Well, the great day is nearly here – Great North Run day that is! I had my last long run (12 miles) yesterday and I don’t mind admitting my legs are pretty tired from training right now, so I’m glad to be finally tapering! I did the GNR (my first half marathon) for the first time two years ago. I’d never run that far before, so it was a bit of an unknown quantity and a massive learning curve for me. I did quite a few things wrong… like writing my mile split times on my arm in biro; unfortunately they sweated off after about two miles because it was a warm day (I didn’t have a Garmin back then!). I over-hydrated before the start, so had to stop for a pee behind a hedge after about a mile (but I wasn’t the only one!). At one point I lost the plot and couldn’t remember whether or not I’d passed the eight mile marker (I hadn’t – what a disappointment!). When I passed through the Bupa Boost Zone at mile ten I dropped all the Jelly Babies someone kindly handed to me because I didn’t want to stop running – which was a shame because at about 11½ miles I hit a bit of a wall and had to walk for a little while. At the end I was just pleased to be still standing! Even though my husband forgot where we were supposed to meet up and it took us ages to find each other I still loved the whole experience. But I loved it more last year when I knew what I was in for!

So here are a few tips that I hope might help other first-timers and non-elites like me. I learned most of them the hard way so you don’t have to! Feel free to let me know if you have any other good tips to share.

If you haven’t done any training it’s too late to start now. You can’t make up for lost time at the last minute. In fact, you’ll be doing yourself more harm than good if you try to, because you need to be rested on race day. Panicking is pointless, so just enjoy the experience and do what you can.

Take it easy during the week before the event – just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning. This is not the time to do lots of walking/cycling, have a big night out or tackle the gardening/decorating.

Consider having a pre-race sports massage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from this. Even if you aren’t Mo Farah your body has still done lots of hard work! I had one a few days before last year’s event and I think it really helped.

Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol – it will make a bigger difference than you think.

Get some early nights in – you want to be as refreshed as possible. Nerves may keep you awake the night before the race, and you’ll probably have an early start too, especially if (like me) you’re travelling to Newcastle on the day.

A couple of days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run. The night before the event have a meal made with ordinary pasta, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff at this point.

On the morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies, so experiment in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel hungry.

Consider carrying an energy gel or two with you to take during the race. This will prevent you ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a temporary high-energy hit. On my recent long runs I’ve been carrying a Clif Shot Blok with me and taking half after 7 miles and the other half at around mile 10. They really do make a difference. Or of course you can stop for Jelly Babies at mile 10 and just not drop them! If you are going to use gels for the first time make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you.

Hydration is very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm. In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race like I did! Water and energy drinks are available at various points along the course, so you shouldn’t need to carry a drink round with you.

Plan your travel arrangements well ahead to avoid stress spoiling your enjoyment of the big day. Think about things like where you’re going to park, how you’ll get to the start/finish and where you’ll meet up with people. There’s lots of helpful info in the GNR magazine, including how to buy bus/metro tickets online in advance. Allow plenty of time to get to the start, especially if you’re going to use the baggage buses. Bear in mind that with around 50,000 runners plus supporters and spectators all milling around at the finish the mobile phone networks get really overloaded and it’s sometimes impossible to make calls. Decide on a meeting point before the race; the best place is under the big alphabet letter signs in the finishing area. This is really important, especially if your supporters have your post-race clothes/food/drink with them and the weather isn’t good – or happen to be my husband!

Most importantly, enjoy the day – after all the training and organisation it’s taken to get there you deserve it. You won’t believe how good you’ll feel when you cross the line. I’m running for Martin House Children’s Hospice. If anyone would like to make donation you can do so on my Just Giving page.

Good luck everyone!

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!

  •  Get Good Shoes

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! 

  • Have a Goal

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. 

  • Stick to a Schedule

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! 

  • Mix It Up

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! 

  • Rest and Recover

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. 

  • Look After Yourself

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. 

  • Move To The Music

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!

Several people I’ve met recently tell me they don’t sleep very well. It seems to be a growing problem, with many of us getting by on less sleep than we need and feeling continually exhausted. It’s more important to get a good night’s sleep than you might realise; sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you feel rubbish – it leads to poor mental and physical performance, disrupts your hormones and can even make you put on weight! Of course there are times when disturbed sleep just can’t be helped – like when you’re coping with a new baby or, for some women, going through the menopause – but generally everyone should try to get some quality shut-eye every night. If you find this difficult, here are some tips that might help.

Eat your main meal early in the evening so your body isn’t still digesting food when you go to bed.

Avoid caffeine after lunchtime – it can linger in your system for up to ten hours!

Avoid excess alcohol; drinking a lot in the evening can cause a big dip in your blood sugar during the night which could wake you up. Wine is not a good aid to sleep!

Don’t go straight to bed straight after finishing work. Take some time to let your mind relax before you settle down to sleep.

Exercising late at night can also make you too alert to go to sleep.

Try to develop a regular sleep routine, getting up and going to bed at about the same time every day, even at the weekend.

Go to bed earlier – don’t just veg out in front of the TV or computer until late at night!

If you have trouble dropping off to sleep have some hot milk before you go to bed (yes, it really does help) and sprinkle some lavender oil onto your pillow.

If you wake up in the night, don’t lie in bed tossing and turning – that will just make things worse. The best thing is to get up and do something really boring. I know people who’ve had success with ironing or reading instruction manuals! After a while you should start to feel sleepy and can go back to bed.

Hope this helps a bit. Sleep well! xx