With the Potters Arf looming large on the horizon…..5 weeks today to be exact, I thought it might be an idea to look in to the finer details of running the distances between 10km and 21km as that’s where the bulk of my running is done these days.
For those not wanting to take on the full-time occupation that is the marathon, the 10km and half marathon represent big enough challenges to warrant respect without having to spend up to 3 and half hours of your Sunday morning plus untold steady miles during the week training for it. Having done several marathons myself I know what is involved and if you have commitments such as work, children or even a passing interest in having spare time, then preparing for those 26.2 miles is difficult.
Working your way up to a racing distance is as important as building mileage in training. If you have never run a half marathon before then a 10k would be a great place to start. It’s just under half the distance of the half and helps you get comfortable with what to expect in a race such as crowds, other runners and most importantly will help you judge your pacing in race conditions. You would reasonably expect to be able to maintain a slightly faster pace over 10k than 21k given a similar terrain and course profile.
I would advise someone running their first 10k or half marathon to run the first half of the race slightly within themselves so that so that you don’t reach halfway absolutely shattered and then have the problem of wanting not to continue. It’s much better to feel that you could maintain the pace for the second half of the race, or even better increase it. The worst mistake you can make as a novice and even as a more experienced runner (and I am still very guilty of this) is to get carried away by the occasion and start the race too quickly. Far better to gradually work through the gears and build to a strong finish. Negative splits are the panacea of all distance runners and are achievable through sensible pacing. Have a goal time in mind based on what you know you can reasonably achieve. Don’t be afraid to push yourself but it has to within your limits or you will just ‘blow up’ and leave nothing in the tank to finish the race. This is true no matter what your level, elite or novice.
As long as you have sufficiently hydrated before the race, there is no real need to take on fluid during any race up to 10k. If you do want to take on fluid mid race then a small (250ml) water bottle will suffice. Some 10k races have a drinks station at the midway point but I always find it hinders more than it helps to take fluid on at the station, it affects your running rhythm and breathing pattern. Better to take you own and a 250ml bottle is light enough to not affect your gait. For the half marathon you want to be taking on approximately 250-500ml per hour of running depending on the conditions (up to 750ml in hot conditions). A 1 hour 30 minutes runner should be looking to take in around 500ml of fluid on a normal day and a little more in hotter conditions. Gels are not really needed at this distance either but everyone will have their own opinion based on experience.
In terms of a pre-race fueling, assuming that a decent meal has been eaten the night before the race, breakfast is not really necessary. Races of up to 21k do not cause muscle or liver glycogen depletion so it’s unlikely that hypoglycemia will develop sufficiently for fatigue to be caused by not eating at these distances. The main reason for having breakfast, aside from the psychological benefits is to top up the stores partially depleted from sleep. If you do want to eat ahead of a race then you want to make sure that you avoid any foods which will cause an unwanted mid race pit stop! Long distance, competitive running does unfortunately cause gastrointestinal disturbances and knowing what foods exacerbate this will help you immeasurably. Only experience will tell you what these are. For me it’s bread, milk and cereal.
Having never been a fan of a pre-race warm up it pains me to say that it does actually help, especially dare I say, as you get a bit older. A 10-15 minute jogging and stretching session with a few bursts at race pace will suffice and mean that you are ready to run hard from the start of the race. About 5 minutes before the race starts have a 250-500ml drink (ideally carbohydrate containing).
Start line Preparation
When lined up on the start you should not be afraid to adjust your race pace based on the conditions. If it’s an extremely hot day it may be an idea to slow your pace a little to prevent heat exhaustion occurring. Again, experience guides best here but having come unstuck on a hot day I can attest to this being a point to take on board. Also, visualise how you are going to race and imagine running strongly to the finish. It may help, when running, to break the race down into chunks. That way you are not looking at a finish that could be up to 2 hours away but are winning mini battles along the way.
Post race and after 10-21km all runners will be at least mildly dehydrated and should drink to replace fluid and sodium at the earliest opportunity. The body will only replace fluid after the sodium chloride losses are corrected so some salt needs to be taken on. A bag of crisps is a good option, much better that a chocolate bar which will offer little (save that treat for later!). When the post race joy or disappointment abates you can review your performance and adjust your training to better prepare for next time. There is no substitute for experience in running. Only you can know what your body is telling you. Coaches, books and online information can all guide you but you are the master of your own destiny where running is concerned.
You should not feel that having competed at these distances that you need to move up to the marathon. You can race as much or as little as you like but the general consensus is that the more you race, the less likely you are to perform at your best. I would say no more than 3-5 10k races and 2-3 half marathons a year if you want to race at your best.
If you do want to move up to the marathon then that’s a different beast altogether and warrants great respect. I will write about that next time…………