My journey to marathon fitness at 40

I first ran the London Marathon the year before my first child was born, in 2007, aged 27.  I can say with absolute conviction that running a marathon 13 years and 3 children later is a whole different ball game.

Training for a marathon at any age is hard work. There is no escaping that. If you are in for the challenge, and especially if you are over 40 and have had children, then I hope this blog will inspire you. The journey requires commitment but the reward, in my view, is immeasurable.

Does running a marathon compare to childbirth?

I have been asked this and I want to reassure all mothers – and indeed fathers. Most definitely, NO! As I clearly remember telling my midwife towards the end of my first labour – childbirth, particularly first time round, was most definitely harder.  With a marathon I knew I had to get to 26.2 miles and stop. The process of my first labour felt infinite.

The main parallel for me is the wonderful rose tinted glasses that each event delivered.

Almost immediately after my third and final child being delivered, at some ungodly hour, I spoke to a friend and told her that the birth was horrendous and that I was so glad to not be doing it again. I spoke to the same friend later that day and told her, of the exact same experience, that it was a near PERFECT birth and I was so very sad to most likely never be doing it again.

Similarly, when I reported to another friend late last year that I intended to run the London marathon again, and that previously it had been one of the best days of my life, she replied “REALLY? But you said that you would NEVER do it again. In the same way that I have no recollection of not LOVING my birth, the memory I have towards running London is also of unsurmounted joy.

The happy versions are the ones that remain in my mind and I love that.

My motivation

First time round, I ran because I’d watched friends and been inspired so, I thought, why not? This time I have additional motivation, which far exceeds anything I had 13 years ago…

  • First and foremost, I am running the marathon for Macmillan Cancer Support. Last year we lost my dear Mum in Law who was one of the biggest supporters I have ever had. She fought the bravest of battles for over 25 years and inspired me in so many ways. I am determined to extend her legacy and give back to this amazing charity and other cancer patients. Those include my own Dad, who is doing amazingly well after Kidney cancer, living his life to the full, and making us all very proud. And Katie, my best friend of 36 years, who is nearly half way through her eight rounds of chemotherapy. She is an absolute inspiration, she’s on a mission herself to raise awareness surrounding all aspects of cancer and, if you’re on Instagram, I highly recommend you check her out: @1 day_2019.
  • My three children. I want to influence and educate them about the power of sport and fitness. I want to inspire them and I want them to be proud of me.
  • I no longer run purely for fitness purposes. Mentally, running is my coping mechanism. It keeps my mind calm, happy and grounded.
  • I like the idea of being faster at 41 than 27. Watch this space🤞🏻
DONATE TO MY MACMILLAN MARATHON FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN

My London Marathon journey aged 27

In 2007 I lived and worked in London.  I could either commute home on public transport or run home.  It was only once my mileage went up that I actually had to consider ‘fitting in’ my training.  I did a gym class once a week but that was the limit of my strength or cross training. And as for stretching, pah! Why would I waste time on that?!

In the March before the Marathon, we spent over 3 weeks in New Zealand on holiday. Back when holidays really were holidays! We ran the most stunning coastlines and hilly tracks, all in our own time. No sleepless nights, no runaway children, and we actually sat down in restaurants to eat! The warm climate also prepared us well for what was, then, the hottest ever London marathon at 22 degrees.

This tactic worked as I planned to run a 4hr 20min marathon and that is exactly what I did. Bar a couple of dodgey tummy stops due to some silly decisions I made on carb gels. More on that later.

But it really was that simple. Run when I wasn’t working or too hungover, have a lovely holiday, run the marathon, job done.

New Zealand 2007

My London Marathon journey aged 40

For anyone considering running a marathon a little later in life, I have listed a number of fundamentals that I believe are key to a successful marathon journey at 40:

Enjoyment

  • To enjoy running to some extent – even if it is just for a bit of ‘me’ time. If you would prefer to stick pins in your eyes, then truly, I would look for a different challenge.
  • Getting out of the door is usually the hardest part. Even when I really don’t want to run, once I go, it nearly always takes me to my happy place.
  • It’s not about being fast and pushing yourself, sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in some fresh crisp air, and being grateful for all that’s around you.
  • Make your training and your goals realistic and achievable. That way you will see your progress and stay motivated.

Time to train

  • Ringfencing certain days and times of the week to train is important and more likely to make you consistent. Make sure your family know these times too. Ideally, you will need to train for a minimum of 4/5 hours a week.
  • This can include strength and cross training but closer to race day you will most probably need to add to this
  • Whether you train with an expert or develop your own programme it is SO important to take time to include different types of strength, stretching and core training into your programme to remain injury free
  • I run my own photography business and am committed to volunteering at our local hospital, so, for me, I knew that I could not consider taking on the challenge until my youngest started full time education.

Expert trainer and guidance

  • To have the support of an expert trainer who is in tune with what you would like to achieve and the best way to get you there is also of huge benefit. I have been training with Jodie Digby Fitness for nearly 8 years. She is an elite runner, fitness trainer and rehabilitation pro. It was training with Jodie and attending her running club that first brought my ambition to run a little faster and believe in myself. Jodie has brought me back to fitness after each of my children and kept my enjoyment of training alive through her incredible varied training programme and classes.

Jodie Digby Fitness

  • It is worth investing the time to research the best type of training and trainer for you. Whether you would benefit from personal training sessions, group classes or joining a gym.
  • As much as it great to have someone to tell you when to train, it can sometimes be of equal benefit to be told when to rest!

A support team

  • My biggest supporter is my husband, he gets me up and kicks me out of the door to run. He knows fundamentally when I need to run, mentally as well as physically. He is so incredibly supportive and I feel extremely lucky for that. That positive support also rubs off on the children.
  • I enjoy long runs on my own but it is equally so nice to run with a buddy too. I have a good friend who I run many miles with and by stroke of luck she is also running the Marathon this year. Knowing I’m getting up in the dark to meet Kathy gives me the motivation to get dressed and get out. Sometimes we stop and take in the view and I love sharing those moments with her.
  • My non running friends and family who think I’m a little mad but still support and encourage me. Some are already planning their support on Marathon day. What a difference that will make.
  • Having a T Shirt with your name on makes a huge difference, especially in those final miles. A simple “Keep Going Sarah” can make those sore steps a little lighter.

Keep your training runs varied and interesting

  • I live in Wendover in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by the Chiltern Hills and other beautiful landmarks. This means that my runs are usually very picturesque and serene.
  • I mix my longer muddy, hilly trail runs with a few different road routes which I use for faster runs and Fart-Lek training – sometimes just trying to speed up between lamp posts
  • Use Strava.com and look at local routes and follow other runners for inspiration
  • Use mapmyrun.com to look for local routes that have been recommended by others
  • Sign up to organised races to discover new routes and run safely marshalled routes. I use ww.findarace.com to find local 10K and half marathon races
  • Gade Valley Harriers (based in Hemel Hempstead) have a series of pre-marathon runs which you can sign up to on the day for just £5

Wendover and the Chilterns

Know your niggles

  • After having the children I was plagued with niggles, namely, shin splints and sore knees due to tight ITB (short for iliotibial band, which runs from the crest of your lateral hip to just below the knee joint)
  • It is worth having a full body MOT by a physio, osteopath or similar to make sure that you are aligned with nothing obvious that may lead to injury
  • Using a foam roller on my outer thighs did help some of my issues but I realised that the main way to fix my problems was to strengthen my glute (bottom) muscles. I have spoken to many others around my age that have similar injuries. The best long term remedy I found was to incorporate the following glute strength exercises into my day when possible. When the niggles return I try to fit these ITB Strength Exercises by setting my alarm 15 minutes earlier in the morning.
  • I also find that swimming alleviates tightness in my hips. You do not need to swim fast at all but I know that the benefits of a weekly swim when I am able to fit it in are great, and my hips feel so much better for it.
  • If you spend many hours sat at a desk working it is worth checking your workstation. I recently changed my chair which had a really positive impact on my hips as well.

You need a plan!

  • Even if you do not care at all about your time you should still have a training plan if you want to get to the finish line
  • Think about your goal and google ‘Marathon training plan’. There is so much out there.
  • Here is a copy of my training plan – it is very much an ideal scenario and although I try hard to stick to it I know that it is not realistic to do it all.
MY MARATHON TRAINING PLAN - Weeks 1-10MY MARATHON TRAINING PLAN - Weeks 11-20

My Kit List tips

  • Back to the carb gels – and any fuelling. Train with them first, let your body get used to them.  I am about trial OTE Gels. I have chosen these because they have natural ingredients, contain electrolytes which are lost during long runs and are supposed to be gentle on the stomach.
  • Do a dress rehearsal for different weather scenarios. I ran in shorts that really rubbed on my legs in the final miles last time.
  • If you are new to running or are not comfortable with your current trainers it may be worth having Gait Analysis to ensure that you are running in the right type of trainer for you.
  • If you live London, Edinburgh or Cardiff I can highly recommend Run and Become for advice and analysis.
  • I have found Asic Gel Kayanos suit me best. They are wide to accommodate my bunions (!) and stable for my over-pronation.
  • You are going to be running a LOT so comfort is key! My favourite runnings leggings are Sweaty Betty Zero Gravity leggings. They are not the cheapest but they last forever, wash really well, do not budge while running and are the only leggings I can run in and forget about. My go to top is the Karrimor XLite long sleeved t shirt. It is super soft and breathable with a much more manageable price tag!
  • Socks are also really important. It is important to find the right pair you. My current favourites are by Salomon and can be found here

GOOD LUCK!

Whatever happens on the day, knowing that you worked hard, did your best and undoubtedly inspired others is incredible.  A marathon is a huge achievement and you should be very very proud.

You are a marathoner and you always will be!

If you have any questions or comments at all I’d love hear them below 😀

Privacy Preference Center