Training Blog: September

Forget mists and mellow fruitfulness, autumn is the season to kick off your Bath Half training. Hannah Lees, running coach and founder of Hannah the Runner has some tips to get you started.

Whether it’s the chilly mornings, the shortening days, or the increase in rush hour traffic as the schools go back, you can’t deny that autumn is here. For some this means their thoughts are turning to bonfire night, conker fights and putting the heating on, but for others the change in season marks the beginning of Bath Half training.

If you’re planning to do your first Bath Half in 2021 or you’re returning to the race in search of a PB there are things you can get in place now to set yourself on the right track, and running is only part of it.

Believe in yourself

So much of running is about self-belief. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re correct. It’s not about being arrogant. What you need to cultivate is the quiet self-assurance that comes from having prepared well.

If you struggle to motivate yourself to get started and stick to it, here are some things to try:

  • Sort out a training plan that takes you from now to your event; stick it up somewhere you’ll see it every day and cross each run off as you complete it;
  • Schedule your weekly training on the calendar (including any calendars you share with your family or household) and protect that time;
  • Training on the same days and times each week will help to form a habit.
  • Sign up for classes or courses – it can be harder to back out if you’ve paid in advance;
  • Train with a friend and you can keep each other motivated and accountable;
  • Build in small rewards at certain milestone points – new trainers when you do your first 10K run, a massage if you do every training session for a month, saving the latest episode of Bake Off for recovery day.
  • Schedule a 10K race in January or February. You’ll get a nice medal, perhaps a 10K PB, and you can practice your race day preparations.
    Build up gradually

Most running-related injuries happen when you increase your distance too quickly. For beginners there are tried and tested programmes, such as the NHS One You Couch to 5K app, to help you take things at the right pace. However, returning runners are just as likely to suffer overuse injuries as beginners. Avoid the temptation to leap back in where you left off if you’ve had a few months away from running. Maybe you’ve retained your fitness over the summer through cycling or swimming, but running is a high-impact sport. You need to regain strength in your feet, ankles and knees. Start short and slow (whatever that means for you). Increase your long runs by 1 kilometre per week or 1 mile per fortnight and you should avoid show-stopping niggles.

Mix it up

Running is the perfect hobby: convenient, low cost, sociable or solo depending on your mood. However, to be the best runner you can be you will need to combine your running with other forms of training. Add new activities gradually. Try different things to see what works for you.

Strength training – In the gym, at a class or at home, building strength will benefit your running and endurance, and reduce the risk of injury. Work on your whole body: legs, core, arms. It all matters equally.

Stretching – To run your fastest race your muscles need to be strong, but they also need to be long. Short, tight muscles cause problems over time. Yoga is the best way to stretch out your hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads. It also helps with core stability, control and body awareness – great for injury prevention. Do it regularly and you’ll see noticeable improvements in your flexibility.

Cross training – Running is high-impact and the movements are very repetitive. Mixing in some different activities helps keep your training varied and fun, works different muscle groups, develops skills like balance and agility, and reduces the impact on your lower limbs while still giving you an awesome workout. A netball match or some five-aside football, a long bike ride, wild swimming or a hilly hike – if you get the opportunity to do something different, go for it!

Run intervals

The majority of your Bath Half training should be interval training: shorter sessions of mixed paced running. They are the key to increasing your pace and smashing your target time. Hill repeats are the simplest interval session to try and will boost your fitness very quickly. If you’ve always avoided hills, doing some hill reps will have the added benefits of proving to you that hills are not something to fear and opening up a host of different routes for your long runs. All for just a few minutes of hard work once a week.

Here’s a basic session of hill repeats:

Run at an easy pace for about ten minutes to warm up, arriving after that ten minutes at the bottom of a hill (if you live in Bath there’s no shortage). The ideal hill is not too steep and has a smooth pavement with no side-roads or other obstacles.

Set a timer for 45 seconds and run up the hill at an easy effort level. Walk back down – it should take you about 2 minutes for the recovery walk after each effort. Repeat the uphill run but at a higher effort level (you will get a little further up the hill) and walk down again.

Now do it again, but at the highest effort you can manage without having to stop. Stand up tall, shoulders back, looking up the hill, lifting your knees and driving your elbows backwards. Make a note of how far up the hill you got – this is your mark to aim for. Walk back down to the bottom again. You’ve done your warm up and your first proper hill repeat.

You don’t need the timer for the rest of your reps (7 more) – just run at the same effort level to the same point. Run at an easy pace home again and don’t forget to stretch. Next week add an extra two reps and keep upping them as you get fitter.

Recover properly

Post-run recovery, nutrition and rest are just as important as training. Rehydrate after every run remembering to replace lost salts as well as water, especially if you’ve sweated a lot. A simple rule to remember for running nutrition is carbs before, protein after. Milk is a great post-run choice because the balance of protein and fat is perfect for kick-starting muscle repair (if you don’t like plain milk try chocolate milk, hot chocolate or a latte).

Make sure you plan rest days into your schedule. It’s only when you give your body a chance to recover that the benefit of all this training will actually kick in. Sleep is the best kind of rest – it probably sounds like something your mum would say, but it’s true. Get a few early nights, especially if you start to feel a bit low on energy.

Above everything else, remember that running is a hobby not a chore. Every runner has the odd day when they aren’t feeling it, but you should never dread running. Training for the Bath Half ought to be enjoyable overall. Embrace the process and enjoy the journey.