So, your autumn half marathon is getting closer and closer. Exciting – but maybe a bit scary for some? Perhaps you’re worried that you haven’t done enough training… or even started yet? Well don’t panic! There’s still time to improve your performance quite a bit before the big day. I’m sure we’ve all been inspired recently by the fantastic athletes at the Olympics, so here are some tips to help you out. I wrote them for the Martin House Hospice Great North Run team but hopefully they can help others too. They’re not aimed at elite athletes, but ordinary people (like me) who just want to do their best and maybe raise some cash too!
The most important thing you can do to help your training is to kit yourself out with the right shoes if you haven’t done so already. Running long distances in shoes that are badly-fitting and/or don’t suit your style will hold you back and could even cause injury. Rather than popping into your nearest discount sportswear store and choosing shoes that are a cool colour or on special offer, pay a visit to a specialist running shop such as Up and Running in York and have your gait analysed. Yes, it’s a bit embarrassing running on the in-store treadmill, but the guys there are experts at matching shoes to people and can also dish out great advice on all aspects of running. Go during the week when it’s a bit less busy if you feel self-conscious!
Think about why you signed up for the run. Is your aim just to have fun and raise some money or to get the best time you possibly can? Your own personal goals will dictate how much training you want to do. If you’re going to wear fancy dress and walk round with a collecting bucket, putting in lots of miles and sprinting up hills won’t need to play a huge part in your training! But if you want to push yourself and/or achieve a particular time you’ll need to put some effort in to do yourself justice.
If you’re up for some proper training it’s good to have some structure to it. If you only have a vague idea of when you might run a couple of times in the week it’s more likely to get pushed into the background than if you have a schedule. I tend to use the Bupa one recommended by the GNR, but there’s also a good one at Runner’s World or on many other websites. Pick one that you can personalise to suit your ability and that suits your lifestyle and the amount of time you have to devote to training. I find that it helps to write training sessions in my diary in red, then they’re harder to ignore!
Training isn’t all about running as many miles as possible. As well as one run where you gradually increase your distance each week, it’s also good to do a couple of shorter, faster sessions where you can do work such as tempo (incorporating periods of running faster than your comfortable pace), sprints and hills. The long runs build up your stamina and the shorter ones make you stronger. Hopefully on race day the two come together! I’d really recommend doing some hills as there’s a hill in the GNR at about mile 11 that came as a bit of an unwelcome surprise to my tired legs the first time I did it!
Training well will improve your running, but don’t overdo it, as being injured will only set you back. If you do pick up an injury don’t be tempted to carry on regardless – rest for a couple of days, then see how you feel. If it’s gone, carry on; if not, you may wish to consider seeing a sports therapist. Stretching really helps to avoid injury especially if (like me) you aren’t exactly a spring chicken! It’s good to do dynamic stretching before you run and static stretching afterwards – you can Google to find examples of these. If you feel unwell, don’t force yourself to train; your body can’t fight germs and recover from training at the same time, so you’ll only prolong your illness. Rest as much as possible until you feel better. If you train too hard you’re actually more likely to get ill because your immune system is temporarily lowered when your body is concentrating on recovery.
You’ll find that you perform much better if you eat and sleep well. Think of your body as a performance car – you wouldn’t put diesel in a Ferrari would you?! The better you feed it, the more efficiently it works. If you’re a bit overweight it’s a good opportunity to lose a few pounds so you’ll have a bit less to carry around the course! When you get to the hardest weeks of your training (probably weeks 8-10) try to get as much sleep as you can too, as this is when your body recovers best. If you drink quite a bit of alcohol you’ll find it helps to reduce this, as its after-effects linger in your body long after you’ve stopped feeling hung over. I’m not going to be a spoilsport and say never have a drink, just be moderate or time it around your running schedule – so that’s a glass of wine on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday for me! And drink plenty of water too, as dehydration can have a dramatic effect on physical performance; your wee should be a pale straw colour.
Research has claimed that listening to music can improve your sporting performance by as much as 20%. I’m not sure if that’s true for me, but it certainly helps, and if one of your favourite tunes comes on just as the going gets tough it certainly does give you a boost! So if you haven’t tried it before, give it a go.
I’m now on week seven of my twelve week Great North Run schedule and it seems to be going OK, fingers crossed. I’d love to link up on Twitter with other GNR Tweeps, so do give me a shout if you’re out there! If you’d like to sponsor me and help out a great cause please visit my Just Giving page. Have a great weekend, especially if you’re running!