Running the Virgin Money London Marathon – What you can expect…

Running the Virgin Money London Marathon – What you can expect…


So, you have just started your training program for the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon and you are all a flutter with a full bag of mixed emotions. Excitement, anxiety, fear, stress and a possible overwhelming sensation of ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into?’. Well you are certainly not alone. With an expected number of approximately 38,000 other entrants to start on race day on the morning of Sunday the 24th April 2016, you are in good company.

Here at Fibre Tense HQ, we have interviewed Nathan Smith. An ex-Australian Rules Footballer, who was pretty much dared (over a pint or two, of course) to enter the 2014 Virgin London Marathon with a friend. He shares with us, the challenges he faced, how he approached training, overcoming some serious obstacles and setbacks and his greatest achievements.

“Over to you Nath”…

What is your fitness or sporting background?

“I played both Australian Rules Football & Cricket at a competitive level back in Australia, before both a shoulder injury and a serious knee injury curtailed my career.  The heavy emphasis on cycling as part the rehab from my knee reconstruction resulted in a quite a passion for the sport and have been a keen cyclist ever since”.

What interested you or what made you first decide to register and run the Virgin Money London Marathon?

“After going down to watch the finish of the 2011 VMLM in my first year of living in London (2011), I was quite inspired to one day complete a Marathon, whether that be London or elsewhere.  But if it was not for one of my best friends encouraging me to do it with him in 2014, I would not have completed the one let alone two, back to back”.

How many marathons did you run in and what were they?

“2, both London (2014 /2015)”.

For that first 2014 marathon, did you commence your training early or upon receiving your marathon pack and training program? And what was your initial thoughts and feelings upon going over that training program?

“Probably from the turn of the new year I began to build up the training and create a bit of a routine. My initial thoughts on receiving the Virgin Money London Marathon training program were that there was no way I would I be able to handle the number of sessions they recommended. I seriously had that ‘Oh Shit! What have I got myself into’ moment. However, breaking it down into a manageable weekly routine (even if you have never really run before) as the Beginner’s 17 Week Training Plan suggests, certainly makes getting to race day attainable”.

As the Virgin Money London Marathon is run in April every year, how difficult was it to commence training in winter?

“It is bloody difficult.  I think what helped in the build-up was that I was lucky enough to have been back in Australia for Christmas and New Years of 2013/2014. So upon my arrival back into London in early January of 2014, my body clock was a little out of sync anyway, which resulted in me waking up quite early in the mornings. This was then something that I tried to carry on until race day which allowed me to build up the weekly mileage. But for the preparation of the VMLM of 2015, I did not have this luxury and just had to commit to dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 am and hit the road like everyone else. There is really no other way to build up your mileage, than by ‘lacing up’ to your assigned training runs and getting out there. Be you do them in the morning or evening”.

What are the drivers or motivators that kept you training when it was dark, cold and miserable outside?

“In 2014, I firstly just wanted to get to race day feeling I had done everything I could to prepare myself. And also to beat my friend’s time on the day. But for 2015, after coming so close to breaking the sub 3 hour time in my first attempt, I was hell bent on breaking it this second time around so that was the definitely the main motivator”.

What is the toughest challenges you faced during training? Perhaps injuries, lifestyle alterations or general mental and physical challenges?

“After the VMLM of 2014, I had a spot in the Berlin Marathon in the same year, however I came down with ITB Syndrome and then was also hit by a car near Richmond whilst Cycling, about 6 weeks out from the race day in Germany. So I felt I had to pull out of running that one in the end. This was a massive confidence blow and one I was not sure that I could come back from, but I felt it was the right choice because I really wanted to smash my time in London in 2015. Then I had a training mishap 4 months out from the 2015 VMLM and badly twisted my Ankle.  Whilst it set me back somewhat, it allowed me to spend more time in the gym and attend Yoga sessions to work on my flexibility and strengthening my core which I had never really done previously. This change in training and approach to looking after my body really helped me to feel more functionally strong, whilst not damaging my confidence as race day loomed”.

Did you have a goal or target time for that first marathon and if so, what was it and did you achieve this?

“For the first Marathon in 2014, my initial goal was initially just to finish. After some encouraging times in the lead up races, it was then that I thought ‘I just may be an outside chance to break 3 hours at my first attempt’.  My time was 3hrs 4mins 20s. I could not believe the I came so close and although I would have loved to have beaten that ‘magical’ 3 hour barrier, I was ecstatic to have even posted this this well”.  

When you started this journey, did you intend to only run one marathon or did you think you wanted to complete more?

“Absolutely, one and only was always the plan. But after coming so close and people continually asking me whether I was disappointed not to break the 3hr mark, I knew I had to go around again”.

Did your training or preparation change for these future marathons?

“Definitely, it was much more varied. Rather than just solely completing long running sessions as part of the training program, there was much more interval and hill training work the second time around. I found also the body was much more hardened and recovered quicker the second time round, allowing for the additional sessions”.

Through all your training, did anything help or hinder your journey towards each race day?

“Having flexibility with my training helped massively. If I was scheduled to do a long run on the weekend but had other plans, then I would arrange to potentially do a shorter interval session that morning and fit in a long run during the week. Also I think it is important to listen to your body. If I had pulled up quite sore from a long run or was carrying a ‘niggle’, rather than go out and run the following day, I would just have a rest day or go for a swim for example, which comes down to having that flexibility I mention above. Plus, also of course incorporating Sports Massage into my training routine. With fortnightly massages, I had a tailored treatment plan that was purpose built around my training, depending on the distance I was running, intensity of my sessions or how close I was to race day. All of this was taken into consideration by the team at Fibre Tense and implemented to suit my requirements. I cannot thank Adam and the guys enough for helping me get over the line and smash my goals”.

How many pairs of trainers did you wear out during your time running marathons? How often did you change them and what was your equipment of choice?

“I had relatively new trainers from when I first started training. I would alternate 3 different trainers, all with different levels of support, depending on what sessions I would be doing. Intervals & Sprints – I would go for ‘flats’ in my trainer selection and for the long slow runs – I liked the pair with plenty of cushioning. My brand of choice is Adidas”.

What is the greatest thing about race day and running a marathon?

“I really enjoyed the atmosphere before the race starts. Everyone comes together and it is a heaving mix of excitement, exhilaration and I guess a little anxiety as well. But when that starter gun goes and you take off in your group, it quickly becomes about the business at hand. But ultimately, the sheer satisfaction of running down The Mall, knowing that all the months of hard training and cold mornings, have paid off, was without doubt one of the greatest highlights also”.

Nathan Smith VMLM 2015What is your greatest personal achievement?

“From a Marathon perspective, it was definitely breaking the 3 hour mark last year. My recorded completion time for the 2015 VMLM was 2hr 58min 10sec. I was ‘fist pump’ in the air ecstatic. That was truly the ultimate…”.

What is your greatest marathon memory?

“Spotting some of my best friends in the crowd yelling out words of encouragement. Their support really gave me the boost I needed”.

What is your best advice that you could share with someone considering running or currently training for a marathon?

“For someone considering doing it, I could not recommend enough that they should just take the plunge and do it. But I think people need to keep in mind that 26 miles is a long, long way and it doesn’t matter whether you are trying to finish in the top 10% or just finish at all, there is a lot of hard work involved.  But in saying that, I think the harder you work, the more satisfaction you will feel when you come running down The Mall on race day to the cheers of that massive crowd. It seriously takes a while to wipe that smile off your face…”.

So, what is next for you?

“Well, I don’t have anything locked in as yet and I won’t say never to running another Marathon, but at this stage I cannot see it as something I want to partake in within the immediate future.  Cycling has always been more of a passion of mine and I was lucky enough to gain a place in this years La Marmotte 2016 event in France. So the training will be targeted for this now”.

Well Nathan, we wish you the very best of luck for your upcoming ride in Europe’s ultimate sportive, La Marmotte and for all of your future endeavours. Thanks for taking time out of your busy training schedule to chat with us and share your achievements.

Have a Marathon experience you would like to share with us? Tell us about it.

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