How to Train For a Marathon

Oct 01, 2021 | by AIF

Marathon running might require leg strength and cardiovascular endurance, but hanging out at the squat rack alone won’t help you cross the finish line on race day.  The single most important thing you can do in order to achieve this bucket-list fitness feat is to put in the training hours pounding the pavement.

The elements

When training for a marathon, it’s important to take the elements into account. As an outdoor event, heat, cold, rain, wind and other forces of nature can affect the way you run and train, both physically and mentally.

The only way to truly prepare yourself for the challenges posed by nature is to get outside and train away from the controlled environment of the treadmill. Having said this, however, there are some techniques you can use, in or outside, to assist in developing certain running skills. A good way to train for running against strong winds, for example, is with Parachute Runs. Attaching a resistance parachute to yourself and running (either on a flat surface, up a hill or both) can simulate the extra resistance faced when running against the wind.

Training intensity

When training for an endurance event like a marathon, intensity needs to be increased gradually over time. If you start your training being able to run just 3km without stopping, there is no point in starting your marathon training by immediately attempting runs of 10 or 15km. That’s not training your body to get it used to something new – it’s overloading it in a way that can increase risk of injury, not to mention the loss of motivation that can accompany unpleasant after-effects of inappropriate training.

Intensity in marathon training is all about pushing limits. Set yourself a smart goal of how far you want to be able to run in 45 minutes. Once you hit that goal, set yourself a new one of a greater distance. As your results improve, so do your chances of successfully completing that marathon.

Weight training

Some people dial down their resistance training when they decide to focus their energies on training for a marathon, thinking that weights workouts will be a hindrance. Light-to-moderate resistance training, however, can benefit long distance runners by increasing muscular endurance. This, accompanied with cardiovascular fitness, will be the key to long distance running success.


Most people stop doing something challenging due to a lack of motivation. When putting in long and sometimes arduous hours training for an endurance event, the voices in your head telling you that you can’t do it can get very loud. Without very strong motivation, it can be easy to give in to these doubts. One way of keeping yourself motivated is to run with a training partner: the sociability and accountability of running with a friend can go a long way. Nobody wants to let their training partner down, so both parties benefit.

Another technique to keep yourself on track is material motivation. If you’ve been looking at those new Nikes, heels or phone, for example, let that be the carrot you dangle in front of yourself to stay focused. If you complete the marathon in the time you were aiming for, treat yourself!

The day before

So you’ve gradually built up your training intensity and endurance over a number of months and are now ready to tackle this beast! You’re physically and mentally prepared for what lies ahead, so make sure you don’t trip up at the final hurdle. Marathons always have an early morning start time, and you don’t want to be rushing around looking for your race bib or safety pins when it’s time to be heading out the door!

The evening before the race, prepare everything you’ll need before you hit the sack. Running gear and shoes; sunglasses, sunscreen and headwear; bib and safety pins; vaseline or similar to prevent chafing. You should also nourish and hydrate yourself well (avoiding alcohol and stimulants like caffeine in the hours before bed), charge up any fitness wearables, phone and earphones; and go to bed at a good hour – remembering to set your alarm for that early start! You’ll sleep better knowing that everything is ready and that you won’t have to worry about running late.

Race day: the morning

There’s a saying that goes ‘Race day isn’t the challenging part, it’s the reward for the months of hard work while you were training’. There’s truth to this, but with all the training in the world, you’re still not going to coast it!

Set yourself up for success with a good breakfast. Nerves may have put a dampener on your appetite, but you’re going to need the energy. Ideally, consume some low GI carbohydrates (think whole grain breads, cereals, fruit) one to two hours before the race: these foods will release energy at a lower but more consistent and gradual rate than high GI carbs.

During the event

During the event, try to ignore those voices telling you that you are struggling. You’ve done the prep and you know you can do this. Get into a rhythm and stick to it. You may also choose to listen to music or podcasts, or to sing in your head to help minimise your perception of exertion. If you are going to drink any electrolyte drinks, such as Powerade or Gatorade, ensure you also have water to hand to rinse your mouth out afterwards – this will prevent your mouth getting sticky and uncomfortable.

When you finally see the home straight before the finish line, dig deep and turn on the afterburners. By the end of the race your creatine-phosphate levels should be reasonably replenished, so use this to your advantage and power through the last couple of hundred metres and over the finish line, leaving nothing out there on the track.

After the race

Once you’ve finished your race, make sure that you eat something and slowly increase your fluid intake. It may be tempting to down a litre of liquid, but it’s crucial that you don’t drastically increase your fluid intake over a short amount of time. Instead, slowly but regularly drink throughout the day.

Your body will need some time to recover from the event – it’s just run the furthest distance it’s ever run, and thanks to the buzz of event day it’s likely been pushed to do so at a faster pace than in training. Be kind to yourself by giving your amazing body enough recovery time afterwards, and maybe treat it to a massage to say ‘thank you!’.

Once you feel like your body has fully recovered from the marathon, look for another one in your state. Chances are you’ll have just enough time to start the entire process again. More and more regions are adding running festivals to their calendars, so you’ve got a great excuse to be a tourist while adding more medals to your neck!

Good luck with your training – it’ll all be worth it on race day – and the recovery days following.

If you’re passionate about being your BEST on marathon race day, maybe a career in fitness is right for you? You can check out our fitness course options here.



The Australian Institute of Fitness
The Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) is the largest and longest established fitness training organisation in Australia, with dynamic training methods and expert course coaches nationwide - spanning fitness, massage and nutrition. The AIF qualifies more fitness professionals than any other provider in Australia, as well as offering a broad range of continuing education courses (CEC), upskilling resources and partnership programs for existing industry.

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