Behind the Scenes of a Marathon Win

Behind the Scenes of a Marathon Win

Race Report

Three years ago I weighed 55kg more than I do now and had no idea a running event existed at the International Regatta Centre. Even if I did there is no way I would have ever considered entering it. It is amazing how quickly you can turn your life around and find joy in things you never dreamed of!

Western Sydney Marathon was my 5th marathon in the past 11 months. I can’t believe I have completed one marathon and to have just completed my fifth is mind-blowing to me. In that time I have managed to take over 30 minutes off my marathon time and 5 minutes off in the last 2 months alone. Having not run a step voluntarily for the first 38 years of my life, these things are quite an achievement.  I have a school friend who constantly asks me  ‘do you ever seriously ponder how you never had an inkling you could do these things’? I do, constantly! I am proof that you just don’t know what you may be capable of or enjoy until you try.

“Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try”

I started running 2 and a half years ago as a challenge issued by my husband after losing around 45kg. I think he now regrets this challenge after waiting around with our children at the finish line of many running events! Running helped me to lose a further 10kg and in the process, I fell in love with it.

I started out by walking 5km from home and every day attempted to make it back by running without stopping. I can still remember the excitement of the day I finally made it all the way home.  From there I started timing myself and attempted run faster than the day before. I had no idea if the speed I was running at was fast or slow. I was just amazed I could run and to be honest still am.

parkrun to marathon

I read an article in my local newspaper a month or so into running about Lawson parkrun and decided with much nervousness to go and try it. To my amazement I was second female across the line and wondered if I was actually ‘ok’ at this running business. From there I started ‘training’ on my own for my first half marathon.  It is was at this event I saw a group of runners from UP Coaching and went to my first ever UP Coaching session the week following my half marathon with the encouragement of friend Anne Moss and the rest is history!

I entered my first marathon in July 2017 at the suggestion of my coach Jo Brischetto who thought I would suit the distance. I went into that marathon without telling anyone other than those closest to me that I was running it. It was Jo’s suggestion just to run it without expectation and purely for the joy of just running. I was terrified I wouldn’t make the distance having not ever run anywhere near 42kms. Happily, I did make it and enjoyed it immensely. I remember Jo telling me not to make a decision about running the second one until after a few days after my first as it would take a while to process. I called her the second I finished saying ‘I can’t wait to do this again’. I feel exactly the same way now after Saturday’s Western Sydney Marathon.

Leigha is currently coached by Coach Jo Brishetto, Jo was a respective winner at Western Sydney Marathon taking out the 5k Race.

I was excited to see the date change for the Western Sydney Marathon to June for 2018. Having the venue close to home and knowing it well made it an ideal event for me to run my 5th marathon and attempt running a sub 3 hour time. Being June with the prospect of cool perfect weather was very appealing.

In the weeks leading up to the marathon, I did many laps of the International Regatta Centre as part of my training. I was met with very strong headwinds on my last 30km training run which made for a very tough day out. This run knocked my confidence greatly but in hindsight, I actually think this run helped me prepare mentally for the winds on Saturday which didn’t bother me as much as they did in this run.

The day before the race I was feeling quite apprehensive about running as I knew it was going to be windy and did wonder if it was worth it. I spoke to my coach Jo on the phone to go through a plan for the race (while I emptied the dishwasher and she did her groceries). She told me that I WAS going run in the morning. She told me that if it was windy that this would be just another training run and a chance to gain valuable experience. Speaking to Jo before a race is important to me as her wise words of wisdom help me mentally. I hear the words she says to me while out on the course and knows exactly what to do if faced with challenges out there. Jo knows my running and what goes through my head better than anyone else (poor Jo). She knows what I am most likely going to think and do while out there and what to say to turn that thinking around.

In the weeks leading up to the marathon, I did many laps of the International Regatta Centre as part of my training.

Race Day

I started race day with my usual race day breakfast – overnight oats, a banana and a coffee. I have to admit I wasn’t really feeling like I wanted to run anywhere and the idea of running 42kms was not at the time filling me with excitement. Walking around once I arrived I saw the welcoming face of fellow UP Coaching Athlete Collette who made me feel a little more comfortable. Before some races, you just feel ready to go but for some reason, Saturday wasn’t one of those days for me.


After my customary 5 trips to the bathroom, I did a short warm up with Brendan who told me not to focus on the wind but to just ‘race smart’. Jo and I had discussed a non-windy and windy race plan and I knew what to do. My plan was to attempt to stay within the pace range of 4:10 – 4:15 and if I was going through a challenging period to pull back a little to recover before challenging my body to push again. If it was windy my plan was just to do the best I could and run to feel. On the day I did a combination of both race plans. I tried my best to stay in my desired pace range for as long as I could. I let the other females run out in front of me knowing it was important to stick to my plan and ‘race smart’. I knew if I did this I would have a chance of catching them as the race progressed.

Once I started running I felt good. I ran the first 21.1 km in 88 minutes staying within my planned pace range. I was lucky enough to run most of this with Coach Stephane and Michael by my side. The power in running together and supporting each other is priceless and really added to the great day I had out on course. After the first half battling the wind on the far straight, my pace started to drop. The words ‘race smart’ stayed with me and I tried to do that for the rest of the race. My focus moved from time to holding my position in the race, which thankfully I was able to do.

I have been lucky enough to be  2nd  female in 3 of my other 4 marathons but there was nothing quite like crossing the line as 1st female and at my local event. Sharing the podium with Brendan is also a huge honour.

My nutrition and body held up well throughout the race. I didn’t ‘hit the wall’ at any point. I use Shotz gels and had 3 during the race. The first after an hour of running and then two more 45 minutes apart. I also sipped water at each aid station after the hour mark. I always make sure one of the gels has caffeine in it and use it second. This has worked for me in all of my marathons. Previously I had been using gels every 45 minutes but stretched the first one out this time with success.

I was initially concerned about running laps but it proved to be perfect for me. I loved knowing exactly what was coming up and when, where the drink stations were and exactly how to plan my nutrition around them which you often can’t do on other courses. The lap course also allows you to see so many people out there and offer them support and have them support you. The bonus of seeing friends and family 6 or more times around the course is also a great confidence boost. The 6 laps passed surprisingly quickly!

For me even though each marathon has gotten faster and the intensity greater I am finding each one easier and learning so much about the process. My endurance during the marathon is increasing and my recovery is getting better each time. I didn’t run my sub 3 hour time on Saturday but did learn a whole lot more about the process of running a marathon and got that step closer.  When I set the goal of running a sub 3 marathon I wasn’t confident it was something I could ever achieve but Saturday has proven to me it IS possible.

I can’t wait to run the Western Sydney Marathon again next year and highly recommend the course to anyone thinking of doing their first race or trying for that PB across any of the distances.

A very huge thank you to everyone on course for all of your amazing cheering and encouragement and to all of the volunteers. I am very lucky to be part of the amazing UP Coaching community. Without UP Coaching I probably would still run but certainly wouldn’t run the way I do or with the enjoyment it brings me.

My coach is THE best! Jo Brischetto constantly says it is all me and I know I do the physical running but the work she has done on my mental strength and self-belief is incredible. I appreciate everything Jo has done for me in the past year. I thank her for making me the runner I am and a better human.

UP Coaching Marathon runners at the start of the Race

Coaching buddies in Sync

I ran the first half in 88 Mins

I used Shots gels in the Race

The finishing chute was a sight for sore eyes

Female Marathon Winner 2018 Western Sydney Marathon.

Brendan Davies thank you for creating the amazing UP Coaching support network. Your encouragement, belief in me and advice is priceless.

To my incredibly patient husband and children who let me run most days and wait around for hours at running events thank you (thanks also Western Sydney Marathon for the jumping castle and entertainment which kept them occupied while they waited)!

Marathon Winners

Brendan Davies and Leigha Wills 2018

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  • Dianne Sabbadin Posted June 10, 2018 4:51 pm

    Leigha thank you for sharing your journey. Your wOrds haVe inspired me to believe in ‘me’ and make a difference in engaging a coacH to better what i already love to do xx

  • Releen Walker Posted February 1, 2020 9:31 pm

    Amazing lEIgha! Thank you for sharing your Journey…. very

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