am, I had most of the roads, Parliament Hill and Regents Park to myself for the best part of 2 hours, completing half-marathon distance in 1:56, with plenty of fuel left in the tank, feeling all the better for not eating anything at all before setting out.

I confess to have been boosted by some external stimulus in the form of an inspiring chat with the Sweatshop shop assistant who sold me my Asics. Garrett Smith turned out to be an elite marathoner, recently turning in a time if 2:30. An American in his early 20s, Garrett had a refreshingly practical attitude to marathon running. We discussed nutrition and he confirmed my feeling that fuelling up obsessively with carbs before and during very long runs was unnecessary if you can happily run 15 miles without any extra water or sugar snacks and only a muffin with cheese and honey (no, not mixed) to start you off (2 hours before setting out), which is what I seem to be able to manage.

I realise that from 15 miles to 26.2 is still a bloody long way, but during the 6 marathons I’ve run to date, since my first (London) in 2001, I’ve often felt that forcing chewy bars down my throat just as it gets harder and harder to digest the things absorbed more energy than it added to my tiring body. So if and when I next gird up my loins for another assault at the distance, I’m going to take a much more relaxed attitude to what I stuff into me before and during the race.

Garrett said he doesn’t like running feeling full of food and that you’re better off listening to what your body tells you it needs rather than working according to a manual. It all made good sense to me, adjusting somewhat for the fact that, for a marathon, I’m out on my feet for 4 hours plus. He’s aiming to get down to 2:20 in a few years and I believe he will.

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