An Olympian’s top 10 tips for your next marathon

VILAMOURA, PORTUGAL – OCTOBER 4: Benita Johnson of Australia finishes third during the 12th World Half Marathon Championships on October 4, 2003 in Vilamoura, Portugal. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

With running season well and truly in swing, there are a few tips that I swear by when preparing for a long distance run. These tips are important for runners at any level to adopt, and I have sworn by these for many years.

  1. Break in your gear – Make sure you do some training in the shoes you will wear in a long distance run – there is nothing worse than blisters getting in your way on the day. Having the right shoes is so important because it could be the make or break of you reaching your race goals. My first choice for running shoes is Saucony because their technology puts your foot in a more balanced and comfortable position, allowing for a more powerful and natural running stride. This can make a huge difference for long distances, such as a half- or full- marathon.
  2. Welcome guidance – Join a group or get a program online from a qualified running coach to guide you and give you insider tips and tricks to reach your personal goals on race day. Every marathon course varies, so it’s a good idea to ask your guide about these when preparing for a race and they’ll be able to tailor an approach to your body.
  3. Don’t do all your runs too hard – It is important to do some easy recovery runs to absorb harder sessions, as pushing your body too hard may cause injury and in turn may result in you missing the race.
  4. Mix up the surfaces you run on – This is important in order to minimise injury as your feet get used to the feel of different textures i.e. do some training on grass or trails, as well as roads and footpaths.
  5. Make sure you enjoy the process! – When you compete in a race it is not all about winning so make sure you have some fun and make long lasting memories. Most races are set in gorgeous locations, for example the SMH Half Marathon that has views of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Circular Quay – make sure you take in some of the fantastic views whatever the course is!
  6. Run in the morning – Waiting to train when you come home from work exhausted and hungry is probably not the best way to get the most out of your training, or you might not even get it done at all. If you can, set your alarm that bit earlier in the morning and get it done!
  7. Set your goals – Giving yourself a goal to work towards makes the process that much more rewarding for your training and the race itself. Knowing you’ve made progress feels fantastic!
  8. Pace yourself – Having an idea of your starting pace is important to make sure you don’t burn out too fast. Don’t start too hard and try to keep an average speed to ensure you reach the finish line.
  9. Practice pre-race nutrition – Before a training run it’s key to eat and drink similar foods that you’ll be consuming on race day. This will make sure your body is used to the intake and no unexpected stitches arise.
  10. Know your surroundings – It is great to be aware of where all amenities are before the race, such as toilets and parking, so you aren’t late to the start. Also, put out your running kit the night before so you don’t forget anything!
Benita Johnson trains at Falls Creek.

Benita Willis is an Olympic long and short distant runner, representing Australia at World Championship level 25 times, including four Olympics -Sydney 2000 (5km), Athens 2004 (10km), Beijing 2008 (marathon), London 2012 (marathon).

One of Benita’s many career highlights, has been winning gold at the 2004 World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, Belgium. She has since broken every national record from 2km to marathon and holds 11 national records on indoor, track and road surfaces.

Since retiring from competition after the London Olympics, Benita has started a fitness business in Brisbane, as well as pursuing a managerial running role at Queensland Athletics. She also acts as the Cross Country and Athletics Head Coach at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Fitness Director of Umpires at AFL Queensland and is studying a post grad in psychology part time.

Benita is also an ambassador for Saucony Australia.