Rugby legend Drew Mitchell's tips on running your first marathon

Even if you've been running for years, making the switch to long-distance running can be challenging and daunting. While there's a big difference between punching out a fast five kilometres at your local Parkrun to withstanding hours of physical stress and mind games during a marathon – becoming an endurance runner is achievable.

Just ask former Wallabies player Drew Mitchell. The sports star recently swapped his Rugby boots for running shoes, and is lining up for his first domestic half marathon at The Canberra Times Australian Running Festival later this month.

A  new challenge

Mitchell found his long-distance feet late last year, participating in the New York Marathon for charity. Before this, most of his Rugby training involved shorter distance interval running.

"When I retired from professional Rugby I needed to find something to commit to and work towards to stay fit," says Mitchell.

"I was looking for something that was going to challenge me, but that was also achievable if I put in the effort.

"Once I decided to do a marathon, I thought I may as well pick the most well-known because depending on how my body responded to it, it may have been my last," adds Mitchell.

Solo sucks

Mitchell says the hardest part of transitioning from Rugby to running is training solo. "The long, lonely training sessions are mentally tough, but the experience I have in being in uncomfortable places - both physically and mentally - and continuing to push through, is invaluable when it comes to long-distance running."

Mitchell hopes to cross the half marathon finish line in under two hours, and says the toughest thing about endurance running is the voice in your head telling you to walk.

"When the going gets tough, I stay motivated by engaging with fellow runners and the supporters," says Mitchell.

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"Connecting with other people distracts you from the monotony of running, and the amazing atmosphere fills you with positivity to keep going."  

"At the New York Marathon, you're encouraged to write your name in large letters on your shirt so supporters can cheer for you by name. That really helps when someone you don't know calls out your name," add Mitchell.

Tune in to your training

It's said that the hardest part of a marathon is getting to the start line. Many wanna-be marathoners don't make it to this point because of injury. When motivation is waning, draw on your preparation as you run through the race. Remind yourself of all the kilometres you have clocked up. Think about all the early morning training sessions and sweaty runs you've completed to get to this point.

Listen out

If you train with headphones, then tune in to your favourite music, podcast or audiobook to draw inspiration. Ahead of the race, create a motivating playlist that considers your likely mood at key points during the run.

Refocus

If things start to go south, try to focus on something other than how you feel. A good trick is to spend one kilometre thinking about all the things your grateful for - from the aid station up ahead; to the hot shower waiting for you after the finish line. Another technique is to lock on to what's directly in front of you. Tell yourself to keep running to the next tree, the next traffic light, the building up ahead or the bridge in the distance. With each object you run past you'll get a little kick of adrenaline to keep you going.

Watch your technique

When you get tired, your running form can start to go pear-shaped. This means you'll be running less efficiently, and will fatigue faster. Worse still, you could injure yourself.  Focus on fine-tuning your form as you run. Remind yourself to have relaxed shoulders, arms bent at about 90 degrees and light, fast foot turnover. Every time you pass a kilometre marker, check in with your form.  

Walk if you need to

Finishing a marathon is a massive achievement and if it means you must walk for some of it then do it. There is no shame in a brisk walk until you're ready to go again. Just don't quit.

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

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