A journalist once described Michael Shelley as “a rib cage with a beating heart”. SPIKES noticed a pair of legs on him too, as did the world when he repelled the African challenge to strike gold in the Commonwealth Games marathon in Glasgow. We got him to lift the lid on the perfect prep ahead of a championship marathon.

Plan, plan, plan

Any successful marathon assault demands an organised and structured approach over many months, and Shelley is no different.

“The planning often starts about 12 months before [a championship marathon] where I will sit down with my coach, Dick Telford, review my last marathon and talk about where I can improve before getting ready for the next marathon,” he explains.

“We’ll then put in place a plan that will, hopefully, be on the money come race day.”

Prepare for the conditions

Championship marathons are often held in the summer months, which means running in the heat. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, runners faced a combination of oppressive heat and humidity.

“Planning for Delhi we knew it would be hot,” says Shelley. “I live on the Gold Coast [Australia] so these are usually the conditions I’d face at home.

“I did a pre-camp in Cairns [northern Queensland], where it is very hot, for some pre-race acclimatisation, so when I got to Delhi it [the heat and humidity] wasn’t going to have as big an impact as it could have.”

Michael Shelley ()

Shelley's training saw him revel in the New Delhi heat, bagging marathon silver for his first Commonwealth medal

Have a good coach

For the last 12 years Shelley has been guided by Australian distance running guru and sports science leader Dick Telford. It has proved the perfect combination.

“I have so much respect for him and what he’s done,” says the Commonwealth marathon champion. “Words can’t describe how lucky I am to be one of his athletes.

“The big thing is his calming influence. If I have a little niggle or if something is not going right he always remains positive. He’s definitely helped me on my journey and I’m very thankful for it”.

Consistency

There are no short cuts when training for a marathon. Only consistent periods of uninterrupted training will reap the best rewards.

“I’ve been very fortunate [when preparing for marathons] that I’ve not had too much time off due to injuries in my marathon career,” says Shelley. “I’ve been very lucky in that regard.”

Minor milestones

Training for a marathon many months in advance is psychologically demanding. To sharpen his focus Shelley sets targets along his training journey, often in the form of other races.

“We’ll have races built into the programme which forms key milestones,” he says. “The goal with these races is always to help me prepare for the end goal.”

Michael Shelley ()

Gold in Glasgow was a pretty big milestone

Freshen up

In the build-up to a big marathon it is critical to rein in the training and be in peak condition for the big day.

“It is important in that final couple of weeks to not run that couple of extra kilometres on training runs,” he says, “The body starts to feel that little bit better and more springy. I know then I’m ready to go.”

Pre-race routine

Shelley likes to keep everything normal in the final stage of preparation and that includes keeping his nutritional intake and his sleep patterns consistent on the eve of a race.

“The night before the technical meeting I receive my race number and I like to go back to the room and put the race number on my singlet, so I can get up on race day and be as relaxed as possible,” Shelley explains.

“The night before I might have spaghetti bolognese and on the race morning two pieces of toast with honey and a coffee. As for sleeping the night before a race, I don’t do anything I’m not used to doing. So I don’t go to bed at 8pm just to get that couple of extra hours of sleep because I normally go to bed at 10pm.”