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The Realities of Marathon Training…

The 2020 London Marathon is unlike any other. It would have been my 6th time standing on the start line, but instead of the start line being at Greenwich Park, this year it is right outside my own front door. There won’t be any crowds or a sky filled with multicoloured inflatables; there will be no gel or drinks stations – just a solitary wooden picnic bench around mile 18 where my partner John and my ten-year-old daughter, Tilly, will be waiting for me with some snacks and – more importantly – the support crew of tiny toy mice my daughter insisted on bringing along.

I arrive at my support bench following a leg-sapping hill climb (we are in Yorkshire – not London) and seeing them gives me the boost I need to see this through.

It makes me think about all the marathon training I have done over the past ten years, and the reality that – wherever the start and the finish line happens to be – a marathon is still… a marathon.

Here is my summary of the realities of pre-Covid marathon training…

I roll over and sleepily reach for my iPhone but grab hold of a banana which was randomly next to my bed, instead. It’s a sign, I say to myself, and set about eating the banana. Click To Tweet When I do eventually locate my iPhone, it informs me of the time. It’s Tuesday. It’s 6:15am. Shit.

The plan

Getting going…

Silently creep around the house trying to avoid waking those under 11 yrs. and over 45 yrs. old;
Locate some training gear (in the dark) and put it on (also in the dark);
Drive to the gym, arriving at approx. 6:55am

[The gym opens at 7am. Max 5 mins allowed to walk from car to entrance, plus a further 3 mins to wait for shutters to lift, shuffle past early-bird pensioners, and get up the stairs]

Arrive on the treadmill for 7.03am;
Execute speed set. This would be ideally 5 mins w/up, followed by 5 x 5 minutes @15kph (2 min rest in between)
Dive off treadmill

Race back home

Feed those under 11 & prepare pack-up ready for school;
allow those over 45 to go to work; and
try to make myself look like I haven’t done any of the above, so I can glide into the office without resembling a panting dog.


That is my plan. It sounds semi feasible until 6.15am on a Tuesday morning when it needs to be translated into reality. Shit, shit shit. With the under 11s and over 45s apparently undisturbed, I creep down the stairs and quietly click the front door shut behind me. I am on schedule: it is 6:45am. Once I’m parked up on the dark, dark street I make a run for it through the dismal, dreary rain and into the offensively bright CMBC leisure centre standard lighting.

Hang on – there’s a queue! A group of mainly nocturnal elderly folk are gathered around the gym entrance waiting for the shutters to lift. How long have they been here? And what else are they busy doing for the REST of the day?! I wonder, as I take my place on a plastic seat near the vending machine and began eyeing-up the bags of Quavers.

We all scan our way in, and most of the OAP Fitness Crew head off to the pool, whilst I venture up the stairs in hot pursuit of my treadmill (I have one treadmill I prefer to use in the gym, and I can suffer from minor major heart palpitations and awkward, involuntary ticks if it’s taken.)

Time check: 7:02 Sweater off, headphones on. PRESS ‘QUICK START’; begin warm up.


Time check: 7:12 Walk. Don’t die, just walk. It’ll be OK. 2 minutes rest goes by and I am still panting profusely.

Time check: 7:14 GO, GO, GO! INCREASE SPEED & RUN LIKE THE CLAPPERS AGAIN… But hang on. There’s an elderly chap from the OAP Fitness Crew standing & staring at me. He walks over to the nearest treadmill and stands still, watching me running like the hell on the treadmill. Off putting? Just a bit. He might have stood a chance if it were 1962…

This pattern continues right through until 7:40am when I cool down for all of 20 seconds and dive into the disabled loos to put my dry kit back on.

I look in the mirror. No. I haven’t just trained with my gear on inside out. Referring back to point (2) of my plan (locating training gear in the dark and putting it on in the dark) THIS was the result. Maybe Staring Old Man was reading the washing instructions on my shorts and NOT actually fancying a bit? I could have got him all wrong.

Heading out of the fluorescent CMBC leisure centre and back out into the dark, dark street, it is… still dark. My wacky races drive back home up silly, spindly hill is frustrated by a White Van Man blocking the way. Move over! I’ve got a child to get out of bed! I have uncomfortable visions of John still sleeping whilst Tilly wipes jam over the entire kitchen, having broken both the toaster and the kettle trying to make herself a cup of tea and a pack-up for school.

Time check: 8:02 Tilly is sitting in the kitchen happily tucking into a Pain Au Chocolat. (We’re not posh. It’s a treat.) YEEAAAHHHH! I’VE DONE IT! THE PLAN WORKED! I give myself a virtual fist-bump at arriving home on schedule, still having time to prepare a lunch box and disguise the fact that I am melting.

‘Tills, let me have a look at what you’re eating,’ I say, suddenly concerned at the particularly anaemic-looking pastry. On closer inspection, it resembles a sodden panty liner from a Tena Lady advert.

‘John. This is raw. She’s eating raw pastry.’

‘Actually, it does taste a bit nasty, Mum…’

Training in the real world…

This is the reality of marathon training, whilst navigating the *other* demands of life. My speed set is done by 7:40am and I am buzzing for the rest of the day. Partially because I’d kicked ass on that treadmill, but mainly because I’ve STILL managed to feed, dress, and sort out my child’s lunch, wash away the sweaty salt marks from the sides of my scalp, and float into the office – on time – looking like I HAVEN’T DONE A THING.

The only change to this pre-Covid marathon training routine is that I will shortly have the luxury of my very own Noble Pro treadmill in my very own garage, so I can save oodles of time and inconvenience. A tiny part of me will miss queuing up with the OAPs in the dark, but I guess you can’t have everything…

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Rachel Cullen
Rachel Cullen
Runner; writer; occasional bike rider. Solar powered mother ducker. Author of "Running For My Life" and "A Midlife Cyclist" Rep'd Bell Lomax Moreton. Winning with mental health.

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