The Darth Mannion is a unique physical challenge.  Over 13 miles you will climb and descend hills, wade through mud, and battle through sand.  Much of this will be done after cold water submersion, in soaking wet trainers, and along windy clifftops.  As if that’s not enough, you’ll have to keep your wits about you when passing Bernie’s Trailer Park.

On average, 10% of runners don’t complete.  We’re keen to reduce this percentage,  so we’ve asked Darth’s right-hand man Ian Joslin (Jos to his mates), to pass on some wisdom on how to prepare for the day.  Jos has completed 2 x Ironmans, 4 x Darth Mannions, 2 x Marathon De Gwyrs and marathons all over the world  He regularly trains on the Darth Mannion course and leads the Darth Coastal Runners around it on Saturday Mornings.  When he gives advice about running, people stop and listen.  Some, to work out his hybrid Cornish/Gower accent, but most because he talks good bloody sense.

So get your pen and pad out and start scribbling some notes.  Over to you Jos…

“There’s a lot to think about when training for the Darth Mannion, but I’ve tried to prioritise these into three areas below.

Train for the distance

Before you do so much as get your running shoes out of the attic, ask yourself how far you can comfortably run at the moment. And be honest.  Because, as soon as possible, you will need to come up with a plan of how you are going to progress from where you are now to the 13 miles of the Darth Mannion (which by the way, feels more like 15 or 16).

If Darth Mannion distance is currently beyond you – you’ve got plenty of time.  Whatever happens, make sure you build up gradually.  It’s tempting to wake up tomorrow and think “I’m gonna have a crack at the distance and see what happens”.  But I strongly advise you not to do this.  Because what will happen will not be good. Believe me, I’ve tried!

There’s lots of resources online that give some guidance on how to prepare to run half-marathon distance (try Googling “half marathon training plan”). Have a look at a few to see if you find one that you like and then tweak it to reflect your lifestyle.  If the choice is overwhelming, we recommend the BUPA plans.

You can either start on week 1 of your chosen training plan, or whatever week corresponds with your current comfortable distance.   Just make sure you’re up to Darth Mannion distance by the start of March at the latest.  Most plans suggests lots of training days, and many of us just don’t have the time to do them all.  My recommendation is that if you’re going to skip any runs, do not skip the weekly ‘long run’.  It’s absolutely vital.

I recommend doing your long run in a group or with friends – it’s amazing how much quicker the miles go by when you are not running on your own. If you don’t have any friends (nearby or at all) a good podcast also works. If you’re local, then come join us at Darth Coastal Runners on a Saturday!  Also, try and do your long runs outside and not on the treadmill.

Don’t forget to get yourself warmed up before you run and to do some stretches afterwards. None of us are getting any younger and this can make a big difference to your risk of getting injured. There are some great stretching routines here  And while I am on the subject of injury prevention, it’s a really good idea to incorporate some cross-training to your weekly schedule, especially if this involves some strength and flexibility work.  This might include yoga, pilates, circuit training, cycling, rowing or for the brave, Darth’s own Thursday Crossfat sessions. You’d be amazed what a difference this can make to your running.

Find a hill

The Darth Mannion is hilly. It’s very hilly. It’s even hillier than it was last year. You need to be ready for this. If you are lucky enough to live where hills are plentiful you are spoiled for choice and can add a bit of hill training to virtually any run that you do. Remember, you only need one hill!  If you literally have no hills nearby, you may have to be inventive.  Some of our London runners do their ‘hill’ training on stairwells in their office, at Tube stations or on motorway flyovers.  One even does it across a duel carriageway flyover.  My idol Rocky Balboa used to do it on the town hall steps.

A typical hill training session includes.

  • Finding a hill
  • Warming up
  • Running up said hill as hard as I can
  • When I get to the top, turning around and jogging slowly back down again.
  • When I get to the bottom, turn around and run back up again.
  • I do this 4-5 times then stretch and go home

I tend to do this once a week, adding repetitions each time.  Half hour is usually long enough!

As well as being a great way of developing the muscles for uphill running, hill training is also a great way of having a worthwhile session when you don’t have much time. If you only have a 20 minute window to train have a go at this and reap the rewards.

Write your Christmas list wisely

As the song says “Christmas is coming and Darth is getting fat” (although to be honest that’s a different subject and one for a future blog….)

Hopefully you are on the Good List this year and the chubby bearded fellow from the North Pole will be squeezing himself down your chimney. Rather than running the risk of receiving some hilarious festive knitwear again this year, why not ask him and his elves to bring you something that might make your Darth Mannion experience more enjoyable?

Have a look at your trainers.  Are they trail shoes? If they are, do they look as if they will survive until March? If the answer to either of these questions is no, how about adding this to your Christmas list? Your chances of completing and enjoying the Darth Mannion will increase massively if you have the right footwear.

(If you suspect that you are on the Naughty List you might want to plan to buy them yourself in the Boxing Day sales instead. You can get some great deals at that time).

Likewise, have a think about what you are planning to wear on your upper body. Many a Darth Mannion athlete has fallen victim to “runners nipple” and this is easily avoided if you make the right clothing choices. Personally I swear by a lightweight, compression base layer (and finding one of these in your stocking on Christmas morning could also be a bonus when March 18th arrives).  You may also want to get some good runners socks, chafing balm (ideal for your stocking) and a hi-vis jacket if running on roads in the dark.

Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. I’ve taken up enough of your day and it’s probably time for you to either:

  • find some company for your run this weekend
  • locate a ‘hill’ to repeatedly run up and down, or
  • tear up your Christmas list and start again.

If you are local to the Gower, an easy way of ticking most of these off (and getting a load of other benefits) is by joining our running club Darth Coastal Runners. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Until next time.