In May 2015, I completed the Leeds Half Marathon and I promised myself that I must complete the full thing as my next race. After several training attempts and 20+ editions of my training schedule, I can finally say that I’ve run 26.2 miles and just about survived!
So why travel all the way to Budapest? Good question. Quite simply, I had lucked out of securing a place on the London Marathon and found that a lot of the UK races were over subscribed. I then started to look further afield and thought if I’m going to travel somewhere, it should be somewhere new. In no time, I found the Budapest Marathon. The entry fee was relatively cheap and so signing up was a no brainer.
The race was fantastic. Despite the unforgiving 28-degree heat and certain phone issues which meant I couldn’t listen to my running playlist for the majority of the time, I definitely enjoyed the mental and physical challenge that it was. The route took place along the River Danube and so was like a tour of the whole city passing landmarks including Margaret Island, Buda Castle and Széchenyi Bridge. I was so inspired too to see how accessible it was; there were guides running with runners who were visually impaired and runners with disabled kids in their prams.
It was very well organised and there were lots of refreshments and portaloos available during the course. I perhaps had one too many sugar tablets and chopped bananas which made me feel a little bit nauseous, but apart from that I can’t complain. It was great to see so many volunteers had signed up to hand out cups of water and encourage the runners. There were also crowds of people at various locations cheering from the side lines. Of course, most of the cheers and posters were in Hungarian so I couldn’t understand them but I definitely appreciated the sentiment. I also loved how the community got involved as there was a section of the Hungarian Orchestra in their national attire and also enthusiastic drummers and singers present too. The organisers have put together a great video which I think nicely captures what the event was like.
In terms of my experience of the race itself, the one thing that I struggled with was pacing. At the beginning, I was full of energy and adrenaline and got such a rush from overtaking people that I admit I didn’t pace myself as well as I could have done. I noticed a real drop in my pace during the final 10 km and found that my mental strength was really put to the test. I saw multiple runners around this time start walking and as tempting as it was, I knew that if I stopped to walk I probably wouldn’t be able to start running again. What made matters marginally worse, was that I knew that there was a sleeper van to collect anyone who they deemed would not complete the race in 5hrs30. I thought that this was a bit harsh but it definitely spurred me on to keep going. There was no way that I would train for so long not to be able to complete the race.
I’ve found that the best runs I’ve done are times when I completely forget my surroundings and I’m in a world of my own, not looking at the time or distance I’ve done. Typically music serves as a very helpful distraction. However as I mentioned, I had to turn my phone off and was left without music. At first, I was able to memorise lyrics of my favourite cast recordings including ‘Once on This Island’, ‘Seussical the Musical’ and ‘Hamilton’ so that I was alright for two hours or so. But after this as I became more tired I would forget lyrics which I found quite frustrating. Another tactic that I soon picked up was to find someone who was reasonably ahead of me and do nothing but focus on catching up with them. Of course, it was difficult not to lose sight of them, but concentrating my thoughts and energy on this one stranger proved to be such a helpful distraction and allowed me to forget about everything else for a substantial amount of time. So thank you to all those strangers who unknowingly got me through!
When I reached the finish line, I was so overcome with emotion that I found myself crying with joy. I was so elated that I had in that moment completed such a long term goal of mine. I will probably never forget that feeling. Here’s a sneaky recording of the moment I cross the finish line (starts at 57:10).
I thought I’d jot down some training tips too just in case anyone is tempted to run a marathon in the future.
Lizzie’s Top Training Tips
- Allow enough time train and don’t be too hard on yourself!
I did very loosely follow the Women’s Marathon Beginner Training Plan (link here). But I made multiple adjustments to it as I found it difficult at times to balance work and going for a run. But the important thing is to be adaptable. It is inevitable that you will have to skip one or two sessions, or something may happen that may push you back. But this isn’t a reason to throw in the towel. Rather make sure you go back to the drawing board and tweak and continue to personalise your training schedule so that it is realistic and achievable.
- Ice-Baths are your friend
After long runs, it can be tricky to walk, especially up a flight of stairs. I found that having a cold bath, putting in as many ice-cubes as I could stand and staying in for about 10-15 mins did the world of good. You have to be brave and the first moment when the cold water touches your skin may be a shock. But as your body gets used to the temperature it is fine and it is definitely worthwhile afterwards.
- Keep Stretching
Warm ups, warm downs, foam rolling and regular long stretches are all really important to help your muscles adapt to the long distances. I can’t emphasise this enough! There are lots of YouTube videos on this which I’d recommend looking into.
- Invest in a good pair of running shoes
I went to a specialist running shop and forked out about £150 on running shoes and insoles. I did not have any injuries during my training period and I would say that this was in large part due to the fact that the shoes I had were designed to support my feet. A fellow runner in our office explained that our bodies are not designed to endure the stress it is put under during long runs and so it is really important that we take ourselves as much as possible to prevent long term injuries. He’s a doctor and so I definitely took him up on that advice.
- Don’t deprive yourself of food!
Lastly, I won’t give too much advice around nutrition because I’m in no way qualified to. Although I trained five times a week, I developed a bad habit of eating McFlurrys straight after most gym sessions. However, what I will say is that in my experience, training for a marathon is not the time to go on carb restrictive diets in order to lose weight. During the training, you do burn a lot of calories and so it’s imperative that you fuel yourself with enough energy to sustain the rate at which you are burning it. I’m sure there’s lots more advice about this elsewhere which I’d strongly advise you do your own research into.
In reading my first blog, I realised that I set a goal for 4hrs30. I narrowly missed it and did 4hrs41. I’m in no way disheartened by this and it has rather spurred me on to run this distance again and make sure I complete it in under 4hr30! But I’m in no rush to and will probably do a Tough Mudder run or a shorter 10k next.
For anyone interested in how my full trip to to Budapest went, I’ve uploaded a vlog to my Youtube Channel which I’ll link below.