Getting tips from the best in the business is perk of the job

Mark Armstrong in action at the Cambridge Half Marathon. Picture: Cambridge Half Marathon

Mark Armstrong in action at the Cambridge Half Marathon. Picture: Cambridge Half Marathon - Credit: Archant

Run Anglia editor Mark Armstrong has been picking the brains of some of the best in the marathon business

I'm pretty middle of the road when it comes to being a runner.

That's not being self-deprecating – it's the truth.

But I'm fortunate enough to have access to the coaching expertise of Neil Featherby and I get to talk to a lot of the region's top runners on a regular basis.

It's a perk of the job and every one of them has been kind enough to take an interest in what I'm working towards.

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I caught up with Dani Nimmock last week to talk about her schedule this year and towards the end of our chat she asked how I was getting on.

I told her that I'd been able to keep my training pretty consistent so far and had been trying not think about the actual Greater Manchester Marathon event itself, preferring to concentrate on the ethos of taking one run at a time – when you've been injured as much as I have then you'll understand why!

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However, I knew this was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down. Dani was of course last year's female winner of the event – who better to pick up some intel about the race and marathon tips in general?

After getting advice on the course (apparently there's not a lot to take your mind off the pain from miles 21 to 24) talk turned to fuelling.

I really don't like having to fuel on runs, but I'm learning it's a necessary evil if you want to get the best out of yourself in a marathon.

I'd been winging it in my training runs with no real specific strategy as I just took on a few sweets as and when I felt like it.

After chatting to Dani it was clear that if I'm going to get round as quickly and efficiently as possible then I need to find a fuelling approach that's going to offer a bit more.

She combines gels with a sports drink throughout her marathons and it surprised me just how much fuel she takes on.

MORE: Plan your 2019 race diary hereOf course, everyone's body works differently, but if it's good enough for an elite athlete like Dani then it had to be worth a shot.

This meant experimenting on some of my longer runs to come up with a plan to get some energy into me at times when I need it the most.

A big hefty wall awaits if I don't get it right!

The problem was that I had promised myself that I wouldn't let an energy gel pass my lips again following a particularly traumatic gastro experience at the Edinburgh Marathon.

However, it's becoming clear that I'm going to have to renege on that promise.

For all the talk of taking on whole foods during an event, the truth is there isn't a quicker way to get energy in than through a sports drink or a gel.

For all the bravado that came out of my Nottingham Marathon exploits 18 months ago when I chowed down on some mini cheddars at the halfway point I know that they probably aren't the best way of fuelling (probably the tastiest though…)

My issue with gels in particular is that they make me feel quite sick but in reality once you get past a certain point, probably around 20 miles, then you are going to feel pretty rubbish.

Perhaps I just need to accept that when you're running 26.2 miles then you aren't going to feel great during every one of them – being comfortable with being uncomfortable is an important part of the process.

So in last weekend's training run I experimented with gels with relative success. I got through 22 miles, taking on three gels in the process, and lived to tell the tale.

Now I've just got to work out what to have in those final four miles for the last push.

From speaking to people, anything goes in those last few miles…perhaps I should bring back the mini cheddars after all.

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