With running season in full swing and a number of marathons and runs coming up, Olympic long distance runner and Saucony Australia spokesperson, Benita Willis, has stopped by to share her top ten best tips on preparing for a long distance run.
Question: How can you train for a marathon/half marathon?
Benita Willis: Training for a half marathon is of most importance. Running 5km is vastly different to running a half marathon. You need to build up your endurance strength and also your running technique to get you to the finish line. It is also important to include warm up and warm down exercises and static stretches in your training to help prevent injury.
Working towards goals is another survival tip. Setting yourself realistic goals not only will motivate you too train, but will also be rewarding when you accomplish them and finish the race.
Further related to training is wearing in your race day shoes. Having the right shoes is so important because it could be the make or break of you reaching your race goals. You will be in your shoes for a longer amount of time for a half marathon so being comfortable in your shoes and running technique is crucial. The last thing you want is to be in pain with blisters appearing mid-race. 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.
Question: What's your typical weekly training schedule like?
Benita Willis: I love to lift weights, so I do weight lifting with a coach four times per week plus about four to five sessions of easy running or cross training per week.
I love to try and keep reasonably fit and healthy at all times! When I was an elite distance runner, I never did any weight lifting like this, so this is a good challenge for me now.
Question: Can you share your 10 crucial tips to prepare you for a half marathon?
Benita Willis: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, such as the SMH Half Marathon are set in gorgeous locations with views of Sydney's Botanic Gardens and Circular Quay – make sure you take in some of the fantastic views whatever the course is!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Question: How do you overcome the mind and its crazy thoughts when running a half marathon?
Benita Willis: I think the mind is incredibly powerful and can impact your performance significantly. To stay positive in marathons I like to think of inspirational people in my life such as my dad, family and Kerryn McCann (an Australian athlete, best known for winning the marathon at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games).
Question: Can you talk us through your post-half-marathon recovery?
Benita Willis: After running a half-marathon, or any long distance event, I always make sure I give myself plenty of rest and recovery time in order to prevent injuries. Particularly at the peak of my training I would make sure I did the following weekly:
Get massages 2-3 times per week. I had deep tissue massages to help with relieving muscle aches and pain for faster recovery (although sometimes they were far from relaxing!)
Active recovery days that included long runs, strength work, drills and strides.
Naps each day. I tried to have a little nap each day for up to one hour in order to allow my body to recover from my morning training session ready for the afternoon training session.
Question: Why is recovery just as important as training for you?
Benita Willis: If you push yourself hard in training and do not recovery properly, your body won't be ready to do the next hard training session.
Allowing your body to absorb hard training sessions is what helps you progress to that next level in your fitness. The following factors may inhibit recovery:
Failing to get sufficient rest – It is important to rest your muscles and get adequate sleep every night so your body can recover and replenish energy to be ready to perform again.
Running hard every day – Having variety in your training is essential. This includes having quality, hard training sessions and also active recovery sessions with low intensity exercises.
Having a poor diet – A poor diet will affect your energy levels and your performance. It is key to be feeding your body with nutrients and fuel that will last the entire run; you don't want to be feeling worn out mid training session.
Too much stress – Stress can inhibit and interfere with your recovery as it affects so many various systems in the body and your overall wellbeing.
As a result, your progress is delayed and overtraining in some cases may lead to more problems.
Many people think that if you're not always pushing yourself, you're not improving. However, the case is quite the opposite. If you dedicate time to allow your body to relax, repair and rejuvenate, you will be ready for that next hard training session or race and see amazing results.
Question: What inspired your passion for running?
Benita Willis: My dad definitely. I grew up in a coastal town north of Mackay and loved running on the beach with dad, which is where my love for running started.
My passion for running really grew once I finished High School, where I mostly focussed on playing hockey. Once I graduated my love for running really grew and flourished.
Question: What would we find in your gym bag?
Benita Willis: My gym bag is packed with my towel, wireless headphones, phone, protein drink and a magazine (for any time I am sitting around waiting!). I love bright colours too, so everything I own is bright!
Question: What's next, for you?
Benita Willis: I am currently working as an ambassador to many road races coming up, as well as in the Queensland Athletics recreational running program (Qrun). I am also currently coaching high school runners at Brisbane Girls Grammar. My next big plan is that I am looking to start my own business soon, so watch this space.
Interview by Brooke Hunter