When we met Abigail MacFarlane earlier this year as part of #teamCSSM, her goal for 2019 was to complete the Melbourne Marathon. This weekend, Abbie will make her marathon debut.  

This will be my first marathon, so I’m not expecting to nail it on my first attempt! Having said that, I do hope to avoid making too many rookie mistakes, such as going out too fast and not drinking and eating enough, particularly early in the race. I really hope that my first marathon will be a positive experience. My current plan is to run at a pace that feels comfortable and easy for the first 30k. If I still feel good then, I might gradually increase the intensity, but I suspect my perceived effort might increase, but not my pace. I’d love to finish the race feeling strong and passing people! In terms of a time goal, the beauty of running a new distance for the first time is that whatever time I run will be a PB! 

They say that running a marathon is a life-changing experience! It’s made me realise that my body is capable of a lot more than I ever thought possible. Training for a marathon has made me a better runner, a stronger runner, and a more efficient and resilient runner. Running and training for a marathon has always been a huge goal of mine, so arriving at the start line of the marathon injury-free, not overtrained and knowing that I have months of solid training behind me, is incredibly satisfying. Whatever happens on race day, I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey of training for a marathon, and if things don’t go to plan, hopefully, they’ll always be another marathon to run and train for! 

My training programme 

I ended up writing my own 20-week marathon training programme. It was loosely based on a programme I found on the internet written by Steve Moneghetti for intermediate marathoners aiming for a 3:30 marathon at Melbourne. I used the programme as a guide, but modified it depending on how my body was feeling. Nick Bowden, the coach of RunReady, also gave me advice regarding weekend long runs, particularly how to incorporate long runs around Saturday cross country races. 

Monday – Walk (5-6k) AND yoga OR reformer pilates (at Camberwell Sports and Spinal Medicine)

Tuesday – (12k) Interval training with RunReady (including 6km warm up, 5km session, 1km cool down)

Wednesday – Easy recovery run (8-15k distance increased over 20 weeks) often included 2-3k barefoot on grass oval AND strength training at gym 

Thursday – (8-12k) Short interval training on grass oval (either Mona Fartlek or 400s) or easy run with strides or short hill repeats if I was tired AND easy 30min swim in the afternoon while kids had lessons

Friday – Walk (5-6km) AND strength training at gym OR rest

Saturday – Long run (20-32k) and/or cross country race (April-August). I sometimes incorporated a XC race into a long run. Long runs post XC were followed by a 5km walk in the afternoon.

Sunday – Long run or easy recovery run (10-15k)

Total running mileage hovered between 65 and 80km for the last 12 weeks of the programme.

What do you think is your biggest barrier to completing the marathon? 

I think injury is my biggest barrier to completing a marathon. Last year, I started training for the Melbourne Marathon, but early on in my training, I made the mistake of increasing my volume, and intensity of training, simultaneously. The result was a stress reaction in my 2nd left metatarsal and 3 months off running. As a result, I have been nervous about overtraining and injuring myself again.

I think that the biggest mental barrier to my completing the marathon would be my belief that my body is not capable of running high volumes. I was once told by a physio that “your pelvic instability/hypermobility will make long distance running challenging and you should stick to 5-10k races”. However, this advice was given to me not long after the birth of my second child, after I had resumed running and was suffering from ITB issues. Since then I have worked very hard to strengthen the muscles around my hips and I was successfully able to complete a half marathon in 2017.

How are you managing injuries?

I believe that most of my injuries (tight QL, lower back and TFL) stem from poor posture (my pelvis has a tendency to rotate anteriorly if I don’t actively practice good posture) and training load. To counteract all the running I do, and to help improve my posture, I attend a yoga class twice a week, and do specific stretches, foam rolling and exercises daily that have been prescribed to me by Julien Devin (massage therapist at CSSM). I also do two/three strength training sessions a week, where I specifically focus on strengthening the muscles around my pelvis (glutes, hamstrings, quads), core muscles, and upper body.

To avoid overtraining, I have been doing only one speed session/week and either a race or a long run. I have also tried to make sure that after each hard day of training (interval session, race or long run), to have an easier day of training.

I’ve also tried to sleep more and eat more (particularly foods high in calcium) and make sure I don’t train too hard on my recovery days.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Slow down on my easy runs. Do speed/interval sessions hard, but do long runs, and particularly recovery/easy runs, super easy. This is advice that I constantly hear from other experienced runners and coaches and am trying very hard to incorporate into my training.

Consistency is the key to improvement. Be flexible with your training program and listen to your body. Take an easy day/cross train if you’re too tired/sore to run. It’s more important to remain consistent than it is to get a work out completed because it’s on the training plan.

What do you say to people who are starting this sort of training later in life?

Build up your running very slowly. Running is a sport that requires a lot of patience. Being consistent with your running, and avoiding time off running due to injury, will lead to greater improvement than anything else.

Strength training is vitally important as we age, particularly for women. If we are strong, we will be less likely to get injured when we run.

Maintaining flexibility and balance as we age is also incredibly important – yoga is great for this.

As an older runner, I am always looking for ways to reduce the impact of running on my body by choosing to run on softer surfaces like grass and gravel as much as possible.

Although I am training for my first marathon later in my life, I believe that my 45 year old body is better suited to running the marathon distance than it was 15 years ago, when I first started running at 30 years of age. Today, I have 15 years of regular running, cycling and strength training under my belt, including multiple 200km bike rides, many half marathons and a half ironman triathlon. My aerobic engine is easily capable of running for 3.5 hours. Now I just need to train the rest of my body (bones, muscles, tendons etc) to tolerate running for 3.5 hours!

They say that the marathon is just as much of mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. Mentally, I feel better equipped to run a marathon than my younger self. As a mother of three young children, I have mentally and physically overcome the pain of childbirth three times! Surely, that’s got to be good preparation for surviving the last 10km of a marathon!

I’m incredibly grateful for the support and guidance of Nick Bowden and the community of runners at RunReady. I am also immensely grateful for the advice and treatment that I received from Peter Stath, James Unkles and Kelsey Thomas at Camberwell Sports and Spinal Medicine. I’ve learnt so much about running and my body from these wise people. Training for a marathon is a huge time commitment, and a feat I wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the support of my partner, Phil, and children, Andrew, James and Georgia.

From all of us at CSSM, we are incredibly proud of you Abbie and wish you the best of luck this weekend!

Abbie is part of CSSM’s sponsored athlete team for 2019.