After giving birth to her second child, Shona Stephenson wanted to get fit by taking part in a fun run.
“All I wanted to do was to feel good about myself … I still had a bit of baby weight,” Shona says.
“My first race was in 2007, pushing my seven-month-old baby in a pram at the City2Surf.”
Inspired by the experience and determined to continue being active, Shona decided to enter her first half marathon a year later.
Shona gradually built up her strength by taking part in trail running, and eventually ranked highly in several races.
Now a running coach and sports nutritionist, she uses her knowledge and experience to help train others for their first marathon.
And for beginners, experts say there are some key tips to remember.
Seek medical advice
A marathon distance is 42.2 kilometres.
Sports Scientist Dr Kellie Pritchard-Peschek, says people should consult with a doctor before training for a marathon to ensure they are fit and healthy enough.
“From the outset, they should make sure that they have medical clearance to be able to go into training for a marathon, so that would be a check with a GP,” Dr Pritchard-Peschek says.
“If they’re training with an exercise professional, they can also do an exercise screening.”
How’s your strength?
Exercise physiologist Kirra Rankin, says the length of a training program can vary depending on a person’s strength and athleticism.
“Whether they do other sports can be a real determining factor of how many kilometres they’ll be able to do each week,” she says.
While a 12 to 16-week training program may work for people with some running experience, those who are inactive and don’t do much exercise may need much longer to prepare for a marathon.
“If you’re a couch potato and you want to do a marathon, you’d want to give yourself a good six months to prepare, to really enjoy the process and not get injured,” Ms Rankin says.
Build up to it
Aspiring marathoners are also advised to consult with a running coach who can develop a periodic training program to help gradually build up their strength and endurance.
In a month, a periodicised program would typically involve three weeks of intense training and one week of less intense training to allow the body to adapt.
Ms Rankin says beginners may want to start off training about 3 days a week, running up to 15 kilometres in their first week.
“You would gradually increase that by two kilometres a week … and then on that easier week, you would decrease your kilometres by about 20 per cent,” she says.
“Around two weeks out from the marathon, trying to get up to that 30km mark in one run will give your body and mind the confidence of knowing that you can get to the finish line.”
Ms Rankin says combining strength training along with a running program is also key.
“The marathon is a strength game,” she says.
It’s also crucial to plan rest days in between to help the body recover and avoid injuries.
Having a training partner can also help keep you motivated.
Things to remember on race day
Stay hydrated: “Utilise the aid stations and regularly take on small amounts of fluid,” Dr Pritchard-Peschek says.
Eat ‘sports food’: Regular intake of energy gels, energy bars and chews is recommended, but you need to have included a nutrition plan as part of the training program.
“[The runner] has to practice [eating] because they need to know if their gut can tolerate that food for that distance,” she says
Think positively: Shona Stephenson says using positive affirmations is one way to help keep yourself motivated during the marathon.
“It’s a mental game … it’s about totally focusing on your form and technique the whole time,” she says.
Shona says repeating mantras is a strategy she uses to help her reach the finish line.
“A favourite one of mine is ‘strength, love, passion, drive’,” she says.
“That mantra gives me so much energy.”
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