We’re now nearing the mid-way point of our eight-week Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run training schedule, and – with the mileage and the intensity still on the rise – many runners will start to feel the weight of the extra training.
There’s respite on the horizon; by week seven, runners following the plan will begin their taper towards race day, but there’s still plenty of hard work left to do.
Sometimes it might feel just a little bit too much to get out the door and plug into a tough interval session, especially with the extreme weather that’s been thrown at us over the past month or two.
It’s normal to feel fatigue at this stage in your training – after all, the intensity of the schedule and the build-up of miles around the mid-way point is meant to train your body to deal with tired legs and low glycogen stores - two things you’re going to be experiencing as you head back towards the finish line and tackle that hill from Frithsden up to the to of New Road. (Yep, the one that seemed so gentle last time you drove it but which will feel like a mountain at mile 12 of the half marathon!)
Mid-schedule training is always a delicate balance between accumulated fatigue – which is a good thing if managed correctly as part of a schedule incorporating adequate recovery runs and rest – and overtraining, which will leaving you exhausted and open to illness and injury.
John Jales, head coach of Dacorum & Tring AC, who has provided the eight-week schedule, offers these words of advice: “The emphasis at this stage is to listen carefully to your body.
“Wear wind and water-resistant clothing in bad weather, stretch well after running – and if you miss a day for any reason, DON’T try to make up for it next time you go out by adding extra miles.”
He also points out that the easy runs on the schedule must be just that; an easy run. These runs are designed for recovery, and they’re a key part of your training.
If you aren’t able to maintain a conversation, or if you’re labouring up hills and your heart rate is over 70 per cent of your threshold, slow down!
It’s a good idea to go out with a running partner or group that runs at a slower pace than you normally would, which will force you to ratchet down your effort.
You don’t want to be trying to get a good workout from a recovery run -–that’s not the point. Keep it short and slow and you’ll find you’re raring to go at your next hard session.
Ladies on the Start Line
One thing that has changed over the years at Berkhamsted has been the composition of the race – and by that, we mean the people who run it.
32 ago, when the first ever Berkhamsted Half Marathon took place, the vast majority of runners on the start-line were male.
This year, women are likely to make up around a third of the field, with numbers rising each year.
That’s a fantastic development, as girls and women have taken to running in increasing numbers, inspired perhaps by the exploits of our Olympic athletes in London 18 months ago, where the GB women – if they’d been a country unto themselves – would have come seventh overall in the gold medal table, level with Germany and ahead of Australia, France and Spain.
A recent report from the US shows that fully 57 per cent of competitors at the half marathon distance are female – up from 20 per cent in 1985.
While there isn’t any similar recent data from the UK, the number of female participants is certainly growing, with women between the ages of 20 and 39 outnumbering men in the same age bracket at many road races.
Running is one of the easier sports for busy women to take up. All you need is a good pair of trainers, a decent sports bra and suitable outdoor clothing.
Then it’s lace up the shoes, out the front door and you can be back home again in under an hour full of endorphins, face glowing, body firm and lungs full of clean, fresh air.
Join a running club and you’ve got a whole new social life to go with your sport. Many clubs also offer athletics and cross-country training for children – Dacorum & Tring AC runs adult (16+) road running sessions at the same time on Tuesday and Thurday evenings as track-based athletics training for children age 10 and up – giving parents and children a chance to enjoy their sport together.
Berkhamsted residents have no doubt seen dozens of women pounding the streets in various shades of lycra and trainers, but they may not have caught sight of Kate Rennie, winner of the 2011 and 2013 Berkhamsted Half Marathons, not just because she runs so fast that she’s often a blur, but also because she does much of her training at 5.30am!
Kate won last year’s half in a time of 1:24:06, good enough for 30th overall. That was half a minute quicker than her time from 2011, when she won in 1:24:35, finishing in 37th spot.
But what’s astonishing about her 2013 time is not just that she was 39 at the time – which incidentally is an age when many long-distance female runners are hitting their peak – but that she won the race on next to no training; just one Monday night speed session at the track and then a longer run at the weekend and maybe one early morning 50-minute run each week.
“I’ve always been able to run. I can’t sprint, but I can run at a good pace for a long time,” says Kate. “My husband tells me I’m a bit like Forrest Gump in that way!
“At school, I ran 1,500m on the track, coming third in the Herts champs several times, and I’ve not stopped running since.
“When I went backpacking in South America, I ran a lot and got really fit – not realising that much of my training was at altitude.
“My friends would send even me off for longs runs in the morning to scout out the best beaches for the day.”
Family life and full-time work haven’t diminished Kate’s love for pounding the paths around her Berhamsted home, but she’s had to be a lot more creative with her time.
Working on a six-month on/off contract basis as a series producer for Thames Television for the past few years meant she was forced to squeeze in an early morning run two or three times a week, heading out the door at 5.30am for a 50-minute run around town, with a longer run through Ashridge at the weekends.
It’s clear, though, that family comes first in Kate’s life. Training is slotted in around a busy schedule with two young boys and she’ll only head out the door for a run on the weekends if it doesn’t take away from precious family time.
Even so, husband James is supportive of her running, and is a handy runner himself, with a goal to go under 1:45:00 in this year’s Berko Half.
And it looks like her boys will follow suit: Kate will be running the Five Mile Fun Run this year with eight-year-old William, her eldest, who’s been asking to run the race with his mum “for years.”
For Kate, running is one of those sports that you can just ‘fit in’ – far easier to accommodate than going to the pool or gym.
Even more importantly, it takes on the role of ‘me time’, removing her from the hassles and worries of every day life.
“Running can change your mood; you can go out in a bad mood and come back in a good one,” says Kate.
“I don’t like gyms and I don’t do treadmills – why would you, if you can get outside? I also get a lot of good thinking done when I’m running; I write scripts in my head and sort out problems that seemed a lot harder before I set off.”
The Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run is an annual outing for the Rennie family – especially now that her eldest son has taken up the challenge. And having lived in the town for 12 years, Kate’s not short of support from friends and family when she’s heading round that final corner of Brownlow Road towards the finish line at the Berkhamsted Cricket Club, with crowds of spectators thronging the course.
“The support of the crowd is brilliant – it makes a huge difference,” she says. “In the past, my boys have been there with big banners, and loads of friends from town are there too.
“The race has a great atmosphere, and the course itself is fantastic – I like the hills and the scenery is beautiful.”
Not every runner out there has Kate’s natural speed and ability or even her perseverance when it comes to micro-managing a busy family and a full-time job along with high-level running.
But, as Kate says, it doesn’t matter how long you run for or how long it takes – it’s important just to get out there and enjoy it.
“I have more admiration for people who do a marathon in six or seven hours than for those at the front – they’re on their feet for a lot longer and that takes a lot of doing.”
Next week, we hear from one of the school teams in training for the inaugural Schools Challenge, which will award £250 to the school with the top four boys and top four girls in the Five Mile Fun Run.
> John Jales’ Training Sessions
Week 4/8 (Jan 27-Feb 2): Elite athletes
Men: Sub 1hr 18m / Women: Sub 1hr 25m
Monday: 6 miles easy
Tuesday: 3 x 2 miles at threshold pace, with 6 min recoveries
Wednesday: 6 miles easy
Thursday: 8 mile fartlek, to include 20 x 30 seconds approx
Friday: 3 miles jog or rest
Saturday: 5 miles steady
Sunday: 3 miles warmup, then 5-6 mile race, not flat out
Week 4/8 (Jan 27-Feb 2): Club runners
Men: Sub 1hr 18m to 1hr 31m / Women: Under 1hr 39m
Monday: 5 miles easy
Tuesday: 5 miles to include 16 x 1 minute fast/1 minute slow
Wednesday: 2 x 2 miles (approx) timed at threshold pace
Thursday: 5-6 miles easy
Saturday: 1 mile easy, then 4 miles fairly fast (tempo) then 1 mile jog
Sunday: 10 miles steady
Week 4/8 (Jan 27-Feb 2): Beginners, based on athletes who have been running at least 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week
Monday: 3-4 miles easy on grass, if possible
Wednesday: 1 mile jog, then 2 x 5 minutes faster pace, with 5 minute jog between
Friday: 4 miles easy
Sunday: 8-9 miles slow