Preparing For A Marathon

Whether you’re just starting out or regular 5 or even 10km trotter, most road runners at some point will decide to aim for a first marathon or half-marathon before that.  It can be a daunting task but training diligently and systematically chipping away at a series of small goals can quickly help you get up to speed as it were.  Here, Wayne Allen will attempt to talk you through the idea preparation.  

Allen is Juniva’s COO and sports nutrition advisor.  Juniva is a specialist health, wellness and fitness e-tailer.  As an endurance athlete, he has an impressive résumé of full and 70.3 Ironman, half marathon, open water swims, over 20 Olympic distance triathlons and numerous cycle races.  He’s also trying out Crossfit and recently completed the Ascendis 100 Day Challenge.  

Each year thousands of runners line-up for the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town.  If you’ve done shorter races and decided that this is the year that you take part in a half marathon, there are plenty of things that you can do – exercise and otherwise – that can make all the difference.  Here Allen shares his top tips to get you across the finish line.

From 5km to 21km: Training to run longer distances is about slowly increasing your training load.  The key is adding enough volume so that your body can adapt to the increase, but not too much so that you incur injury.   Allen says: ‘The general rule of thumb is to add 10% per week for three weeks and the fourth week is a recovery week.’  Although longer runs are probably the most important session in conditioning your body to go the distance, the trick is the effect of the cumulative load that will enable you to run a 21km.  Allen says:  ‘For a 21km you should ideally have been running for three months prior to your build up and you would do well to give yourself 12 weeks to prepare.  You should run more than 25km during the week leading up to the race and your longest run should be 12km or further.’

View food as fuel: With all this additional running, you’ll be burning an impressive amount of kilojoules, and will have developed a much larger appetite.  Choose foods that are nutrient dense and give your body what it needs – without the unwanted calories.  Consider what you will eat before, during and after your sessions, as you can never out train a bad diet.  Not only so that you get through your sessions but so that you can recover in time for your next one too.  

How to approach race day: The week of the race is when your preparation starts.  Making sure that you taper – doing shorter distances at race pace – is where you experience the gains in fitness.  

The golden rule in preparing: nothing new on race day.  If you buy new shoes, make sure you break them in at least three weeks before the race.  And if you want to change nutrition, make sure you have trained using it for three weeks before race day.  Allen says:  ‘On the day, remember that you’re stronger than you think.  Injuries aside, when your mind says stop, you’re probably at 50% of what your body can still do.’  Being well rested cannot be overstated.  Typically the nerves set in and you struggle to sleep well the night before a race, so two nights before the race is the key evening to get good sleep.  As a good habit during training, get to bed early and aim to get at least seven (7) hours of sleep.  

Choose your meals carefully:  Have a good dinner the night before including protein and carbs such as sweet potatoes, brown rice or quinoa.  Allen says:  ‘For breakfast, have something low GI like oats (eaten +-2–3 hours before the race), then sip on an energy drink an hour before the race to ensure that your energy stores are topped up and you are fully hydrated.’

Rest up: Rest days are vital and when you’re training hard, you’ll long for them.  Allen says:  ‘It’s during this period that your muscles recover and when you actually get fitter and stronger.  Without rest days you’ll see little improvement and over time will battle fatigue and eventually burn out, so don’t be tempted to fit your missed sessions in here.’  A sports massage is also a good way to help your muscles recover.

Do exercises to complement running: Core work is the best non-running exercise you can do.  If you can fit in 15 minutes, three evenings a week, you should start to see results in three to four weeks.  If you struggle to do this on your own, Allen suggests a Pilates or yoga class once or twice a week.  Functional exercises – such as forward lunges, jumping lunges and single leg squats ? improve strength and address different aspects of the running movement.  The intention of these exercises is to reduce the risk of injury and improve running efficiency.  Allen says:  ‘Correct form always wins over number of repetitions and you must warm up before you start.’

Get yourself a training buddy: A training buddy might be the difference between getting out of bed or not for that early morning session.  Allen says:  ‘Running with a partner also helps pacing and gets you through the session quicker.’

Know your multivitamins and supplements: A healthy diet is the best way to meet your nutritional needs, in terms of energy, protein and fats, vitamins and minerals.  But as our Western diets are high in unhealthy sugars, salt and fats, supplementation can help.  As an athlete, your need for certain vitamins and minerals increases.  In terms of a multivitamin, stick to a well-balanced, one-a-day type of multivitamin and mineral supplement.  Allen says:  ‘I recommend a sport specific multivitamin like Supashape Daily Active for women and Patrick Holford’s 100% Health Pack for men.  But prepare properly by doing the distance on the road and backing it up with a sound nutrition plan of solids and recommended supplements available from  It will make all the difference come race day, and help you recover faster.’

Allen concludes by saying:  ‘Completing an endurance race is a huge feat.   You have put in the hard work, now trust your training, enjoy the race and soak up the experience.  You’ve earned it.’