Planning to run a spring marathon? Liz McColgan-Nuttall insists getting some cross country in your legs will have you in shape for 26.2 miles

As the year starts to wind towards a close, it’s only natural for the mind to start focusing on what’s next and which challenges to set for 2017.

Taking on a spring marathon will be at the top of many runners’ lists – and Liz McColgan-Nuttall is no different. In fact, the former 10,000m world champion and London Marathon winner has begun preparations for the mission she will carry out next May – running the inaugural Stirling Scottish Marathon.

Race day may still be some months off but McColgan-Nuttall insists there really is no time like the present when it comes to getting in shape for a successful run over 26.2 miles.

With that in mind, she doesn’t prescribe logging big mileage on the tarmac. Instead, the Olympic silver medallist and double Commonwealth champion would recommend heading for the nearest cross-country event to ensure the perfect long-term marathon preparation.

“It (cross country) would be a good stepping-stone (to marathon running). Cross country is the backbone of endurance running,” says the Great Marathon Series ambassador. “It gives you the strength in the legs, it gives you the drive that you need and it’s all very akin to the kind of running that you need to be a marathon runner.

“Cross country is the backbone of endurance running”

“Most marathon runners will come from a good cross-country background. Very few distance runners I know that went on to be champions didn’t come from doing the mud running from a young age.

“It uses all the muscles in your feet and your legs – everything that you need to use, it strengthens. That’s why it’s important to do cross country – especially for endurance runners.”

McColgan-Nuttall had her share of success when it came to cross country, but she admits she never purposely trained for the season. That’s largely because staying off the road was permanently at the heart of her training.

“Cross country has always been what endurance running is to me,” she adds. “It made me the runner that I was. I always trained on golf courses – around the Carnoustie and Dundee area (her home town) it’s all golf courses.

“I was always up and down on the grass because that was available to me.

“You’ve got to be careful of the impact (marathon) training will have on your legs and people forget that there are a loads of green areas all over Britain where you could really benefit from doing fartleks, hill running and barefoot running, which I did a lot.

“Cross country has always been what endurance running is to me”

“There are so many elements that you can do other than just getting on a road or getting on a treadmill and running for two hours. Because that’s not what marathon running is. When you do a marathon, you’re running anything from two-and-a-half hours to five hours and you’ve got to prepare your body for that.

“Cross country enables you to do that – with a bit of a safety element involved too because it is on a softer surface.

“It is challenging but it really does develop good strength and the stabilising muscles which help marathon running.

“If you were to sit down and say ‘what do I need to do in a gym to replicate that?’ then the experts would tell you ‘you need to do squats, you need to do lunges…’ well why don’t you just go and run up a hill instead?

“Cross country conditions are different from year to year and season to season, so there’s always something that challenges the body and I always think that, no matter who you are, you always have some sort of weakness that you have got to try and strengthen.

“I’m a big stickler for – anyone that takes up running, strengthen the structure before you run. If you don’t do any strengthening work, you’ll just get injured and you just don’t last. So, for me, cross country ticks that box as well.”

» Want to join Liz McColgan-Nuttall in taking on the Stirling Scottish Marathon on Sunday May 21? Visit Entry closes January 17