The dawn of a New Year always provides the perfect opportunity for aspiring runners to get back on the road or to start fresh when it comes to running regularly. From older runners that may have fallen of touch with an exercise they may have once enjoyed or as means to keep fit, to a much younger crowd drawn in by the many benefits of incorporating a run into a weekly exercise routine, there iss no denying that there can be something that is strangely alluring about taking up running for the first or the thousandth time – and race organisers know it!
As soon as both Christmas and New Year are out of the way with and an onslaught of health eating campaigns and nowadays somewhat expected nationwide health kick is in full swing, it isn’t not long until emails, posters and banners advertising local New Year runs are soon everywhere for the eye to see. From a fun run to a colour run, a 5km dash to a 10km race or even half to a full marathon, signing up to an event inevitably has its benefits and at the start of every calendar year you can always bank on reading about many more than you would have done pre-Christmas festivities. Often accompanied by special New Year offers to encourage those with the aim of one day running an officially organised race to sign up right away, as well as the inevitable ‘great way to kick-start the New Year‘ tag-lines which seem inevitable when it comes to living healthily at the start of a New Year, in my personal experience it isn’t long until you find yourself wanting to join in with a race or your own distance to aim towards.
One of the attractions of signing up to a run, no matter what the advertised or desired distance may be is that the yearly running calendar traditionally doesn’t get underway until around March or April at the earliest. With this in mind, from beginners to runners that find themselves out of shape for runnning any distance long or short, a three to fourth month period can often be long enough to train hard with the aim of running in a race providing enough motivation to be ready for the big day itself.
Challenges are therefore made to be difficult to achieve and participating in a race is ultimately no different. And whilst I’m far from being anywhere near an expert, there are certain things however that I really wish I’d have considered when training for my first 5km up to a second full marathon last October. Sometimes it can be the smallest piece of advice or an ingenious running life-hack that I’d never have thought of in a month of Sunday’s but without them, I wouldn’t be as wise a runner as I am today although that’s not to say I’m still learning!
With that in mind, here are my (@ASelbyInfo) five top tips in preparation for your next big run this New Year.
1. As much as it may pain your mind, listen to your legs
It is often suggested that half of completing a race comes down to physical ability and most notably the power in your legs as well as the other half which can depend largely on a runner’s mental strength and determination to often literally, run that extra mile. Yet whilst breaking the mental barrier is easier said than done, trying to run on tired, worn out legs can be equally as difficult! Speaking personally, there was nobody more disheartened than I was last October almost three quarterrs of the way into the Bilbao Marathon when I just physically couldn’t continue running at the pace I became so used to during training. After months of preparation, long runs both in the gym and outdoors in the Great British summer sun as well as the journey made to just get to Bilbao as well as any pre-race excitement and enthusiasm aimed at building on a good time in my first marathon earlier last year, I felt somewhat comfortable heading into the race knowing that I at least had 22 miles under my belt in training.
Yet after almost 17 miles, whether it be a mixture of fatigue that quickly developed throughout the race itself or just overdoing in the week leading up to the Night Marathon itself, there was no way I was in any way capable of completing the final 9 miles solely by running. Therefore walking soon transformed from an unwanted option to an absolute necessity in what felt like a long lonely road to the finish line. Take comfort however that not every race, in fact very few end up like this and if anything I’m hoping this was nothing more than a one-off ! However the need to give in to your body is essential. As much as it may play on your mind mentally that you’ve not ran for a certain number of days or would have liked to have ran a longer distance twice but you’ve only been able to manage it once, think of it much like losing the short-term battle but winning the war in the long-term. There’s no denying that some days you will certainly run better than others; your mind and your legs may feel fresh and you hit a time that you may not have been expecting and it feels great. And so it should!
However when it doesn’t just go to plan, don’t be discouraged and instead try to make perfection out of imperfection as when your back fighting fit, then you can always attempt to make your next run that bit better.
2. Choose TWO because THREE can be ONE too many
When training for a run I have always found it difficult to simply plan how, when and just whether or not you will even run the full length of your race before the big day itself. With adequate planning, preparation and the gift of time which there never seems to be enough of, it is always easy to find a spare afternoon to complete a much longer run and therefore progressively make your way from Couch to 5, 10, 21 or 42km. However with many runners including myself opting for much shorter time periods to get prepared for a run alongside the number of popular training plans that encourage runners that it is more than possible to get ready for a marathon within the space of 15-20 weeks, I guess it’s the fine line between pushing yourself with a significantly bigger run each week or whether to take it slow and steady and to feel comfortable with running a certain distance before moving on to one that may be much greater and perhaps even more challenging.
Although everybody is different in their approach to preparing for a run I personally favour running a distance at least twice before increasing it by a further mile or extra couple of kilometres. No matter what distance the race may be that you may have signed up for, first and foremost I would say with some experience that it is always advisable to be hitting a distance somewhere near your target number for the sake of being able to comfortably complete in a race and doing the event justice. Yet clearly not many people have the time or even the physical capability to be running 20-25 miles every week or fortnight in training so finding the right balance can be incredibly tricky.
For this reason if you are lucky to have enough time to do so, I would fully recommend attempting to run a distance at maximum twice before moving on to anything bigger as it can provide a much needed psychological boost in terms of reassurance knowing that you’ve already ran a certain distance not just once, but on two separate occasions. That long-run you sit wondering whether it was a fluke afterwards seems an even greater achievement after doing it twice and can often produce a much needed boost going forward. Meanwhile if time proves to be an issue then of course I would favour just making sure you get the miles in your legs only once as it will allow you to progressing much quicker by only running a longer distance once as opposed to just getting good at a certain distance twice. It’s not essential and maybe not even good for your body’s recovery to run the entire distance before a marathon, but manageably try to get somewhere near it at least once, or if possible twice. You’ll thank me later I’m sure…
3. Find a training route and keep to the same route!
The ability to be able to explore the great outdoors is often attributed as one of running’s most redeeming features. Seeing things for yourself on your feet as opposed to looking at buildings, landscapes and discovering new places through a car window makes running much more than just a physical exercise you put up with for the sake of keeping healthy, losing weight etc. Once your able to get from A to B by speed-walking to catch that door that’s about to shut, breaking into a jog to get over the road before the traffic lights turn red or sprinting through the station for your bus/train, getting good at running is extremely rewarding and makes day to day to life much easier on many occasions. Yet the courage needed to o outdoors and run whilst it’s freezing cold and the determination to keep on going as your only means of returning back to your start point therefore fully warrants the hidden gems that are found whilst running. Inevitably the more you run, the more you explore and the more you discover.
When training for a race however there is no right or wrong when it comes to preparing properly and everybody has a routine which best suits them. In the past I’ve prepared for longer runs on a treadmill inside the gym to ensure I was running at a certain speed – not just for watching Jeremy Kyle, This Mornign and Loose Women. Conversely I have opted for training outdoors this time around for my latest marathon in six weeks – leaving no stone unturned this time in preparation and giving myself little room for excuses after the race. Yet whilst you may think that running outside and away the confines of a gym in practice offers a much greater level of exploration and discovery, it also has its perks but which ever you prefer, there really are no rights and wrongs, do’s or dont’s and always remember the decision is yours. This doesn’t take away the fact however that when you’re focused on simply hitting a certain a distance and getting to grips with the challenges that your body encounters during a longer run, in some ways fully appreciating your surroundings becomes less important than it might have felt when going on a leisurely and much shorter run. I
I would therefore advise anybody planing on training for a longer run to start by planning a route initially that you find comfortable. When planning a route meanwhile I would encourage anybody to take time in doing so; fully appreciate whether running down different roads or repeating certain streets is for you, whether you prefer quiet country lanes or busier roads and whether it’s fully flat or scattered with inclines throughout. If you consider such fine margins which may seem minimal and tailor your practice runs to the best means possible, you save yourself your any extra problems when it comes to the big day itself. Consequently once you’ve settled on a route that you’re happy with and that you’ve practiced without any difficulties – stick to it! There may be benefits to changing a route and if that’s what you prefer then don’t be afraid to do so but I’ve always found that by sticking to one and reducing it or just adapting to add further miles when necessary, each longer run becomes that bit easier on a route that you are used to running regularly.
4. The need for nourishment, rest and recovery
When training for a high-endurance long distance run, physical preparation is key. Training in the gym, running outdoors and building up the kilometres that you’ve ran no matter the terrain is all well and good in the short term but without giving any real consideration to planning and preparing for your next long run, you run the risk of becoming run down or running into a brick wall before the big day itself.
Equally important as any long run that you may undertake in training is how you treat your body before, after and even during a run itself. Everybody is different and pre or post routines will idiffer between individuals but there are numerous benefits in getting into a habit of giving your body the sufficient nutrition it needs before and after exercise. Nutritionists will always point to food that are packed with carbohydrates to allow for a slower energy release over a longer period of time for example, allowing your body to make use of a slower dispatch of energy and consequently enabling your body to perform better for longer during a long-distance run. Similarly food rich in carbohydrates and protein are always looked upon as good post-exercise meals to help allow tired joints and muscles to recover to the state they were in before exerting yourself over 5, 10, 15 or 20 miles. The breakdown of such food groups and the science behind such suggestions are clearly why ‘pasta parties’ and certain types of ‘recovery food’ are so regularly consumed before and after events respectively, but everybody has their own rocket fuel and once again food choices can differ between different sets of runners. Yet no matter what you choose to eat the night before or in the preceding hours leading up to a longer training run, do not cut yourself short and instead make sure you eat enough to allow your body to perform to the best of its ability. The ‘short-term you’ may feel guilty for carb-loading and maybe even bloated but when you’re way into a long run and you’re able to still run comfortably, you’ll definitely be glad that you decided to gorge out beforehand.
Rest and recovery meanwhile is equally as important in training for an event, especially if the race is anything over 5 or 10km in distance, as is making sure that you don’t overdo it leading up to race day. Although it doesn’t take a genius to recommend resting after any type of strenuous exercise in order to allow your body to physically return to its natural state, making sure that you get enough hours sleep is also incredibly important and often underestimated when running. Unlike getting up for work in the morning or lasting a whole evening out with friends where it’s perhaps easier to shake off any tiredness and get through it without a sufficient nights sleep, running is most definitely different. As well as an inevitable lethargic and apathetic approach to a planned long-run when feeling tired; a severe contrast to any initial enthusiasm and motivation to plan on going for a longer run, your mind, arms, legs and body in general can only keep moving for so long until the unavoidable fatigue sets in and you then wish you’d gone to bed that little bit earlier yesterday so that you can continue running today. And when it comes to the final weeks approaching the big day, as frustrating as it may seem to be favouring rest in place of running, tapering is incredibly important and make sure that your final long run is 2/3 weeks before race day – at the very latest!
Recovery in any way shape or form is incredibly important whilst training. No matter how big or small a run you may go on, in keeping to a training plan or to simply feel fresh enough to get back out on the road, taking the plunge is one thing but ignoring the basics is another.
5. Keep calm and stick to the stuff you know
Personally perhaps my greatest piece of advice is to of course keep focused but more so to stress the importance of remaining calm and not getting too worked up about running, training, eating patterns and a whole load more. In some ways contradicting everything else that I have suggested throughout, I do think that in taking a relaxed but committed approach to running in a race you stand the best chance of succeeding on the day itself. As many regular runners’ friends and family will surely know, it’s very easy for somebody that’s preparing for a race to get caught up in another world whereby everything seems to revolve around a race which starts in 43 days, 18 hours, 7 minutes and 51 seconds… You get the drift. As I have often done myself, it is easy to find yourself planning your life around running on a certain amount of days for a certain length of time with an aim of reaching a certain distance or certain target and whilst that is all well and good, there are equally as many benefits in applying a much more laid-back approach to your planned running event.
Although the race itself may be of a greater distance than you may not ever have reached in training leading up to the day, the basics of preparing for and then running in an event are effectively the same as any other run, albeit perhaps with a greater individual degree of competition and thousands of fellow runners completing the same distance right beside you. In any question and answer session with professionals or even articles with experienced runners, questions relating to how you should or shouldn’t prepare for a race are commonly asked amongst many more – aimed at making sure everything is done just right before the race. However whilst I’m certainly no expert, there are several merits to just keeping to what you know already, before, during and after the race.
Leading up to the day itself, nerves are inevitable but make sure that they don’t work against you and end up forcing you into a routine and adapting a different style that you have grown accustomed to – leading to a negative outcome rather than a positive one. By sticking to what you’ve done for several weeks and months in training, you stand a much greater chance of achieving your targets snd performing to the best of your ability. And whilst many things happen during the race itself, good and bad which can often be out of your control, stay on top of the things you can manage and stick to the stuff you’ve lived by whilst training. It may not guarantee they you completely achieve your targets but at least you won’t be able to blame anything that happens during the race on something new that you may have altered based on somebody else’s advice. You only have yourself to blame!