Training for the London Marathon; what's it really like?


By Keira Madden, Fourth Year Dentistry

My name is Keira Madden; I am a fourth year Dental student at the University of Bristol who plays football for UBWFC and occasionally enjoys a run.

Like many people across the globe, I have often tuned into the live coverage of the London Marathon, watching in awe from the comfort of my sofa as everyone from Eliud Kipchoge to the man dressed as Big Ben take on the gruelling 26.2 mile race. With over 40,000 runners each year all running for their own reasons, it is impossible to not feel inspired and even a little motivated.

That being said, I still had never actually considered running a marathon, mainly due to the fact that I had previously ran half marathons and the thought of running double that was absolutely terrifying. However, for my 21st birthday my sister decided a great gift would be to enter me for the 2020 London Marathon- how lovely of her! Unsurprisingly, I didn’t take this well and probably took at least two weeks to get over the initial shock but because I had a charity place for a cause that is very close to my heart I knew early on that I was determined to succeed in this challenge.

I will be running for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT), in memory of my friend and 1st year flatmate Reece Webster who sadly lost his battle with a rare and aggressive cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma, after fighting it with immense determination for many years. Every day in the UK, 7 young people are diagnosed with cancer, and this charity helps thousands of 13-24yr olds through their treatment process.

'For my 21st birthday my sister decided a great gift would be to enter me for the 2020 London Marathon'

So where did I start?

As mentioned previously I play a lot of football (we have 6 sessions a week!) and have run two half marathons for the TCT so I would say that I am physically fit, although I certainly would not describe myself as a runner. My sister Siobhan (who also signed herself up) and I decided to follow an ‘intermediate’ 16-week plan, made up of normal, speed and long runs.

The late January sunrises and daily downpours have certainly made the first 7 weeks challenging but come rain or shine I have battled the Bristol commuters walking to work, to clock up the weekly mileage and so far, I am actually quite enjoying it. There is something very satisfying about lacing up your trainers, popping your headphones in and going for a run before the majority of Bristol has awoken.

Listening to podcasts whilst exercising is a very new concept to me but when you’re running for several hours there is only so many times you can listen to Lizzo’s ‘Good as Hell’ and thus true crime podcasts have become my distraction whilst running. Not only have I experienced the dark streets of 5am Bristol, I’ve also observed several beautiful sunrises at Clifton Suspension Bridge and icy scenes around Ashton Court on morning runs.

Some days are great and you run feeling relaxed, strong and fast, whilst other days you lack all motivation to get out the door, feeling slow and heavy, something I felt intensely whilst trudging through 10cm deep water (thanks to Storm Dennis) whilst on a 12mile run. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (literally) and I’ve had to learn that not every run will feel rewarding but all that matters is that you just keep running!

Balancing my dentistry, football and running commitments has been the most challenging aspect of training however I strongly advocate that exercise is great for your mental health and have found that running can really help to clear your head, particularly when stressed.

Strength and conditioning with UBWFC, alongside endurance football sessions and runs have been great at providing another dimension, whilst shockingly I’ve also somehow come to find speed runs quite enjoyable. Altering my routes has prevented monotonous training and lets me explore more of Bristol; only since training for example, have I found the scenic Bristol-Bath cycle path, a lovely (flat) 14-mile trail.

Running is like a whole new world, full of technical things I knew nothing about until recently; protein shakes, energy gels, negative splits, deloading weeks, compression socks, to name a few.

Keira and her sister, Siobhan / Keira Madden | Epigram

The good, the bad & the ugly?

The good: Foam rolling, rest days and absurd amounts of peanut butter.

The bad: Early wake ups, fatigue and running in pouring rain.

The ugly: Blisters, Bristol hills and the famous black toenails

I am finding it interesting to learn about such things, who knew that a coffee flavoured chia energy gel with the consistency of baby food could taste so good?

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8.5miles with new shoes & gels=running on clouds🏃🏽‍♀️🤩(20.5miles weekly total). Today’s run felt GOOD; my new trainers (swipe to see😍) were super comfy, perfect cold sunny weather & crisp countryside views! I ran a much faster pace that last week and still felt comfortable, I think a long sleep really helped towards this so I’m going to try and get more midweek rest🤞🏽. Today I tried running gels for the first time, although I don’t need them for a distance such as this I thought I’d give them a go and see how they taste. Thanks to @asherrlayy for suggesting the huma variety pack👌🏽- I tried the ‘Café Mocha’ one today and despite an odd consistency it tasted good and really lifted my run. I did feel energised (probs psychological too but idc🤪) and it certainly gave me a mid-run lift. I’m excited to try the other flavours on my next long runs. This week has had the wettest runs in a long time so it hasn’t been the most enjoyable but ending on this long run has boosted my mood & I’m excited for next week🤟🏽 T-14 weeks, see you on the starting line!🏃🏽‍♀️ (ps pls donate-link in bio❤️)

A post shared by Keira Madden (@maddenrunsamarathon) on

The entire experience so far has been a huge mix of emotions, its knackering, challenging and I already feel nervous. Nevertheless, it’s exhilarating to think that this year I will be running along the crowd filled streets, with thousands of other mad runners attempting the 26.2 miles.

Everyone has been so supportive and I’ve already raised just shy of £1000 so I am well on the way to my target of £2000, to give back to the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity who supported Reece, his family and friends greatly throughout this treatment. If you would like to donate or follow the highs, lows and many miles of my training then please visit @maddenrunsamarathon on Instagram.

The main thing I have learnt so far is that you can do much more than you ever thought was possible, you just might need a little push. Of course you need some physical training, but mental toughness is indispensable. Can I complete the Marathon? I guess you’ll have to tune in on October 4th to find out!

Just remember, you could have gotten a worse birthday present…

Fearured Image: Keira Madden

Have you been inspired by this marathon story? Let us know in the comments down below!