I can’t purport to be any kind of serious runner (very intermittent) so the following tips are more for the casual runner or half marathon novices….
Two years ago whilst standing outside the Ealing Bridge to Health clinic, cheering on the crowds of the Ealing Half Marathon, I got swept up in the feel-good atmosphere and decided I was absolutely going to be part of it the next year. How hard could it be?! Plus I had recently given birth to my daughter and thought it would be a nice goal to work towards, whilst getting a bit fit.
Fast forward one year and I am running past the clinic waving at my colleagues with a very pink face, what feels like sand on my face (its salt from all the sweat) and a feeling that the muscles in my legs have actually turned to concrete. But I finished! And injury-free which was my main goal (as well as to enjoy it).
So here are some tips from my experience that will hopefully help you to have an enjoyable and healthy run!
1) Expect some mild injuries. If you don’t usually run 3-4 times a week, and you then introduce this for about 12 weeks, your body is likely going to have something to say about it. However, don’t let that put you off as most injuries are transient and mild. Lower limb injuries are the most common (extensor tendonitis, runner’s knee) and if you notice a particular area is giving you some grief during/after a run, applying an ice pack for 20-30 minutes is often the best way to reduce any discomfort and inflammation. Additionally, your chances of being injury-free are greatly improved if you also…
2) Warm up and stretch properly! This has to be the most boring piece of advice ever but it is surprising the amount of people that just don’t do it. A good rough guide is to spend 15 minutes before your run getting your heart pumping harder – skipping/high knees/squats/lunges. The great thing about the last two is that they fall into the ‘dynamic stretch’ category, meaning more blood flow to muscles/tendons/ligaments, keeping them warmer, looser and less susceptible to tearing. It is advisable to do normal ‘static’ stretches at the end of your run, as most research tends to suggest you can increase your chance of injury if you do these before. Try to spend a good 15 minutes again running through the major lower limb muscle groups but also include the glutes and lower back muscles. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to help elongate the over-contracted muscle fibres. Foam rollers are also brilliant at stretching muscles and breaking down fibrous knots that have built up.
3) Don’t do anything different on the day of the race! This piece of advice was given to me by a running coach and volunteer at the Ealing Half Marathon. So for example, if you always eat peanut butter on wholemeal toast for breakfast, don’t decide to try a full English on the morning of the race. You may be fine, or you may suffer an irritating stitch 3 miles in. Best to stick to what you know your digestive system can work through nicely. Along the same line, best not to save those nice new trainers/orthotics/sports bra/running earphones for the day of the race. Test everything out before! You don’t want to be fiddling with a rogue earphone throughout your run.
4) Stay well hydrated on the days leading up to the race. Drinking lots of fluids (water/juices/sports drinks) on the days before race day will keep your tissues well hydrated and healthy. 2-3 hours before the race, about 500ml of fluid is a good rough guide. This leaves you enough time to go to the toilet a couple of times to empty your bladder, meaning a much more comfortable run! Lots of little sips of water throughout the race should keep you comfortably hydrated.
5) Invest in a post-run sports massage – there are a myriad of reasons this is great for your poor overworked muscles following a whopping 13.1 mile run, so I will just highlight the main ones. It will help reduce pain by increasing blood flow and lymph drainage to and from the muscles, reducing the discomfort felt from delayed-onset muscle soreness. A therapist working into tense muscles also highlights any muscular imbalances, meaning you can focus on stretching /strengthening these areas, reducing any longer term discomfort. And if you are a terrible stretcher, someone else can do it for you!
6) Take your time and enjoy it! This only works if enjoying it is your goal, as opposed to getting a personal best. Pacing yourself early on in the race will mean you are more likely to sustain that speed throughout the race and take it all in, being aware of any changes in your body.