Monday, 23 May 2011

Personal Safety

Staying Safe!

As a runner of many years I have encountered many incidences of verbal abuse (usually quite harmful and often phrases such as “118” or “Run Forrest Run” ), I have been hopelessly lost (while on holiday and out running) and also managed to pick up an injury and end up walking miles home dehydrated and sore! Thankfully none of these experiences have ever put me off running but I thought it would be useful in this week’s blog to think about personal safety while out running.

Often people (especially women, according to research, who feel this is a barrier to participation) feel vulnerable while out running and this can force them to search out secluded areas, run early in the morning to be anonymous or simply think twice about going out of the door and instead head to the gym for a run on the treadmill.

One of the joys of running for me is the freedom it brings, the feeling of running outside with the wind in your face and being able to explore new uncharted territory. I run in most weathers and think nothing about running in any environment. However…..personal safety is something that we all need to think about.

Here are a few tips to help you out and stay safe….

1.            When you head out of the door have a good idea of the route you are going to do. Think about the hazards you may encounter – road crossings, traffic, pedestrians and terrain. Also think about possible escape routes….what if you are feeling unwell or pick up an injury…how will you get home? Often If I am doing a long run I will choose a loop close to home that allows me to divert from my long run if necessary and not leave me stranded 10 miles from home.

2.            If you do get lost don’t be afraid to ask for directions but look to a pedestrian rather than flag a car down. It’s often a good idea to tell your partner or someone close that you are going for a run, approximately how long you are going for and what route you are going on. I once got hopelessly lost while on an early morning run while on holiday…returning back to the family nobody blinked as they thought I was just on a long run!

3.            If you can carry a mobile phone then consider doing so. Alternatively I sometimes carry a coin which can be used to make a call if needed. Even if your mobile is out of signal emergency services can still locate you using a triangulation system.

4.            Don’t wear headphones while out running. Headphones make you more vulnerable as you cannot hear traffic, cyclists or generally make you less aware of your surroundings.  

5.            Clothing – consider investing in some reflective/Hi Viz kit. There is lots of good quality, nice kit available now.  Bright yellow, orange, pink kit is widely available and often reflective strips are built into the clothing now for additional safety. This will make you more visible to cars, pedestrians, cyclists and is much more widely used now by runners than it used to be.  

6.         ICE – consider having an ICE number available. Some manufacturers are building in labels in running kit for runners to put an “In case of Emergency” number. Put ICE in your mobile phone directory and add your partners/Next of Kin number as an emergency contact. Or create a laminated card with the details on that you can put in your pocket. This is particularly important if you have any medical issues that people need to be aware of. You can also get a small implement to tie into your shoelaces which you can put your next of kin details in. On this point it is also worth noting that on the back of the race number for the Half Marathon you will see that there are sections for runners to fill in necessary next of kin details and any medical issues for the organisers to be aware of. Please do not ever give your race number away as this causes all sorts of issues for race directors if there is a medical emergency.

7.            Run Routes – many people use the same route, run at the same time and on the same days. This can make you vulnerable if anybody is monitoring your movements and might act on it. Vary your routes, time of day running and if possible try and run with a group. Consider joining a running group where you will be welcomed, encouraged to run with a group and be supported as you develop. Clubs are not elitist in any way and there will be lots of support for new members.

Finally consider joining a self defence group and learning a bit more about what to do if you were in the unfortunate position of being attacked or challenged. Your new found fitness will also help you in situations such as this.

Quick Kit Tips:

Wear clothing suitable for the weather. A light thermal top, gloves and a thin outer layer will be suitable for most winter weathers combined with long or short leggings. A light rain jacket will provide additional protection from the wind and the rain. In summer less kit may be appropriate but consider Hi Viz all around to make you more visible. Don’t overdress as too many thick layers will make you feel too hot and you run the risk of over-heating.

Remember sunscreen, consider a cap or sun glasses in hot sunny weather

Use Vaseline or similar to avoid chafing in areas that may rub

Consider buying a light bum bag for long runs….mobile phone, gels, water bottle etc might come in handy if you are struggling.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tempo Running

What is a tempo?   There are many different definitions of a tempo run and to some extent the term tempo can mean different things to runners depending upon what they are training for, the level of experience and also how willing they are to push themselves! 

For the sake of this post I am going to try and look at the tempo in a bit more detail in relation to the Half Marathon.    The definition that I am going to offer in this instance is "the fastest pace that can be sustained for between 20 minutes and 60 minutes".  The aim of the "tempo" also known as a "threshold run" is to enable runners to sustain a relatively hard pace for a prolonged period of time.  As race day gets closer you may wish to increase the distance and time of your tempo whilst at the same time increase the speed that you do them.

With about four weeks to race day it may be that your training has hit a plateau.  If so the tempo might just be the answer to unlock it.  

An example of a tempo session might be:

1 mile easy jog as a warm up.
4 miles or 30 minutes of running at tempo/threshold pace
1 mile of easy jogging as a cool down.

What should a tempo feel like?    The tempo is about sustained hard running.  You should feel challenged, you may struggle to keep up a meaningful conversation (one or two word answers are a good indicator if someone is working at tempo pace) but you should also feel in control of the should not see you fall by the wayside after two or three minutes gasping for air!

I have used the tempo run in my own training for a long time.   I have two favourite routes that I use.  The first is approximately a two lap four mile route.  The second is an 8.5 mile out and back course.   When I am training for shorter races such as 5km or 10km the shorter tempo is used on a weekly basis.  Likewise if I am training for a race such as the Half Marathon I will use the longer tempo on a weekly basis.  Over the years I have used these courses regularly so the times I am running on them are a great indicator of my current fitness.

There is a theory put forward by an american author called Matt Fitzgerald around making sessions, blocks of training and races personally meaningful.   Matt advocates the use of the tempo run in building race fitness and encourages runners to use these sessions to get "race fit".   Some of the key messages the author gives are around making the session mean something to you personally.   The more personally meaningful the session is the more likely your brain will "allow" the body to perform to its physiological limit and the better you will perform.   

The sessions I use as tempo runs have been a part of my training plans for quite a few years....I know every bend, junction, climb and have a "bank" of times that have been recorded at different points in my training programmes.  In other words they mean something to me...they are not just another training run.

Generally nearly all runners can perform at a higher level in races than in training....have you ever wondered why that is?   The simple answer, according to Matt Fitzgerald, is because we place a higher level of importance on the outcome.

It follows then that if we use key sessions such as tempo runs in our training, we build up to them, we repeat them regularly, we set targets and goals then because we are placing some importance on them we can push ourselves just that little bit more in training than we could before!   Who knows that could be the key to achieving your target time on the 12th June!

It would be great to get a few comments or questions fired into the blog so feel free to post a question or two about your training, the race or any running related subject and I will see what I can do to help!

Happy running!


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Making Progress

Have you ever wondered why sometimes when you run it feels easy or effortless and sometimes it is a real struggle to put one foot in front of another?
Generally if you follow a running schedule over a certain number of weeks leading up to a race you are (hopefully) going to make some progress but what does this mean and how can you measure your progress.
As you get fitter there are certain changes that take place within the body.  These may include an increased stroke volume of the heart allowing more blood to be pumped around the body more efficiently, a lower resting heart rate, increase capacity of the blood to absorb oxygen or muscles becoming leaner and holding more energy.   These are all signs of the body becoming fitter!   These are difficult to measure but make running seem easier and more enjoyable.
What we can measure are things such as speed (doing the usual run but quicker for example), endurance (being able to run for longer) or generally increasing mileage, feeling more comfortable when we run or recovering from runs quicker. Depending upon your fitness background initial responses to training such as running may be self evident as you quickly start to increase distance, improve speed and feel more comfortable. However the more training you do the harder it is to keep those fitness improvements going. That is why it is a good idea to adopt some of the following “principles of training”.
  • Specificity -  if you want to improve your running then running should be your main focus of activity.
  • Progression - start at your level and gradually increase
  • Overload - work harder than normal – this is how your body adapts
  • Reversibility - train regularly or “Use it or Lose it!”
  • Tedium - keep it interesting.   A varied programme of activity, routes, distances make running all the more enjoyable.
Here are a few examples of sessions and how to progress them over a few weeks:
  1. Choose an out and back course (you can use any distance but aim for a route that is traffic free, good running surface and will not take more than approx 20 minutes). Start (after a short warm up and stretch) with a steady run out. Jog/stretch for a short period (not more than 5 mins) then return aiming for a slightly quicker pace on the way back. You could use this session regularly to assess your fitness always aiming for the return leg to be slightly quicker.
  2. After a warm up of about 10 minutes stop at a landmark (i.e a prominent road sign for example). Run hard for 10 minutes and note where you have stopped. Over the next few weeks repeat this session and see how much further distance you are travelling in the same time period (10 mins).  It will be a great motivator to know you are covering a greater distance in the same amount of time!
I hope that your training is going well and you are well on track to complete the Half Marathon on the 12th June.   Remember to plan in those easy or rest days alongside the harder running days!