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How to run a marathon

Running – arguably one of the most inexpensive and effective ways of staying fit and healthy. Although proven to reduce stress and anxiety*, the prospect of running a marathon is going to have even the most seasoned of runners quaking in their trainers. But year after year, thousands of runners take to the streets, paths and woodland trails to train for the arduous challenge of running 26 miles around the capital, with the aim of raising money for a plethora of causes.

Last year, runners of the London Marathon raised a record breaking £63.7 million for charities across the globe. Hoping to smash that record this year is National Friendly’s Product Intelligence Manager, Neil Thompson, who is running for the Lily Foundation. With less than a month to go, we spoke to Neil about what led him to take up the sport, and how he is preparing for this momentous expedition.

When did you first get into running?

I played competitive football and cricket for many years and enjoyed the adrenaline rush. Giving up football was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do and I needed to have something which replaced that. I started to enter 10k runs in my 30s and have lost count of how many I’ve entered now. I have never been part of a running club and don’t go to the gym but once I commit to a run it forces me to get out on the road. I like the way I feel when I’m fit.

Why did you enter to run the London Marathon?

Like many, I have watched the race on TV and thought the challenge was out of reach. The older I got the more I felt I would regret it if I didn’t have a go. My granddaughter, Freya, was born with mitochondrial disease and her prognosis was poor. Today, she is nine years old and thriving - she’s a brilliant inspiration. We have always supported the Lily Foundation which funds research and assistance for families affected by the disease and when they offered me a place, I grabbed it.

What has been the most challenging part of your training so far?

Starting runs at 6.15am every Saturday morning! We have also had a variety of weather to deal with, including a 2 hour run on snow and ice, during which I fell over twice. I don’t bounce back quite as well now, so there were a few cartoon grunts. I also hadn’t quite appreciated just how hilly Bristol is until we ran around it.

Has this influenced your diet?

Not at all! I love all food and eat quite a lot but running three times a week has helped me lose a stone since the New Year, although I have tried to cut back on takeaways. I don’t usually drink a lot of water unless it has hops in it, but I can’t run longer distances without a bottle in hand.

What has the support been like at National Friendly?

Brilliant. A lot of staff members know Freya’s story and even though it’s not our charity of the year, they have been very generous. I applied to the Society’s Foundation Fund as both Freya and I are members and they have boosted our fundraising effort with a grant of £500. I will be proud to wear a vest bearing the National Friendly logo.

What has been your most entertaining run?

For us, it’s never entertaining, just challenging. For anyone who’s watching us I’m sure it’s very entertaining. We think we are fit young things cruising along to the sounds of “Chariots of Fire”, but the only similarity with that film is that we are running in slow motion.

What is the thing you love most about being a runner?

I sit in an office chair all week, but I’m an outdoor person by nature. It’s so easy to slip into a routine of work, eat, sleep and repeat. When I do that I feel sluggish and heavy, having a challenge like the marathon shakes me from that slumber. When each run stops, it’s bliss. An hour later you start to get the endorphin rush and feel cleansed and light. That’s the best feeling.

What would be your advice to anyone else wanting to take up running / run a marathon?

Go for it! I always tell those struggling for motivation that anything is better than nothing. Even if you try to run and you stop earlier than you had hoped, that’s better than having done nothing at all. It’s too easy to beat yourself up for any perceived underperformance rather than congratulating yourself for what you have achieved. It really won’t be long before you feel physically and mentally brighter.

Enter an event – it will give you focus, especially on ‘lazy days’. If you’re attempting a marathon, focus more on time than distance. Get used to being on the road for longer and longer periods and choose different routes to keep it fresh. Buy good running shoes.

With just over 3 weeks to go every donation counts! If you’d like to show your support, you can do so through Neil’s Just Giving page here. 

*“Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders”, A Ströhle - Journal of neural transmission, 2009 - Springer

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