26/06/2016 7:20 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST

Marathon Runner Lisa Weightman's Secret Weapon For Rio Olympics

42.195 kilometres, 40 winks.

AFP/Getty Images
It's a long, lonely road.

Australia has never won the Olympic marathon. In fact we've only ever won one medal. That was a silver to Lisa Martin way back at Seoul 1988. This is her crossing the line.

Our Olympic officials are hoping to add to our tally in Rio. We're sending the full contingent of six marathon runners to the Rio Olympics. Our blokes will be represented by Liam Adams, Michael Shelley and Scott Westcott. The women are Milly Clark, Jess Trengove and Lisa Weightman.

There are some pretty interesting stories around that sextet of elite endurance runners. Scott Westcott is almost 41 and has been trying to make the Olympics since Sydney 2000. Persistence pays, huh?

But today we're focusing on Lisa Weightman, who's off to her third Olympics. Lisa works full time in a high-powered role as a business consultant for IBM, and is also a full-time mum to her young son Peter.

Fairfax Media

Her life is full and busy. But perhaps a little too busy. Lisa can't ever seem to get enough sleep. Who can, right? Right. Maybe you thought elite athletes maybe had some kind of hidey hole they can crawl into and shut the world out. Wrong.

"The best I can do is six or seven hours a night. Unfortunately in the world of Australian distance running there's no other way than going to work and having a job," Weightman told The Huffington Post Australia.

Lisa works all day and then covers up to 150 km a week around the streets of Melbourne in the evenings with her husband Lachie. While she's out training, a family member generally does the child minding.

Lisa Weightman

Life for Lisa Weightman is a juggle. But starting this week, she's about to embark on a three week training camp that could change everything. Her secret weapon at training camp? No, it's not some fancy schmancy sports science. But it is the greatest body healer of them all.

Sleep. Good old-fashioned shut-eye. And lots and lots and lots and lots of it.

"One thing I can absolutely tell you is I'm not getting enough sleep," Weightman said. "It will be really interesting in my three week training camp. I'm not changing anything else other than an extra 20 or 30 kilometres each week, but I will be getting more rest.

"I know when I'm away and we get an afternoon nap that my training is always better the next day, so I'll be really interested to see how it goes. I'm expecting to see an improvement in performance."

Lisa after finishing third in the women's marathon at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Countless studies show that a good night's sleep helps everything from exam results to physical performance. Those same studies show that extreme sleep deprivation makes you about as efficient as your average drunk.

But what exactly are the effects of sleep on athletic performance. Can they be quantified?

Just over a year ago, Lisa and her employer IBM together created an App known as 'Optimal Me', which sits on an Apple Watch and records and analyses a whole bunch of data about what Lisa eats, how she feels, how much rest she gets, when she trains and so on.

The App is not available to the public right now, although it may be one day. As we said, the effects of sleep have not yet been quantified. Those results are hopefully on the way. But the App has already given giving Lisa all sorts of insights into things like:

  • How eating a higher intake of carbohydrates two days prior to race day will likely enhance her performance.
  • That the optimal time to train is before 7pm (otherwise fatigue affects her training next day).
  • How different weather conditions and air quality have an impact on performance (for example, warm weather only impacts performance after 3 consecutive days of warmer temperatures.

No doubt this all goes a long way towards running a strong marathon. But there's one factor in marathon running that goes beyond all that. Guts. Weightman showed plenty of that when she won silver in the 2016 Houston Marathon in January in a time of 2:27.53, a run which cemented her Rio spot.

Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Weightman back in 2008 training for the Beijing Olympics.

To finish among the medals in Rio, she'll need to slice at least a couple of minutes of her best time. The medalists in the London women's marathon all ran under 2:24. Is it doable?

"I think a time like that is within my range. Whether I can do it in warm weather, we'll see."

One thing in Weightman's favour is the numbers. She came 33rd in Beijing and 17th in London. That was an improvment of 16 places. Guess what happens if she improves 16 places again in Rio?

Three weeks of forty winks could go a long way towards making that happen.

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