My first marathon was back in 2010, but I made a lot of rookie mistakes, going into it too cocky and not fully prepared for the distance.
I was hoping to run the qualifying time for that year’s Commonwealth Games and European Championships. It worked out that I needed to run six-minute miles, so I thought ‘that's easy, let's try for 5.50 instead, what difference can 10 seconds a mile make?’
Even after the first mile I knew what difference 10 seconds a mile could make! I trudged home in two hours and 43 minutes, having hated every step of the last 10 miles.
But I vowed to do another one and get it right. And that November I went out to New York and ran a perfectly paced race, recorded a PB and fell in love with the distance.
I suppose my biggest challenge was controlling my ego. It's so easy to get ahead of yourself and think you are better than you are when you are starting to make big improvements. Now I’ve actually made it to a good level I am quite the opposite; often thinking I’m not good enough or don’t deserve to be given the opportunities because someone out there is better than me. It quite often takes other people to remind me of what I’ve done and that I am one of the best this country has, as I sometimes don’t see it.
Timeoutdoors interview with Aly Dixon
I’ve been very lucky to go to some fantastic places through running and meet some amazing people who inspire me. I never forget how lucky I am to be able to do something that I love so much on a daily basis and here's my advice for those who are relatively new to this great sport:
A lot of people will say to me that they can’t run, and I always tell them that they can. Anyone who can walk can run. It might not be a five-minute mile; it might be a 10, 15 or even 20-minute mile, but a mile is a mile and - if you stick at it - you will get faster and be able to go for longer. And don’t try to do too much too soon. A common mistake many people make is ramping things up too quickly. They go from running three miles to trying to train for a half marathon.
Run with others...
There are a lot of great initiatives out there - such as parkrun, Run England, Great Run Local - to help people get involved so take advantage. Most are free, and all are very welcoming to people of all ages, shapes and sizes. And joining a group really helps; it’s always easier when you can run with others.
...But be yourself
Set yourself goals so that you are always working towards something. And never compare yourself to others. You are the best at being you, don’t try and be someone else!
Maximise your time
Be organised. It’s all about time management. When I was training for my first two marathons, I was working full time - up to 48 hours a week in a physical sports job. I also had a commute to and from work. It meant that I had to be up at 5am every morning to drive through to Newcastle, do my run and gym and still be at my desk by 8am. I would then run again at night, sometimes going straight to the track from work and not getting back in until after 9pm. It meant I had to be very organised with things like preparing meals so I wasn’t stood cooking tea at 9.30 at night.
Don't take the easy option
If something is important to you, you will find the time and energy to do it. Draw up a timetable on a weekend so that you know what you are doing for the rest of the week. If you are training first thing on a morning, set out all your kit the night before and leave your trainers at the front door to remind you. If you are going to train after work, take your kit with you so you don’t have to go home first. There is nothing worse than going home to get changed to go training after a hard day at work, especially during winter when it's cold, wet and dark - and sitting watching Coronation Street is much more appealing!
Mindset on the big day
Respect the distance but don’t fear it. And be prepared for bad patches, they will happen. I find having a mantra to chant to myself helps get me through rough times. This can be something that inspires you or a message from a loved one. At London mine was ‘make this **** happen’ after a club mate sent me a message saying that the night before. In the last six miles, I always dedicate each mile to someone who has helped me through my journey so you are doing it for them, not just for you.
To follow Aly's running exploits, visit her website alydixon.com.
[Photos courtesy of Virgin Money London Marathon]