Failing to plan is planning to fail

Unless you get someone else to do it for you

In the immortal words of Hannibal, I love it when a plan comes together.

It's even better when you don't have to go through the hassle of actually making the plan in the first place!

As anyone who has ever run a marathon knows, you can't just rock up on the day and run 26.2 miles – unless you're a freak of nature who's incredibly fit. In which case you probably won't be reading this as this blog doesn't welcome your sort.

For normal – and I use that term loosely – marathon runners there will be months of preparation for the big day, usually revolving around a training schedule you've found somewhere online, in the London Marathon Magazine or from your charity.

Social engagements will be forsaken, days will be planned around a run, and you'll be riddled with self-doubt about whether you're doing enough.

The beauty of the London Marathon is that you won't be alone in this – there's thousands of others out there in the same boat.

Not that they let you do it in a boat – though it did piss it down in 2008, but I doubt there'd have been enough water to keep you afloat.

It's easy to find out how others are doing online – blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc – and get reassurance and motivation. Last year I felt the people I met online and I were akin to a marathon running support group. It was ace.

However, I didn't even make it to the start line because of injury. So, despite being able to enjoy their success and amazing achievements, the overwhelming feeling was of disappointment.

Months of training, carefully planned to get me over the finish line, and hundreds of miles covered, had led to nought.

If you've been following this blog for a while, or have even just browsed some old posts, you'll know I'm not exactly a keen runner. My motivation is based on self-loathing and determination to force my body do something it clearly doesn't want to. So, I was not a little surprised that the disappointment at not being able to run affected me so much.

Thankfully, as my place last year was through the ballot, I was able to defer it to next time so I had a chance to redeem myself.

So I've spent the summer getting the knee working again (currently it's the only major limb on my body that doesn't hurt, but that's a different story) and keeping up some of the fitness I built up by cycling lots.

But, that's not enough to get to the finish line, so I obviously need a training plan.

One of the many physios that have helped get me going again was quite adamant that most of the training schedules available online contribute to injury of those completing them. They were too arbitrary and couldn't take enough account of the individual who was following them. By trying to give themselves some kind of structure to achieve their marathon goal, people were actually risking their success.

But, given limited resources, what else could I do? I've been reading as much as I can to try to tailor my own schedule, but the experience of two ultimately fruitless attempts to run London didn't really feel like a sound foundation for success.

So I clearly needed help, but the prospect of a personal trainer was too expensive, and the thought of pestering some of the actual experts I know online wasn't palatable.

Then, I noticed one of my twitter friends, a personal trainer and cartographer nonetheless, was offering a chance to win online training for the marathon. All I needed to do was pay attention to her tweets of health/training facts over a week or so, then answer some questions about them.

I was busy on the evening the questions were posted, but the following morning I convinced myself it was still worth a go so answered and, somehow, won!

Sally then emailed me a few forms to fill in – training history, height/weight etc. which I've now done and she's formulating a plan for me!

It's a bit eerie that she has already used my responses to identify potential pitfalls I'm already aware of – I suspect witchcraft – but it's reassuring that I'll actually have someone who knows what they're doing helping.

It also means I can absolve myself of any responsibility to plan my training so I make it round - that's her job!

So, weight lifted from mind, I can focus on getting over my current ailments, safe in the knowledge that once I'm good to go, she'll get me round faster and stronger than ever before.

No pressure Sally.


  1. "Last year I felt the people I met online and I were akin to a marathon running support group. It was ace."

    This made me smile :)

    Congrats on winning Sally's competition!

  2. Phil, this is a good article. As someone who has run quite a few marathons myself I initially felt confident that I could help my girlfriend devise a programme for her debut marathon. However on reflection this suddenly seemed like a daunting task - I had almost forgotten what it was like to be preparing for a first attempt at the distance. Thankfully we have been able to work together to get a programme that suits her. My point? No matter how experienced the person writing your schedule (and I know Sally knows her stuff) only you know how your body feels and the programme needs to suit you... after all, nobody will be running the marathon for you!

  3. @ Becki - thanks hon. Hopefully it'll make a difference!

    It really was ace, but it looks like none of the other 09'ers running in 2010. boo!

    @ Simon - I think, despite my rambling, you got what I was getting at - you can't be too proscriptive.

    I expect working with Sally will be a two way thing - shaping one week's training based on feedback from the previous weeks. So hopefully it'll be third time lucky!

  4. Hmmm, no, no pressure at all!

    Delighted to work with you on the project which will culminate in SUCCESS.! You're the ideal competition winner; strong desire to succeed but a few minor obstacles, like cracked ribs, so not TOO much of a breeze.

    So glad I didn't get some weird person :-D