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New Year - New You - New Challenge?

Aly Dixon in the London Marathon (2016) Credit: PA

With 2018 now upon us - many people are setting New Year's resolutions.

If yours is to get fit and take up running - maybe for the first time - we have been talking to Sunderland marathon runner Aly Dixon who is representing GB in this year's Commonwealth Games in Australia.

If you are thinking of attempting a 5K, maybe the Gateshead 10K, the Great North Run or even the London Marathon Aly's advice is to give running a go!

Take a look at her tips here:

Whether it leaves you wanting more or makes you never want to run again, embrace the process and have fun with it.

Because that’s what it’s all about anyways, right?

Having the time of your life and moving one foot in front of the other!

– Aly Dixon
Runners in the Great North Run cross over the Tyne Bridge Credit: PA

Make a plan! Making a plan leading into your marathon can greatly increase your performance as well as your overall experience. Don’t forget, running takes time. Unless you are one of the few people who can run as if they are a gazelle effortlessly trotting down the road, you are going to need a couple months of training before you can jump into a marathon. Pick a race a couple months away and develop a training plan or download one from a reputable running website. This will help you focus on training one day at a time and get you closer and closer to your goals come race day.

Find training buddies! Misery loves company! Getting into running shape isn’t always the easiest task but if you can find a partner or group to help you in your journey, you are one step closer to being your best come race day. Having a running buddy can help you to visualise breaking the tape of your marathon. But more importantly, they can be the ones to help you get out the door on those days where you might not be feeling up to it! Having someone else to hold you accountable for the days where you just might not feel like going for a run will help you stick to your plan and allow you to be that much more prepared when the big day comes around.

Practice your race pace! Learning your “race pace” is a huge factor in ensuring that you are not completely whacked halfway through your marathon. Practicing your race pace once or twice a week during workouts can help you become comfortable at the pace you are going to be chipping away at during your marathon. A way to maximize the fun of practicing race pace is by joining in on a local 5k, 10k or half marathon on a weekend. This is a great way to add some excitement to your workouts, as well as allowing you to learn how to run your pace while other competitors are around. One of the biggest mistakes people make in a marathon is getting so caught up in all the fun and starting too fast! Too often you see people spend all their energy in the first few miles, leaving them dragging behind in those final, crucial miles. Practicing your ideal pace the weeks leading up to your big race can help you to be the one leaving everyone behind on race day!

Practice race day fueling! Running a marathon puts a lot of stress on your body and knowing how to fuel yourself mid race can make the difference between a bad race and a personal best. Mid race fueling can help keep you from shutting down in the later miles of racing. During your training make sure you are practicing different types of hydration and fueling efforts. Practicing during your longer runs and workouts can help you find what fueling sits well in your stomach while still working out. Along with mid race fueling, pre-race and post-race fueling is also very important. Find meals that you know you can digest and allow for you to optimise performance and minimise toilet visits (which will most definitely make your marathon experience a little less fun!)

Long run! One mistake most people make is not getting the proper mileage in their legs before a big race. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope a bit. Though recovery is important, so is making sure your body knows what it is about to endure! A marathon is not your casual sunday jog. A weekly long run will help you optimise race day performance and help you not break down in the final miles of your marathon. Each week you can get a little longer in your long run and spend a little more time on your feet getting stronger and stronger with each mile run!

Recover! One of the biggest things that can happen once you get the marathon bug is wanting to make sure you are fit enough to do your best on race day! With that being said, we can sometimes get too fixated on working our hardest every day to make sure we are ready to leave all the others in the dust. Unfortunately, without the proper recovery, all that hard work could end up being for nothing. If your body isn’t getting the proper recovery, you open yourself up to injury and an entire world of running related problems! Allowing yourself some down time and easy days won’t make you any less fit but will actually help you get faster! With a proper training plan, taking easy days will allow your body to recover and allow for all your hard work to physically set in. Proper recovery gets you one step closer to optimal race day performance!

Trust your training! Finally, trust your abilities! One of the biggest deterrents for people running a marathon is that they simply can’t do it. Pre-race anxiety or last minute second thoughts are totally normal! Even the best runners in the world experience this sensation! Have confidence and know that all the training you put in has left you more than ready! Just always remember you are out there to run for you, to see what you can do, and to have fun while doing it! Running is a process that is equally liberating and intimidating, but it is all worth it when you cross the finish line of your marathon knowing that you did your best.

Runners in the London Marathon over Tower Bridge Credit: PA