Marathon Training Tips

Advice, Fitness, Nutrition // Emma-Kate Dobbin // 27 November 2013

Marathon Training Tips

Our resident Running Specialist, Greta Truscott, recently travelled to Europe with her husband Chris (and their 18-month-old son). While they were there, Greta and Chris took part in the Berlin Marathon – and Greta wants to share how they did it! Here are some of the nutrition and training tips she used to make sure she was in peak mental and physical form for the whole 42.195km… and beyond!

Nutrition leading into the marathon

Distance runners tend to have a diet consisting of:

  • 70% CARBS
  • 20%+ PROTEIN
  • <10% FAT

In the days before a marathon, you should be tapering your energy demands. If you are doing this, you will be able to obtain sufficient carbs from your usual diet without having to carb load. The day before the Berlin Marathon, I ate very plain food. Breakfast: Oats and a banana, Morning Tea: A banana, Lunch: Rice and fish and Dinner: Rice, tuna, corn, and a tomato-based sauce

I chose food that was high in carbs and low in fibre, for lots of energy and a minimal chance of stomach upset, during the race. And, of course, I had plenty of water, throughout the day.

Training in the Week Before the Marathon:

  • Saturday / Sunday – tapered 12km run
  • Monday – easy 10 minute warm up jog, 3-4km of marathon pace running, 10 minute cool down jog, then stretch and self massage
  • Tuesday – short walk and light core exercises
  • Wednesday and / or Thursday – easy 20min jog
  • Friday – stretch and self massage
  • Saturday – rest
  • Sunday – marathon race day
Greta running in a beautiful park in Copenhagen

Greta on a run, in the week leading up to the Berlin Marathon

Marathon Day Preparation

Marathon day arrived. Everyone was buzzing with excitement and trying to keep relaxed, positive and focused. I had breakfast two hours before the marathon.

Race Day Breakfast: Oats with honey and low fat milk, a banana, a cup of tea and water.

Inside of one hour before the start time, I only sipped on water. I also made sure I went to the loo again as close to the start as possible, so I wouldn’t have to go during the race. My husband and I stretched and sat down to conserve energy close to the start line. With the start fast approaching, I tried to keep my pacing plan in focus.

Strategy During the Marathon

Before I knew it, the starter gun was fired and I had just begun something I had been preparing for, for years. In the midst of 40, 000 runners, 800 skaters plus wheel chair athletes, 1, 000,000 spectators and 80 bands along the course, spirits were high.

I was feeling great and on sub 3 hr pace at half way. Setting a realistic goal, I hoped for low 3 hrs based on my training, but secretly thought sub 3 could be possible and I wanted to achieve the best debut I possibly could.

My main strategy, during the marathon was to focus on:

  • Technique
  • Breathing
  • Drinking a few sips of water at every station
  • Using energy gels at 10km, 20km, 28km, 35km
  • Keeping pace

Sports drinks: If the weather turned out to be hot or humid I would have trained with the same sports drink on my long runs as the one that would be on offer during the race.

This would replace electrolytes lost in sweat, which helps to avoid cramping. I generally like to alternate between water and sports drink at each drink stop.

From about 26km, I noticed my quads and right hip starting to burn. I realised that it wasn’t from a loss of electrolytes, but from the pounding of the running. I concentrated on good technique & breathing to manage these areas and stop them from turning into cramps.

Soon, the Brandenburg Gates appeared, signalling there was 300m to go. So with a good kick over the remaining distance, I closed out what was a completely enjoyable (don’t get me wrong – HARD) but satisfying debut marathon.

Celebrating post marathon

Greta and Chris, celebrating with friends, after the Berlin Marathon

I was so pleased to have crossed the finish line in 3.04.20. My hubby completed this, his 20th marathon, in 2.46 and, while it wasn’t close to his PB of 2.29 from years earlier, he was happy to cross the finish line. The marathon world record was broken that day by Geoffrey Kipsang in 2.03.23. It was awesome to be a part of this marathon!

Post marathon recovery, elation and celebration

Soon after the finish, I had some high carb, high protein snacks – fruit, nuts, and a muesli bar. After that, I enjoyed a soothing shower, self massage and a lie down before heading out for a late, hearty lunch. I even had one beer to celebrate. Be sure to hydrate with water first if you imbibe alcohol, and don’t go overboard with it, or it will hamper your recovery.

1-2 weeks following a marathon, rest up and take on some:

  • Easy swims
  • Gentle biking
  • Upper body and core work
  • Self massage
  • Stretching
  • Walking

Your legs need to recover from the huge impact of the marathon, so only do some very short (20 minute) runs if you feel up to it. About 6 days later, I did about 10 minutes of easy, soft sand running.

Greta soft sand running in Barcelona

Are you training for a marathon? Or thinking about getting into distance running? Let us know if you have any questions or suggestions!



  1. Susan Reply

    Hi there, sounds lilke a great race!! I have just signed up for my third (non sequential) round of 12 WBT, mainly to try to control my food during marathon training. I did my first marathon last year and planned to do my second this month but suffered an injury about a month ago so had to push my plans out to an October marathon. The reason I came back to 12WBT was that for the first half of this year I have been on a pretty rigorous running program, but found, although I was putting in the miles (and eventually got injured) I was also putting on weight – not the idea!! So when I saw Michelle had done a marathon training program I thought it sounded like the perfect combo. But my question is – I have picked marathon training and 1200 calories (I am usually around 70kgs, now at 74 but my dream is to get to 65 and I am usually pretty successful when I stick to 1200), do you think that is realistic or should I at least be on 1500? on my last training program they advised between 2500-3000 per day (around 70-90kms per week), but I found myself gaining weight and feeling heavier. Do you really need to eat more? I have always assumed if I ate all the calories I burnt I wouldn’t lose weight, but with three kids and a full time job am also really conscious of maintaining energy levels and not falling in a heap mid afternoon! I know this will unfold a bit as the prgoram goes on but I get a bit OCD about my training/ food and was just wondering if you had any advice on this?

    1. Greta Truscott Reply

      Hi Susan,

      It’s Greta here the running specialist on the 12WBT Support Crew. Thank you, awesome to hear from you. In training for a marathon we recommend 2000 calories per day to promote strong energy levels and performance through receiving adequate nutrients. You are super busy with 3 kids, a full time job and marathon training so the nutrition will be all the more important. If you find that you are not losing weight on this amount of calories, then reduce your calories a fraction, particularly on your easier or non-running days i.e. to 1500-1800 calories per day.

      Good luck and we would love to hear how you are going.

      Greta Truscott

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