How to NOT run a marathon in 6 easy steps

I love the idea of running a marathon. The culmination of months of carefully planned training. Surging through London in peak physical form. Rocky-esque montages of the blistering road to glory, leaving a litter of defeated hills and municipal steps in my wake.

RNLI supporters cheering on marathon runners at Tower Bridge, London

Photo: Jon Stokes

I love the idea.

Now don’t misunderstand me. Given the right amount of training, motivation and complex carbohydrates, almost anyone can run a marathon. If you’re about to do just that, I salute you. Don’t let all this ultra-marathon business fool anyone (I’m looking at you, Eddie Izzard), moving yourself bodily around 26.2 miles in 4ish hours ONCE in a lifetime is seriously impressive. You are brilliant and deserve our eternal respect and adulation.

But what if long-distance running’s just not your bag? Here at last is an idea I can really get behind – how to get involved with a marathon without actually running the thing. Six positive ‘I’m outs’ that would make Duncan Bannatyne proud.

1. Help out

With all that anticipation, nervous energy and excitement in the air, the atmosphere on race day is electric. At the Virgin Money London Marathon, you can still be part of Team RNLI by volunteering to be a member of the Cheer Team or steward on 24 April.

Your whoops, whistles and cheers really do make a difference. ‘The team on the Embankment was overwhelming and so full of encouragement and just when I needed it,’ says 2015 finisher Mervyn Kinney.

Stewards have the vital role of welcoming RNLI runners over the finish line and guiding them to the post-race reception, where hot showers and food awaits. A post-race buzz is guaranteed, and you’ll hear some amazing stories of how these wonderful people came to run for our charity.

Both roles come with full kit and cheering accessories. Plus you get to hand out sweets to runners. Everyone will LOVE you.

2. Get out

Providing you have a good level of fitness, you could head outside on foot or bicycle to help a marathon trainee with pacing, coaching or just some company. While a run shared is not exactly a run halved, having someone else to keep an eye on the pace and stats can be a relief for a maxed-out runner.

If your knees – or indeed the rest of you – aren’t up to it, be on hand to whip up a tasty, protein-rich snack to help their recovery.

3. Time out

What’s not to love about a marathon with a few breathers? Many events now champion the spirit of teamwork by allowing you to run them in relay. Hull, Edinburgh and Cork City are just some of the marathons that have embraced this more forgiving format.

Or you could create your own RNLI fundraiser by completing a marathon over several days/weeks. Most fitness tracking apps show your cumulative mileage over time – don’t forget to post screenshots to keep your supporters updated on your progress.

For people who enjoy the social element of running and the sense of competing against the clock, Parkrun offers free, timed 5K runs in thousands of beautiful places around the world. Complete 9 of these friendly Saturday morning events and you’ll have done a marathon – plus an extra 2.8km, which is a pretty reasonable surcharge for taking 6-day rest stops.

4. Kit out

Think marathon. Think silly costumes. For many it’s a coping strategy. Others, a way of entertaining their fellow runners. And some people just really like dressing up as lifeboats. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, kit out your RNLI runner with a costume that celebrates saving lives at sea.

Make sure they train in the costume before race day, though. The local neighbourhood will enjoy the spectacle immensely, but it’s also important to know what it feels like to step and sweat in the kit. Come mile 20, dressing as a neoprene rescue tube might not feel like such a great idea.

5. Veg out

Not everyone can make it to London, but almost as good is watching the Virgin Money London Marathon on TV or online.

Get inspired as the elite athletes make it over the finish line in preposterous times. Revel in the commentators’ increasingly strained efforts to describe a mass of people running for 4 hours. Huddle at eye-watering proximity to the screen trying to spot Aunty Carol through a sea of sweaty faces.

Make a party of it and tweet along using #RNLIrunners to show your support. You’ll spot our crew with their distinctive bright vests sporting the RNLI flag – give them a digital high five!

BBC coverage starts at 8.30am on Sunday 24 April, warming up for the 10am start. Will you be inspired to make this guide obsolete and sign up for next year?

6. Outsource

And finally, paying someone else to do something on your behalf is a noble art. If you know someone who’s part of the RNLI Running Crew, help them on their way with a donation or offer to bake (and eat, obviously) cakes to raise funds. Every pound and euro raised helps the RNLI to make the water a safer place for everyone.

Short of someone to support? Find #RNLIrunners on Twitter and you’ll soon meet people who will be cheered by a boost from a benevolent stranger.

This year's Virgin Money London Marathon takes place on 24 April. Good luck and thank you to all of our runners - and everybody who has supported them in any way over the past year.

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