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By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert


Can you imagine running 42 kilometres in 4 hours? That’s a very long distance and a very long time. Months or years of training are required for this kind of running race. The marathon runners prepare themselves to endure pain while staying determined and focused. When running for four or five hours, your feet hurt, your legs hurt, your arms hurt, everything hurts! But, withstanding the physical pain is not the biggest challenge. If you chat with a marathon runner, they'll often tell you that the biggest challenge is the mental one. Many runners talk about the 90/10 approach. To explain, “90/10” means that 90% of marathon running is mental, and 10% is physical. The hours of running and the extreme pain take a strong mental will to overcome.  

To be in shape for a full marathon you need years of fitness and training. Runners have to be disciplined by training almost every day and running hundreds of kilometres a month. They have to eat right, stretch right, have the right gear, and have the right mindset. They also have to plan their days around training time and plan their year around races. If you want to simply finish a marathon, that will take a lot of work. If you want to do well and compete, this will be a major part of your life! 

I’ve run marathons for many years. One day while running I had a thought. I realized that training for a marathon is very similar to preparing for the IELTS test. Both the race and the test take 1000s of hours to prepare for, take very hard work, and are equally a mental & physical challenge.   

In this blog, I’d like to offer you a few tips I’ve learned from running marathons that can be applied to the IELTS journey.  

Every Day, Every Minute

Drawing of a calendar monthly page in front of a clock.

If you want success, aim for your goal every day. Even if it’s small or just a few minutes, it will help. During race season, I would always take the stairs at work – no elevator. I would stretch during my coffee breaks. And if I only had 15 minutes or a run in the morning, I would never cancel. IELTS is the same. All these little things add up. For example, if you have the chance to chat with someone for 5 minutes in English, take it. If you have 10 minutes to study vocabulary while riding the bus, study vocabulary. If you’re watching a movie with subtitles in your language, turn them off and watch it in English. These are small choices, but they can lead to big results. 

No Pain, No Gain

Training for a marathon is difficult and painful. Imagine going outside on a cold, rainy day. Then imagine running up and down a big steep hill. You’re cold, you’re wet, and your legs hurt. It’s much easier to quit and stay at home in your living room. However, staying on the sofa will get you nowhere. You need to do these difficult things to improve.  

Now let’s think about IELTS. Imagine your friends want to hang out and play video games. You have a choice - spend time with your friends and game, or study English for your IELTS. It’s easy to choose video games, but it takes a champion to study instead. Don’t get sidetracked. Stick to your schedule. 

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

A runner in the ready position

One of the most important things to do when preparing for a marathon is to eat enough and eat well. Lots of fruit, vegetables, and proteins help your body repair and grow strong after each workout. Marathon runners also have lots of oxygen going to their brains because they run so much. These two things make both their body and their mind healthy. Same with IELTS. Make sure that you’re eating right, resting a lot, and getting exercise. A healthy brain and healthy body will learn and perform much better.

Visualization & Goal Setting

Before running 42km, it really helps to close your eyes and imagine yourself running each kilometre of the route. See yourself running up the mountain at 10km, running past the river at 20km, running by your family at 30km, and crossing the finish line at 42km. Almost every top athlete in the world will tell you that visualizing your success will help you achieve your goal. So, when you’re preparing for the test, see yourself writing an amazing essay, having a great conversation with the examiner, understanding the listening well, and reading the test article easily. See yourself doing your best on all parts of the test.


Marathon running and IELTS preparation are very different activities, but they share the same mindset - train hard every day, be healthy, and visualize success. There is no “easy” way to run 42km. There is no easy way to get a high rating in IELTS. But you are strong, and you can do it. So, what are you waiting for? Go get some running shoes and start studying!