13 July 2020

Liz Yelling’s marathon tips

March 20, 2009

It’s that time of year again, when more runners than ever are out pounding the streets, clocking up the miles in time for the marathon season. Here Liz Yelling shares her top tips for Sportsister’s readers.

Thirty four year old Liz Yelling is one of the UK’s best long distance runners. She finished 26th in the Beijing Olympics marathon and finished ninth in last year’s Flora London marathon. She’s expecting her first child in June so will be watching this one from the road side but it hasn’t stopped her sharing her passion and training advice with us, to help those of you who are running a marathon this year.

Why do you love marathons?

I love them because there’s always such a big buzz in the lead up to the marathon. It’s always such a massive event. It’s also like you’re running along in a festival and I think it’s a really great challenge for each individual that takes part in that race. It’s not an easy challenge; it’s difficult, but if you put the right things in place you make it a lot easier for yourself.

Do you have a favourite marathon?

I love the London marathon obviously because it’s on home turf and you get the crowd support behind you. Hearing people call your name when you’re running along, and if you’ve seen your friends and family, it is really motivating. I also love the Chicago marathon just because it is a lovely flat fast course and Chicago’s a great city.

Are there any that you haven’t done that you would still like to?

I’ve never raced in the New York marathon. I’ve paced to half way but I’ve never actually done the whole marathon so I would love to go to New York and do that one.

What motivates you with your training?

My primary motivation is to be the best that I can be and I still know that there is more in me so that’s why I still get out of bed everyday and stick on my running shoes. It’s also knowing that my competitors are outside training and if I want to be as good as them or better than them then I have to do the same.

Do you, like the rest of us, have days when you don’t really feel like it?

Of course! When it’s wet and windy outside and it’s raining and you’d really prefer to sit on the couch. But I know if I don’t get myself out the door then I’m never going to achieve my goals. It’s always taking those first steps that are the hardest and sometimes I do need to get hold of myself by the scruff of the neck and drag myself out. But it’s never as bad as it seems and you always feel that buzz when you come back from a run.

What are good ways to vary my training to ensure I don’t get bored?

Never run the same route every single day. Make sure you add variety of terrain into your training as well so long as it’s safe. Change the paces that you run at in your training, so you don’t just run the same every single day. Run very easy for some of your runs and then try and push a few boundaries in other areas of your runs.

It might be you run at marathon pace for some of your runs or maybe just a little bit quicker but only for short sections of time and then have a little bit of a recovery.

What tips do you have for our readers that are running a marathon for the first time this year?

If it’s your first time just put a plan in place between now and the marathon and make sure you really build up on your training progressively. Don’t try and do it all in the first week. I would really recommend that you get to know your own marathon pace – there is nothing worse than setting off too fast on race day. This will make the race a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

What do you recommend marathon runners should eat before the race, and how long before the start should they eat?

Your eating should start the day before because it takes almost 24 hours for you to top your glycogen stores up. Make sure the day before the race you have a really healthy breakfast full of carbohydrates such as toast and cereals.

Followed by a good lunch, pastas are great or rice dishes, and then you have another meal in the evening but maybe a slightly lighter one. You don’t have to over eat but just graze on high carbohydrate foods.

Then in the morning I would have a light breakfast and something that is easily digestible, four to two hours before the event, like toast or a bagel or some people like to have some cereals. But whatever you do you must practise before in your training.   

How much fluid should a runner be taking on during the race or does this vary from person to person?

It does vary from person to person and again you must practise in your training. You will know if you are hydrated or not because your urine should be clear to pale each day.

It is very important to drink from the first stage in the marathon and drinking a sports drink will help you get the right amount of electrolytes and fluids into your body. They are stationed regularly in the marathon. There is no point in waiting until you are thirsty because it is too late and you will start to suffer.

Would you recommend isotonic drinks or gels?

Definitely. You need to take on energy in the marathon because your body only has enough stores to last you to about the 20 mile mark. So it’s really important to take on the energy drinks or carry some gels with you that you can take during the race.

What distances do you need to be running in training – two months before? One month before? 3 weeks before? The week before?

With eight weeks to go you should have begun to build your long runs up to about two hours to two and half hours. It is going to vary on your ability or how frequently you run but your long runs should be the key focus to your weekly plan.

Four weeks before should be the longest run you do. From four weeks onwards your long run should start reducing and I would not recommend you run any longer than three and a half hours at a low intensity or 20 miles which ever is the least especially if you are a first time marathon runner. It’s about an accumulation of training rather than a one off training run.

Three weeks before I would recommend you run around about two hours for your longest run. You need to really start putting the energy back in the bank and it takes a long time to recover from some of these long runs that you do. You should really start cutting back and maybe add a bit more pace into it. So do a shorter run but a bit quicker.

The final week do no more than 60-70 minutes maximum and at a very low intensity.

And in the week following the race would you recommend doing any runs?

I would recommend people take at least three to four days off. I personally take seven days off but some people choose to do some light swimming which can be really beneficial to get some oxygen into those legs and helping your recovery. But I wouldn’t recommend that you run for at least 3-5 days.

How do you ensure you are mentally prepared as well as physically?

I think it’s about a process that you start now. In the lead up to your marathon at the end of every week, it’s a really good tip to review your week and pull out three positives from that week and write them in a training diary.

So when you’re stood on that start line you have a whole bank of positive moments that you can draw on and you can really pull on those in the race to combat the negative feelings that may enter your head at some points during the race.

After the race what is the best way to cool down?

I usually find I can’t do anything after a marathon because I can’t even walk! The best way to cool down after a marathon is to get some food inside you and drink to really help your recovery and to do a gentle walk. That is probably the best way – if you are still able to walk!

Louise Hudson, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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