As race day approaches, take your running to the next level with our secret training weapons
If you’ve got a big race on the horizon (hello, London Marathon runners!), it’s time to make those final tweaks to your training to ensure you cross the line with ease. We’ve put together our top tips for acing the last few weeks of training. Twenty-six point two miles? Easy!
Doing some basic running drills is the key to running efficiency and a better performance come race day. Think arm swings, high knees and running on the spot. ‘The point of these exercises is to wake up the nervous system, warm up all the muscle tissue, and put the joints through their full range of motion,’ says elite running coach Andrew Kastor (coachkastor.com). ‘This allows your body to move more efficiently in the running motion.’
Each exercise has a different purpose. ‘High knees activate the hip flexor muscle tissue, butt kicks activate the hamstrings and provides a subtle stretch in the quadriceps, and movements such as “fast feet” [running on the spot] excite and heighten the nervous system just minutes before you need to perform fast running,’ says Andrew.
Hit the decks
A great soundtrack is a sure-fire way to boost running motivation, but it’s also the secret to giving your all out on the pavement. ‘Music can make runs more interesting, but studies also suggest that music with an upbeat tempo, similar to your stride rate, can actually help you run harder, for longer,’ says personal trainer Jessica Wolny (jessicawolny.com). The best tracks are those that match the pace you’re aiming to stick to, so head to jog.fm for a great selection of music designed for every pace. But do bear in mind that you won’t always be able to rely on music to get you through. ‘It’s well worth putting together a running playlist, but don’t get entirely reliant on it,’ says Jessica. ‘A lot of marathons and races won’t let you wear headphones.’
Head for the hills
Want to build leg strength and boost your speed? Hill runs are about to become your best bud. ‘Running hill repeats is resistance training in disguise!’ says Andrew. ‘The muscles recruited to run up a hill strengthen as they are the ones with the most amount of stress being applied to them.’ Hills can also help to boost your running form and efficiency when you return to the flat. ‘Running hills helps refine your biomechanics for flat-land running,’ says Andrew. ‘Running uphill is very hard to do with bad mechanics, so the body gradually begins to recruit muscle tissue much more efficiently.’ A more efficient runner is a faster runner.
Get your nutrition right and you’ll give yourself a real head start. But don’t go mad on the pre-run spag bol. ‘There’s no real need to carb-load as a recreational runner, so forget massive bowls of pasta,’ says Jessica. ‘Just eat balanced meals with plenty of protein and veg, and you’ll be fine.’
But what if your energy is running low before you even get out there for a session? ‘If you feel like you need a bit more energy pre-run, a slice of toast with a banana can help,’ Jessica says. ‘You’ll get instant energy from the fructose sugars in the banana, and slower-release energy from the toast.’ Plus it’s super-cheap!
On shorter runs you shouldn’t need a snack mid-run to keep going. ‘A good rule of thumb is that you don’t need to refuel during any run that’s shorter than an hour,’ Jessica explains. So what about long-haul runs? ‘If you’re planning to run a half marathon (or longer), it’s worth experimenting to see what works for you on some of your training runs.’ But do make sure you’ve tried and tested these in training before using them on the big day, as you never know what effect they might have. ‘Don’t try any gel, drink or pill for the first time on race day,’ tips Jessica.
Turn up the speed
We’re sure you’ve heard that interval training is a super way to boost your fitness. But we’ll bet our bottom dollar it’s not your first thought when it comes to long-distance training. Well, the good news is, interval training can boost your overall running speed. ‘The point of interval training is to challenge both your mind and body while running at an uncomfortable pace,’ says Andrew. ‘The main goal of this kind of workout is to lengthen the repeat distance, and shorten the recovery interval while keeping the same desired pace.’ It’s a gradual process of course, but it can yield great results. You’ll be working towards running further, faster – what’s not to love about that?
Move your butt
If you want that extra advantage on race day, focus on getting your best asset working its hardest. ‘Spending all day sitting down puts most people’s glute muscles to sleep,’ says Jessica. ‘And runners are often no different – if yours aren’t firing properly, you won’t be as efficient as you could be.’ So how do you fire up your backside? ‘Try the wall squat – stand in front of a wall with your toes touching it, and sit backwards into a squat,’ Jessica tips. ‘If you find it impossible, or your knees are touching the wall, your glutes aren’t working properly.’ But don’t worry, it’s easily fixed. ‘Add some glute bridges into your routine: lie on your back with your feet close to your bum, and drive off your heels to push your hips into the air. Too easy? Try with one leg in the air.’
Find the right shoes
A good pair of training shoes is essential if you want to get to race day injury-free. Your best option is to get a gait analysis, where an expert assesses your running style, and a shoe recommendation. Sweatshop (sweatshop.co.uk) offers a great treadmill gait analysis service and can also create insoles moulded to your feet. Most amateur runners can happily race in the same shoes they train in, but if you’re looking to challenge that top 10, it might be worth investing in some lighter, faster racing shoes. ‘It depends on the type and calibre of athlete,’ explains Andrew. ‘Most athletes competing for a place on the podium or racing for personal bests should have a pair of racing shoes to race and train in.’
Make sure you train in your racing shoes from time to time. ‘Speed sessions should be run in the same shoes you’re racing in,’ says Andrew. ‘It’s a good idea to have two to three pairs of shoes on rotation over the week.’
Don’t forget to rest and recover. You need to approach your R&R with the same vigour you approach your training. Stretching, massage and foam rolling will all help your muscles to recover in time for your next session. ‘The easiest and best ways to recover from any sort of exercise are with sleep and food,’ says Jessica. ‘Make sure you’re eating plenty of protein, vegetables and fruit, and getting eight hours of sleep a night, and you’ll see the results.’
Don’t just collapse on the floor after a tough run. ‘Grab a foam roller, and do five to 10 rolls each along your bottom, hamstrings, calves, quads and IT bands (the sides of your legs),’ says Jessica. ‘Wherever you find a painful spot, that’s a muscle knot – keep gentle pressure on it until the pain subsides.’