Life Wellbeing Training tips to prepare for your first marathon Updated:

Training tips to prepare for your first marathon

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Set your sights on running a marathon this summer? These tips from coach and ultra-marathon runner Dom Cadden will set you on the 42.2-kilometre road to glory.

Work in reverse

Choose a race and work backwards from that date. Identify your week to taper – when you will significantly reduce the volume and intensity of your training to allow the body to rest and recover so it’s ready to race – and mark this on your calendar. You’ll also want to lock in a date for the longest run of your training program, no sooner than two weeks before the big day.

Get back to basics

Your first goal should be to run 10 kilometres without walking or stopping. Find a rhythm with your breathing and concentrate on good technique and a consistent pace.

Build slowly

Clocking up too many kilometres too soon is a fast route to injury. Consistency is key, and that means staying free from soreness and injury. Your long run for the week should build up gradually to no more than about 30 kilometres three to four weeks out from the race.

Change it up

Dom Cadden
Pace yourself: Clocking up too many kilometres too quickly can cause injuries, fitness coach Dom Cadden (above) says. Photo: 2XU

A good runner knows how to shift gears. Running at different paces and with different intervals and rest patterns works your body’s energy systems in different ways, conditioning you to burn fat as energy instead of just sugar, and keep up your oxygen intake while running longer and faster. It’s a good idea to add repeat intervals of 400 metres and tempo runs to your training program (more on that below).

Break it down

If you run four days a week, nominate two days as “focus” sessions and space these apart – for example, Wednesdays and Sundays might be focus days with a more strenuous speed session on Wednesday (such as intervals) and your longest run for the week on Sunday, while Tuesdays and Fridays might be days where the pace and distance are more comfortable.

As a guide, your training should include:

  • Interval sessions. Start with 8 x 200 metres, with 90–120 seconds rest in between. You won’t be able to run every interval at 100 per cent, but learn to pace yourself and aim to run all eight intervals with a maximum 10-second variation
  • Tempo running. A tempo run is where you try to hold a pace that’s 10 to 15 per cent above your comfortable 10-kilometre pace (or a shorter distance if you haven’t yet worked up to 10 kilometres) for 10 to 25 minutes. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down either side of your tempo run
  • Pace run. This is 40 to 60 per cent of the distance of your next long run. Focus on run technique and do most or all of this run at a comfortable pace. This session should not exhaust you. Speed bursts can be worked into your pace run by putting on a burst of speed then backing off to a slower pace. These bursts can vary from a few bursts of 400 metres to one burst of 1600 metres, or a range of distances in between
  • Long run. Aim to step up the distance by about 2.5 kilometres a week. It’s okay to repeat the same distance two weeks in a row

Rest and recovery

Use your rest days for 15 to 20 minutes of stretching, a yoga or Pilates session or some strength exercises. Other forms of active recovery include walking, swimming or running in the pool. Proper recovery after every training session is also invaluable – stretch, eat and rehydrate well and pull on those compression tights to promote blood flow, flush out blood lactate and reduce swelling.

Run your own race

After your longest run two weeks before the race, you should have a good idea of your race pace. Come race day, stick to your plan – don’t be thrown off by adrenalin or the rush off the start line. Stick to your goal pace, then assess whether you have the energy to put on a surge in the last few kilometres.

eloise wellings
Marathon training builds discipline, says dual Olympic middle-distance runner Eloise Wellings. Photo: 2XU

Still unsure? Dual Olympic middle-distance runner and 2XU ambassador Eloise Wellings knows all too well the pain – and the gain – of tackling a marathon, and says the hard work well and truly pays off.

“Running a marathon is not just about race day, it’s the months of training and commitment leading into the event,” she says.

“Training for a marathon not only gets you super fit, it builds discipline. Crossing the finish line is one of the greatest feelings of achievement you will ever experience. Nothing challenges both the mind and body quite like it.

“Embrace it, and you’ll gain an enormous appreciation of who you are and just how far you can push your limits.”

With a smart training plan, enough time and just a few handy tips, runners of all abilities can take on a marathon. Grab your runners and get out there.

Dom Cadden is a fitness coach, and Commonwealth open powerlifting champion who has also run trail ultramarathons, including the 339-kilometre Tor des Geants that crosses 25 mountain passes