The West Country is blessed with some fantastic half marathons, be it Bath in the spring, the Great Bristol, Cheltenham or revamped Swindon events held in September or the many, varied races in between. But exactly what does it take for a novice runner to go the distance?
One man who should know the answer by now is Bob Smith, the former Team Bath Tennis and current Gloucestershire CCC strength and conditioning coach who ran one every single week during 2016 in order to raise thousands of pounds for the Bristol Children's Hospital. He provided XtraTime readers looking to tackle a race in the new year with some of his top tips on how to reach the finish line unscathed...
NO TURNING BACK
“If you start fundraising, as I did, then there is no way back and it will make you do things that you otherwise might renege on. It has been a constant reminder and in terms of achieving that many runs in a year, it has been so important for holding me accountable for getting out there each week. I didn't set it up with that intention but I would encourage people to have something like that in place, whether it be financial or a friendship group that holds you to those goals. I set up a Just Giving page on January 3 and told people on Facebook what I was doing. It can then be pretty ruthless after that when you would have justified excuses not to do it – but you just have to go and do it.”
SET THE DATE
“Having an immovable object that you can work towards, with a set start time and that you've paid for, is good in terms of your training. If you've entered an event then you have to turn up and do it and can't put it off until the following day. In the big ones, like the Bath and Bristol races I did last year, you get carried along by the crowd and there are loads of people running at different paces. For your first one, those would be good events to do. On the flipside, I did the Forest of Dean Half last February and it was absolutely gorgeous, going through the forest as the season changes – so if you want scenery then that one is nice.
“Running trainers are massive. I started the year in a battered old pair and I noticed, especially covering that distance, the damage done through your feet and knees. I bought a pair from a specialist retailer during week three and they have served me well. Other than that, I had a heart rate monitor to link into my phone but I abandoned that. I prefer to run without too much input. You don't need to invest much. Most people have a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and that's all you need. That is the beauty of running.”
LIGHTEN THE LOAD
“If people are starting out with not a massive base of running then thinking about how they can still train without pounding on the tarmac is helpful. Building aerobic capacity on a bike or a cross-trainer while building up their running distances is a good way of doing things. You can always offload those legs if you want less impact through your feet. If you run on trail or grass – or even a treadmill, with its shock absorbtion – then it is noticeably different the next day, how much your legs feel less battered.”
MOVING ON UP
“I always stayed quite fit in the gym and did a reasonable amount of cycling but I wouldn't say I was a natural runner. I battled through that for most of the year, getting better for the first 12 weeks until the Bath Half in March, where I ran 1hr 40mins, then massively plateaued through the summer before doing 1hr 34mins at the Marlow Half. A March half marathon is absolutely achievable for anyone who can run at the start of the year. Even if you can run 5k then you have a starting point. A half marathon is 21k so your first goal is to run a 10k and then adding an extra couple of kilometres each week isn't unrealistic – keep methodically building it up and don't jump too fast in terms of distance. I think if you can run 15k or 16k with competence, then 21k on a race day is very do-able. How fast you go is a different question, of course.
“The weekly 5k parkruns around the region are absolutely brilliant; every Saturday you can get out and do a really good distance to push your speed up. If you tried to run as fast as you can on a Saturday then that brings your threshold speed up and then you can push the mileage up alongside that. The lower distances are good for building athleticism. It's more of a plod at 21k but you have the impact/load tolerance in your legs to cope with that if you have built it up at lower distances.”
FIND A FRIEND
“I did about half of the 52 half marathons in 2016 with someone else. You have good and bad experiences but the worst ones were when I was on my own. The social side of it is really important in terms of getting the most out of your running. It is a long time to be out there and it is good to have someone to share it and enjoy it with. I'd recommend running with someone slightly better than you are. You need someone who has the ability to put you out of your comfort zone if you are going to do your best work.”
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
“You need to think at least the day, probably 36 hours, before taking on the half marathon about what you eat and drink. If I was to run one on a Tuesday night, then I am eating big Sunday night, Monday morning, lunchtime and night and all through Tuesday. I think people think they can have one big meal the day before, but it's not really enough. Start to pack in the calories and lean carbohydrates. Hydration is key and, again, start it early rather than flooding yourself with water before you go out because it takes a while to fully hydrate.”