Although this blog is all about content strategy, I thought I’d share with you another of my passions – long distant running. I’ve been doing it for a number of years now and participated in over twenty races. I don’t know if that makes me an expert but I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve picked up along the way – and I don’t mean the blisters.
Why do I run?
Well, for a number of reasons actually, although when I’m struggling towards the end of a race I often ask myself why. Luckily for me my school was pretty good at cross- country running and somehow I got addicted. There’s nothing like focusing on the runner ahead and deciding when you’re going to overtake them. I realised pretty quickly that it’s all a bit of a mental game; if you can jog for more than twenty minutes then I reckon you can build up to 5k and then 10k. After that it’s just a case of adding on the miles.
Then again, some people just don’t like to run because they find long distance running boring, I guess I’m just one of the weirdos!
Another reason I love running is that I know, at the age of 39, that I’ve still got a good chance of getting better as I get older. There’s been loads of times when I’ve been overtaken by someone aged 50+ and I find that amazing. Let’s hope I’m still running when I reach that age!
Other reasons I run – the camaraderie you build up with fellow runners plus travelling to all those different locations to participate. But, most of all, it’s the incredible sense of self achievement – you’re pushing yourself to the limit and, hopefully, succeeding. I don’t think there’s any better feeling like that in the world.
Anyway, here’s a list of tips that have worked for me over the last ten years:
Before the race
- I’ve always found taking the plunge and booking races well in advance will always give me the incentive to train. If you know you’ve got a major race in a month’s time you will go out and run whatever the weather.
- Invest in a decent pair of trainers – that goes without saying.
- Nuts. I used to just fill myself with junk food when training for a marathon thinking I was rewarding myself for going through the pain. Now I just lay off the junk food and just eat a packet of nuts and dried fruit a day for the week leading up to a race. That seems to give me the energy I need when it comes to race day.
- Energy drinks and gels. Find out what works for you and get used to eating and drinking whilst running. The more natural the products, the better I think. Remember, some people race with just water, fruit and home-baked flapjacks so you don’t really need to fork out a lot of money.
- Podcasts. Some people just find training long distance extremely boring and I don’t blame you. I think I got over this initially by listening to podcasts – the the more cerebal the better. Oddly enough there’s one called Philosophy Bites which is my favourite; there’s nothing like trying to tackle a hill listening to Hume’s account of causation. I’m not sure if I remember anything after running but I do find the process meditative. However, when it comes to a race day I never stick anything in my ears – I like to hear my breathing because it helps me to stay focused and achieve a competitive time.
- Water. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? I drink loads of water three days before a race (not too much though) and I also lay off the alcohol and caffeine.
- Sleep. I’m always extremely anxious the night before a race so I know the best night for a good kip is two days before. I also try to take it easy the day before but with two kids and a wife who’s keen on gardening, that’s pretty impossible.
- Because I know I get anxious before a race, I make sure everything is packed and I’ve read all the race information again to make sure there are no surprises in the morning.
- I guess I should mention about training sessions. I try to complete 2-3 training session a week. I’m a really ‘lazy’ trainer – I only run to one pace and I never do session running. I try to complete two 5 mile sessions in the week with a 10 mile session every Sunday morning. I find that the longer weekend keeps me fit so the leap to half marathon distance is not too painful.
- A word on injuries. I had a chronic knee injury for several years which prevented me from training for longer than 45 minutes. I really thought my running days were over. Luckily for me I went to see a physiotherapist and she sorted me out in two sessions; I can’t recommend physios highly enough. Got an injury? Get it sorted.
- Pre-race meal the night before is the old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese. Can’t go wrong with this one.
- When race day arrives I wake up pretty relaxed as I should have done the prep in the days before. I eat a bowl of porridge two hours before the race starts and drink an energy drink leading up to the starting line. I try to avoid tea because I don’t want to be trying to find the toilets with only 5 minutes to spare.
- Stretching. Hmm, I’m pretty bad at this. I spend 2-3 minutes max stretching. Maybe I should do more but I’m usually too eager to start running.
- When the race starts I know I’ll probably complete mile one pretty fast. I try to hold back a bit and in my head I have a comfort zone time (usually 8 minutes per mile) which I can slow down to if I’m feeling the burn. If I’m feeling strong and confident then I usually run 7.30-7.45 minutes per mile.
- It took me years to realise that speed is just as important as the quality of your run. When I have a good strong run, I’m very focused on each mile, my head is up, I’m alert and looking around and chatting with other runners. When I’m knackered I’m hitting the ground hard with my feet, I’m trying to take my mind off the pain and I’m just thinking about the finish line – not good.
- Chatting. I’ve always found a nice bit of banter with other runners really helps take your mind off the pain and can even energize you. Plus, it’s a great way to meet people from other walks of life. I’ve met plenty of ultra-runners who have travelled the world and it’s always great to listen to their stories and learn some of their tips.
- One of those tips – take shorter strides going up hills. It’s crazy but it works. It gets you up the hills faster and you don’t feel knackered when you get to the top. Reward yourself my taking longer strides going down the hill on the other side and try to loosen up.
- Ultimately, don’t do anything different on the race day than you would do in training – that means stick to your tried and tested energy bars and footwear. I changed to fairly new footwear for one marathon and hit ‘the wall’ at mile 17. Not good.
- Hitting the wall. When you hit the wall you always feel a bit of a dumbass because there’s usually a very good reason for it which you might have prevented. My worst experience was competing in my first London marathon and hitting the wall at mile 7. That was because I didn’t drink any fluids two hours before the race. All I can say is you learn by your mistakes. I reckon if you are hydrated, well-rested and have a decent slow energy release breakfast then you should do well. It goes without saying that you would have done the training as well.
- If I’ve run well then I’m well chuffed. If I’m in pain then I try to work out what went wrong.
- Eat a banana within ten minutes of finishing the race and drink loads of water.
- Get home, Epsom salts in the bath. Curry and beer to celebrate later.
- Prepare for the next race!
During race day
After the race
I ran the Tonbridge Half-Marathon in 1hr 38 mins. I’m happy with that…
I hope I’ve been able to share some useful tips with you. Of course, not all my races run smoothly but I’ve learnt from the bad ‘uns and they’ve helped me improve my overall running strategy. I guess the best advice I could give is just don’t do anything crazy the week before the race like wild stag parties.
Of course, this all probably undersells the hard effort you have to put into running from the beginning. You have to build up you ‘muscle memory’ so begin with the 5k, see how you feel; then notch it up to 10k and set your eyes on the half marathon.
Easier said than done? I would just say give it a crack, the sense of achievement really does outweigh the pain.
Do you have any tips for beginners you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below!