I like to think of myself as a bit of a global traveller. Adventurous, never stuck in my ways, always happy to try new things, new food, new routes, new places to stay.
Except, that is, when it comes to the days before London Marathon. Suddenly, my usual love of global cuisine is replaced by a slightly suspicious squint at the ingredients on the peanut butter jar (beware the food crime that is hidden coconut). My usual happiness to try a new pair of running shoes replaced by utter paranoia lest I develop a blister – and woe betide the poor commuter who looks like they might accidentally step on my foot. I’ll leap out of their way like a scalded cat.
The same applies to sleep. Nothing is more important in race week than sleep. As much as possible, as comfortable as possible. Not too hot, not too cold. Fresh sheets, no disturbances, darkened room. The fact that I have two small children is not conducive, frankly, to much of the above, but particularly not to a chilled out evening with a book followed by a blissful 8 hours.
This is why, for the last few years, I’ve spent the night before London marathon in the Holiday Inn London – Stratford City. I’ve got the routine down perfectly: arrive late afternoon, stock up on any last minute supplies (plasters – just in case – and bumper supplies of M&S fizzy sweets for after the race), carb loading dinner at Wahaca then early to bed with a good book. Yes, I really know how to rock and roll.
Routine, though, is a huge comfort at times of race stress. You emphatically do not want to worrying about your journey to the start, or whether hotel breakfast will start early enough.
I’ve got rather fond of the Holiday Inn early breakfast on race day – looking round the dining room at all the other racers, nervously nibbling toast, and their non-running companions, tucking heartlessly into a full English. Then hopping on the coach the next morning, and being driven all the way to the start. No worrying about trains or connections or whether you’ll have to stand the entire way.
Routine is also important for your confidence. Knowing you’ve had the same breakfast you’ve had countless times before races or long runs before. Knowing that – even if nerves mess with your sleep – you’ve had your feet up for eight hours. There’s a time and a place for adventure and experimentation, and that place is emphatically not race week.