It’s at this time of year – every year – that I start to get excited about running again. The evenings are longer, the weather is brighter and warmer (well, most of the time anyway) and throwing on those runners and heading out the door is not half as daunting as it is when it’s dark and cold outside, with the wind blowing rain sideways into your face and making that uphill ten-times harder…
This is also the time I start thinking about entering some races around the country, one of which is the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon!
It takes place on the June bank holiday weekend – which, as of today, is about 11 weeks away.
And that is loads of time to prepare to walk, jog, run or shimmy your way through a 10k event.
Here are my top tips for preparing for a running event – whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned racer!
I have focused on running/jogging specifically, but you could also apply these to walking, especially if you want to improve your time.
- Include some speed work
If you’re already a seasoned jogger or runner, then adding some speed training is a great way to start improving your time. Tempo runs and sprints are two of the most common and effective speed training techniques.
Tempo runs are done at a “comfortably hard” pace, where you run your race pace (or faster) for a relatively shorter period of time. I often do it by jogging comfortably for 1-2km, then increasing the pace for 4km, and then jog comfortably again for 1-2km.
For sprints, there are a number of options too. There are many variations but I find 400m sprints are a good starting point. A running track is 400m, so 400m sprints are easy to calculate. Basically, you run as fast as you can for that distance (80-90% of your max) and then take a break of a full minute or two, and repeat. You can then progress to 800m or 1000m (or longer) interval distances.
One speed-training day in the week is usually enough to get you running like Speedy Gonzalez (remember him?!).
- Smile when you run
This is something I discovered years ago, and though I scoffed a bit at it at the time, it really does work when you start upping your training. If you feel you are starting to fatigue (particularly during a longer run), then turn that frown upside down and SMILE! You may look like a maniac, but the physical act of smiling (even if you don’t feel like it) can help your body to release endorphins, which act as a natural pain-reliever. I promise you, this is very welcome as the muscles start to ache. Also, just smiling can “trick” your mind into thinking you’re happy, so you can fool yourself into feeling happier just by acting the part. Give it a go, I promise you it works 😉
- Improve your core strength
Your core is the trunk of your body, and this needs to be as strong, stable and solid as possible to improve your running technique. Your core muscles – the chest, back, abs, and obliques – are what keep your torso upright when you run, and reduce “wobbling” when moving your arms & legs. Remember that your body’s “engine” (your heart, lungs etc.) can adapt to cardio exercise faster than your frame, so you should do targeted core work to keep that frame strong and supportive. It also helps to prevent injury, which can be the bane of a regular runners life!
- Take care of your muscles
Taking care of tired muscles is something that can often be neglected when you’re time-strapped and just want to get out and “get your run done”. But tight and tired muscles can interfere with your training, and can also lead to injury. So how can you show them a bit of TLC? The best approaches are building up your training gradually, dynamic stretching before running or exercising, using hands-on techniques like myofascial release to relieve muscle pain and tightness, and stretching/Epsom salt baths post-workout (or a dip in the sea if you’re hard enough ;)).
- The power of self-belief
In the sports psychology book “How Bad Do You Want It” by Matt Fitzgerald, the author discusses the psychology of mind over muscle. Within the book, he discusses the concept that any healthy body is capable of running a marathon distance race – what prevents most people from doing this is that our mind gives up long before our body needs to (I’m paraphrasing the book here).
Now, I am by no means saying that we should attempt to run marathons without training – that would lead to a lot of friction burns, blisters, general pain and a long recovery. But what I am saying is that the mind is the most powerful machine in our bodies – it can do a very good job of convincing us that we can’t do something that we are more than capable of doing. Always have this in the back of your mind when you feel like throwing in the towel – is the training too difficult, or is your mind perceiving it as such? Ask yourself the question, and remind yourself that your body can do it! Sometimes, you just need to convince your head 🙂
6. Fuel & Hydrate
If you think of a car, the engine won’t run if it doesn’t have enough (or the right) fuel or oil. The same can be said for our bodies – we can’t perform properly if you don’t feed and water ourselves correctly. When you are training for a specific goal, nutrition and water intake play a very important roll. There have been hundreds of books, articles and reports written about this so I can’t summarise it all here of course! But some main pointers are:
- Try to drink at least 2 litres of water per day (up to 3+ if you are doing a lot of training).
- Get the right balance of carbs, proteins, fats and nutrients in your diet – apps like MyFitnessPal can really help you to monitor and track the breakdown of macronutrients in your diet.
- Try to get as much of your fuel from food (rather than food-like products). I’m a big believer that we don’t need supplements (especially as the general population), and that we can fuel from food.
So if this has whetted your appetite to sign up for a 10k race, here is the link for the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon in June. We’re hoping to go as a group so keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates. If you’re going, I’ll see you at the start line 😉
(If you’re interested in other events or distances, here is the runireland website, with info on all upcoming races across the country).