Last Saturday morning, I missed another parkrun. It was for good reason – I was off to Reading to take part in a training day in preparation for Reading Half Marathon. I wondered whether I’d be able to fit in a parkrun as there is one nearby, but unfortunately, it was cancelled on Saturday, so I didn’t need to worry about being late to the training day.
There was plenty of time to meet others who were a mix of newbies, experienced runners and bloggers as I arrived fairly early. I ended up sitting next to Anna, the fab blogger behind Anna The Apple. I also met Tess from The Fit Bits and Katie & Kate from These Girls Do.
Whilst we were waiting for others to arrive we saw a montage of images from previous races. My favourite images were ones of a group of friends who had dressed up as Mario Cart characters. I’ve never properly done a race in fancy dress. I ran a parkrun in a Minions outfit, but I was wearing a running t-shirt and shorts, so I don’t think that really counts. Have you ever raced in fancy dress?
The first activity of the day was a workout with Francesca and Chloe, the Townsend Twins.
The workout was high energy and the twins were so much fun. I also loved their outfits and had to do a bit of online stalking to find out where their leggings were from (Bellum Active – starlight leggings)… if anyone has a bit of spare cash and wants to buy me a present for my birthday next month… [edit: Bellum Active closed down at the end of 2019]
I’ve really not done enough exercise in the last few months, so I was a bit nervous about the workout, but it turned out to be a lot of fun (although I was seriously stiff on Sunday AND Monday!) The music was great and the Townsend Twins explained everything really well. If I learnt anything that I could take into my own fitness career, it was that smiling and being enthusiastic is really important… and that I need to duplicate myself so that one of us can talk and the other can demonstrate!
We did a good mix of exercises, including skaters, squats, jump squats and walking lunges.
We then had a quick refreshment break (water, Lucozade and bananas).
It was then straight into a pacing workshop with Ali Galbraith, who leads the pacers at a number of events, including Reading Half. I’ve taken notes on all of Ali’s talk as I found it really helpful…
Good training runs lead to great pacing days:
- Set realistic goals
- Try to not move the goal posts
- Practice your pace in training runs
- You will have good days and bad days – roll with the punches
- See long training runs as mini race days
I’m really bad at accepting that runs don’t always go to plan. I rarely cut runs short and I never do more than my plan says, so maybe I need to be more flexible.
The necessities of a great pacer
- Good quality watch
- Gear you can trust
- Solid knowledge of the race
- The ability to adapt
I’ve now got a fantastic watch and I’ll probably wear my favourite black shorts. I need to check out the route of Reading Half as I think it’s changed since I last ran it.
- Fuel intake – what shall I eat and drink?
- Route planning
- Race planning – what will I need?
- Weather preparation
This was one of my favourite parts of Ali’s talk. When I last ran Reading Half, I tried to fuel up with a vanilla Gu, but it was too thick and my friend threw it in the gutter because she thought I was taking too long and I didn’t have time to waste. Ali said that when he is running he uses Ella’s Kitchen baby food pouches (with Spaghetti Bolognese being a favourite) and Mars bars. I don’t think I could eat something that requires that much chewing when I’m running!
The perfect race morning
- Review your pre-race preparation
- Get to the race village nice and early
- Warm up properly using that time to visualise the race
- Get to your starting pen with plenty of time
- Never lose a smile
I don’t like being stressed on race day, but I have to admit that even though I arrive early I don’t always do a proper warm up.
Race break down
- Why break down a race?
- How I break down a race:
- 1-3 miles
- 3-11 miles
- 11-13.1 miles
Breaking down a race into segments is a good mental strategy – it’s something that I do already.
The first 3 miles
- Holding back the adrenaline
- Don’t weave
- Be prepared for a slower pace
- Just concentrate on you and getting to mile 3
- Treat it similar to your warm up in training runs
Last time I ran this race, I definitely wasted time and energy by weaving around people. This time I aim to get myself into the right start pen to and take off at a steady pace. Starting too fast is one of my worst habits. At Gosport Half a few years back, I challenged myself not to look at my watch for the first three miles. I didn’t quite manage it, but it was helpful as it stopped me getting into a panic about going too fast or too slow.
- Ask yourself some questions:
- How am I feeling?
- What is my fuel intake?
- Do I need to slow down?
- Join a group and interact
- Settle into your race pace
- Be prepared for things to get tough
I definitely think that running with others who are going at your pace helps. When I got my half marathon PB, I ran with a friend. We were both running faster than we had ever managed before, but we stuck with each other, which gave us both a mental boost.
From mile 11 onwards
- Break down into bitesize pieces
- If you’re looking for a PB, now is the time to start pushing the pace
- Mental toughness is key in these final miles
- Treat it as the party bus home
This bit always begins at mile 10 for me as then I repeat my mantra: “parkrun to go!”
The 5km run
After Ali’s talk, there was time for a Q&A session before we went out for a warm-up and a 5km run.
After a few stretches, we split into two groups. The faster group were going to go at 9-9:30 minute miles. I thought that should be OK as I can usually run parkrun at that pace with a buggy. However, I’ve really not run much since before Christmas, so I found it really hard going… also we started at a slightly quicker pace. I definitely think I needed to start more slowly and build up.
My stretch goal for Reading Half is 1:49:59, but I would be happy with anything under 1:52:19. At the moment, I think I’d be amazed if I could finish in under 2 hours, but I know that I was able to make a lot of progress in a short period of time last year, so as long as I’m focused, I should get there.
After another short refreshment break, it was on to the physio and injury prevention workshop, led by Jim Adkins from Berkshire Physiotherapy.
This was another interactive session with a combination of questions, answers, information and activity.
We learned how to warm up properly to help avoid injuries. We did lots of calf stretches before we did some equipment work.
A common misconception is that running is a cheap sport as there is very little that is required. However, when you speak to someone who has become addicted to running they will explain that they have spent a fortune on the right shoes, socks, clothes, sports watch, other gadgets, nutrition and race entry fees. They may also have spent money on items such as foam rollers, massage balls and resistance bands. Jim introduced us to an innovative piece of equipment that I’ve never tried before…
A paper plate!
The aim of the paper plates was to place one under each foot and then do a bridge and slide your feet in and out. It’s much harder than it sounds and really works your core.
The most interesting stretch that I learnt was the ‘slump stretch’. I tried it out with my work colleagues who’ve renamed it as the bored sulky teenager stretch. It involved sitting on a firm surface with room to swing my legs. I had to slump my lumbar spine (chin to chest) and place my hands behind my back, before swinging alternate legs with my foot flexed. This exercise should ‘floss’ your sciatic nerve, which can help to relieve hamstring tightness.
Overall, this was such a helpful day that has made me feel ready to start tackling my training plan.
If you haven’t already signed up for Reading Half, why not enter now?
If you want to treat yourself, there’s a VIP package, which includes a range of ‘extras’.
There’s also the chance to enter the January competition if you sign up before January 31st.