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5 things runners can learn from London Marathon champion Sifan Hassan

Train like Sifan Hassan and use these tips to master new challenges

Sifan Hassan Photo by: Kevin Morris

Two-time Olympic champion Sifan Hassan made her marathon debut at the 2023 London Marathon, and she won in heroic fashion–making a comeback after stopping twice to stretch an impinged hip. Heading into the race, Hassan said she went through the typical pre-race antics that every runner has: why did I decide to do this? Did I train enough? What should I expect?

Hassan executed well, despite numerous small glitches, showing that anything is possible–and that even pros question everything (including themselves) before a race. Here are five takeaways from the 2023 London Marathon champion.

Sifan Hassan London Marathon
Photo: Kevin Morris

It is OK to be nervous

Even after setting world records and winning multiple Olympic medals, Hassan said she was excited, yet very nervous about her marathon debut in London.

Runners are only human, and most put in countless hours of training into a goal race–so being nervous is not a bad thing. Nerves are just runners’ sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicking in, which is one of two components of the body’s central nervous system. The SNS releases two hormones in response to high-stress situations–epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline), which result in that feeling of having butterflies in your stomach.

According to research, nerves are a good thing, and they can help your body perform better by improving your reflexes and blood circulation before exercise. 

Put expectations to rest

Before the London Marathon, the 2019 world 1,500m champion said during a pre-race press conference that she did not change much in her training, and had no goal time in mind. “The marathon is a different distance for me; I do not know what to expect, but I want to try it,” said Hassan.

If you are trying a new distance or race, you will not know what to expect until you finish. Try to leave your expectations behind and embrace the experience. There’s a good chance you’ll surprise yourself. 

Sifan Hassan
Sifan Hassan on the podium at the 2023 TCS London Marathon. Photo: Kevin Morris

Trust yourself

There are a million training tips online on what to do before your first marathon and how much mileage you should run per week, but not all of these tips have equal value. Hassan said she did not change much of her training, and kept a similar schedule to her 2020 Tokyo Olympics build for the 10,000m.

It is OK to take advice, but there’s no 100 per cent blueprint on how to train for the marathon, beyond some basic principles (include a weekly long run, building distance gradually over your build, and don’t neglect speedwork). Find out what works for you, and stick with it.

Don’t be afraid to stop

Hassan might be the first woman to win a marathon major while stopping twice to walk a bit. She clarified after the race that she had hip tightness, and found that the pain only increased as she continued to run. Once she stopped, walked and stretched out the discomfort, she started running again, speeding up to catch the lead group around 35 km.

These changes of pace may even be beneficial; running is a high-impact sport, and if there is any tightness or tenderness, it is usually better to stop and quickly address the issue rather than running and doing more damage. 

There is a negative connotation around stopping during a race, but a short walking interval can also break up the monotony and help you deal with the mental challenges or discomfort you may be feeling. This tip is helpful for runners doing longer distances (like a half-marathon or marathon) for the first time.

Have fun out there

Although trying something new can bring challenges, have fun and enjoy the experience. Hassan had no thoughts of winning the London Marathon beforehand, she just wanted to try something she wasn’t used to doing, which ended up working in her favour, leading to her first Abbott World Marathon Major win. And she certainly looked relaxed, happy and present, even when she was struggling.  

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