Running a marathon isn't just about race day, it’s about the months of training and commitment leading up to the event. But training for a marathon not only gets you super fit, but also builds discipline and the satisfaction you'll feel when you've reached the finish line is second-to-none.
On paper, training for your first marathon can seem like, well, running a marathon. Australian long-distance runner and 2XU athlete Eloise Wellings knows a thing or two about how to get ready for these endurance-testing events: here, she shares her tips.
"Crossing the finish line is one of the greatest feelings of achievement you will ever experience," Eloise says. "When race day arrives, it’s important to trust in the training you’ve done. Lean into the pain – inevitably it will start hurting at some point, so be ready for it."
Why should anyone want to train for and complete their very first marathon?
"Nothing challenges both the mind and body quite like a marathon. Embrace it, and you’ll gain an enormous appreciation of who you are and just how far you can push your limits."
What fitness level would you recommend as a starting point for anyone thinking of running a marathon?
"Ideally, you would already be running at least five days a week to tackle a marathon but with enough time, anyone can set their sights on developing an appropriate training plan to achieve their goal."
If you have a low level of fitness and not much experience with long-distance running, what’s a more achievable goal?
"Parkruns are a great start – they’re held every Saturday morning in local parks around Australia and are a low-key way to start running. With a few 5km Parkruns under your belt, step up to a 10km event, then a half marathon and keep building from there.
Start small, it becomes a very natural progression to build up the distance as you gain strength and fitness."
How far out from your first marathon should training begin?
"If you’re starting with a reasonable level of fitness, it’s good to aim for about four months of really solid training before the race. If you're beginning at a low fitness base, you'll want to allow yourself a lot more time to gradually build your running ability."
Can you give us an overview of what your training priorities should be in the months leading up to the marathon?
"When you’re training for an event, not a lot should change – you don’t want to add too much of anything new or different as the more you follow the same plan, the less likely you are to get injured.
"It’s a good idea to integrate yoga into your training plan from the start and continue it all the way through. Focus on small increments each week to test your body and build your fitness.
"A long run is the most important session each week. If you can only fit in a few runs a week, don’t miss your long run and also prioritise an interval session. It’s important to fuel your body with the right food to support your training and to allow time for rest and recovery. Compression gear (I train and run in 2XU) plays a key role in maximising my training, reducing my risk of injury and helping me bounce back in time for my next training session.
"Life doesn’t stop just because you’re training for a marathon, so don’t forget about your friends and family. Unless you have your sights set on the Olympics, you don’t need to be too single-minded about it."
What foods and drinks should marathon runners stock up on and avoid?
"Focus on eating for performance. When I’m training for a major championship, it’s all about eating to get the most out of my body and recover effectively. I eat really clean, which means little to no sugar when I’m in full training.
"I prioritise complex carbohydrates to fuel the body, good fats, lots of protein and lean meat. I don’t believe in cutting out major food groups, but I’ve found that I perform a lot better when I reduce my intake of sugar and processed foods."
What’s the best way to recover from training sessions?
"I look at recovery as a three-step process. As soon as I finish a training session I’ll jump in an ice bath to minimise swelling and inflammation, then I’ll pull on my recovery compression tights to promote blood flow and help remove blood lactate from the body, and then I stretch for mobility. After a massive training day or after running a marathon, I’ll wear compression tights all the next day to minimise swelling and soreness."
What should a runner do in the 24 hours prior to a marathon?
"Be prepared! Know exactly what time you’re going to get up, what you’re going to eat and what your nutrition is going to be, and prepare in advance so you can take the stress out of race day and instead focus on what you’re going to do in the race itself.
"Nutrition during the race is really important – practice with Revvies Energy Strips (my choice), gels and high-energy drinks in advance so you know how your body reacts to them. Take note of how you feel, how you respond and how you recover.
"Don’t do anything new in the week before a marathon, and definitely not in the last 24 hours – be confident in the training you’ve done, get some rest and look forward to crossing the finish line!"