Part three of your eight-week plan to prepare for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon

Gary Sturdy, Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club
Gary Sturdy, Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club

With six weeks to go before the gun goes for the start of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon and five mile Fun Run, runners will be looking at adding some speed and strength training to their schedules.

Week three of the eight-week training schedules provided by John Jales, head coach of Dacorum & Tring AC Road Runners – and winner of the 2013 Dacorum Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the sport of athletics – incorporate two speed sessions each for the Serious and Club Runners groups, with the Beginner group increasing their mileage.

Samantha Hawkridge, Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club

Samantha Hawkridge, Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club

This week, John also recommends a 10km race for the Club Runners group, and if you’re willing to travel, there are two road 10km events in London, in Hyde Park and at Bushy Park - see to sign up. There is also a multi-terrain dirt run in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Otherwise, a five-mile run at race pace can be substituted.

For those of you who train on the wonderful footpaths and trails around Dacorum, January can be a challenging month to keep up the good work.

Our recent spate of wet and windy weather, coupled with acres of mud, flooded fields and other hazards, can lead to twisted ankles and nasty falls.

Getting cold and wet can also lower your resistance to the many unpleasant viruses that seem to be lurking around every corner at this time of year – make sure you get inside and get warm and dry after a session out in the cold and rain – and when you’re feeling under the weather, you’ll do much more good than harm by taking an unscheduled rest day.

Rotary Club logo

Rotary Club logo

In the worst weather, it’s best to stick to the roads to avoid the pitfalls of off-road training – but make sure you’re visible to cars by wearing light-coloured clothing; high-visibility vests or strips on your outerwear are essential at dawn, dusk and always at night, when it’s also highly advisable to wear a headtorch. You can get these for less than £10 at Tesco or Robert Dyas, or go for a higher-end version from a camping store or online.

Local runners take on the Berko challenge

This week, we hear from two Hemel Hempstead runners, members of Dacorum & Tring AC Road Runners, who have been dealt minor illness and injury setbacks in the lead-up to their Berkhamsted Half Marathon and five mile debuts.

Samantha Hawkridge is taking on the Half Marathon in preparation for the 2014 Virgin London Marathon, while Gary Sturdy is preparing for the Fun Run, his first-ever competitive race.

Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club logo

Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club logo

Samantha has spent most of the past week suffering with a heavy cold that has forced her to miss four training sessions and one cross-country race for the club.

“It’s very frustrating”, she says. “My head says go but my body says no! Although it’s boring, I know I’ll be better for it, and hopefully I’ll do a good time on the day”.

She advises anyone in training to listen to their bodies: “if you feel tired or are ill, just rest. Your fitness will not go in a week!”

Sam is a recent convert to long-distance running. She had always been fit and into sport, but gave up going to the gym as she found it boring.

Swimming was a good alternative, but she wanted more, so on a sunny day in 2009, she decided to go for a run in an old tracksuit and trainers. That summer, her husband signed her up for the Herts 10km – and that’s where it all started.

“I really wanted to run a marathon, and I got offered a place with Brainwave, a charity that raises funds to support children with neuro-developmental conditionals – and which had provided treatment to my nephew,” she said.

So she began training for the 2011 London Marathon, finishing in a time of 5h 18m and realised she had caught the bug – subsequently setting herself a target to run one marathon every year until her 40th birthday.

Next up was the Milton Keynes Marathon in 2012, which was hindered by torrential rain and flooding and laid Sam up with her first severe injury of shin splints and runners knee, forcing her to sit out for seven months with physio and intense rehab.

The recovery period was depressing, she said, and she felt very low not being able to run, but she kept on with the physio, and in January last year, she decided to join a running club.

Within a few weeks of running under Jales’ supervision, she was back to old form and after two months was bettering her times – breaking her 5km and 10km PBs by five minutes apiece.

She has high hopes of breaking her Half Marathon PB in Berkhamsted in March, and her marathon PB in London, where she is running to raise money for the Ian Rennie Hospice, in memory of her aunt-in-law who passed away last year.

In December, she was rewarded with the club’s Best Newcomer award for her dramatic improvements in 2013. And despite this week’s cold, training is going to plan with a tailored schedule set out for her by coach John.

Gary’s story of how he began his training for the Berkhamsted Fun Run will be an inspiration to anyone.

Several frightening dizzy spells and a visit to his doctor two years ago set alarm bells ringing, when it emerged that his blood pressure was dangerously high. So out went the cigarettes, and in came the good resolutions, with a new push bike, a dose of medication and a determination to get fit.

“But as any ex-smoker will tell you, cigarettes get replaced by food,” said Gary. He didn’t feel safe cycling on the roads, so only went out in fine weather along trails and the canal tow path.

Even so, his weight ballooned by more than three-and-a-half stone. Diets didn’t help, gym membership was costly and being stuck inside didn’t appeal anyway. So he turned to running and the rest is history.

A meeting with Jales one club night last spring led to an immediate rapport. John took a look at Gary’s stomach and said that he liked a challenge.

“Fine,” thought Gary, “I’ll give him a challenge.” At his first session, John set him running from lamp post to lamp post in the Jarman Park car park for 15 minutes, which was ‘exhausting’ and all he was capable of doing.

The realisation of how unfit he had become was a wake-up call, and Gary knew that he had to make this work.

Over the next few weeks, John got him running the full perimeter of the car park, and within a few more weeks, he was doing two sessions per week of four times round the car park.

The physical rewards were quick to come, but Gary also received unexpected feedback from others: “Initially I had kept my running a secret from those at work,” he said. “But people started to notice that I had lost weight, not from my stomach, although that had gone down a little, but from my face. My complexion was better and I had more energy.”

With his fitness improving in leaps and bounds, Gary’s next step was to tackle the roads and footpaths beyond Jarman Park, and he was soon running between three and four miles per session around Adeyfield and Maylands Avenue.

He’s now running four miles or more each session, and has begun training with the main group at Dacorum & Tring, including weekly speed sessions at the track and on the roads and footpaths in the district.

“My weight has continued to reduce although I have put on a fair amount of muscle,” he adds. “Clothes, especially jeans that I couldn’t even get over my legs, now fit me and all thanks to John, the Dacorum and Tring Athletics club and every member, all of whom has made me feel very welcome.”

In recognition of his progress, Gary was presented with the award for Most Inspirational Runner at the club’s recent prize ceremony.

Gary has his sights set on the Berkhamsted Fun Run and is understandably excited and at the same time nervous at taking on his first competitive race.

He began running again last week after a recent bout of flu, and completed 4.5 miles at a steady pace with no adverse effects.

If he succeeds in completing the Fun Run, which no doubt he will, he says he’ll be ‘content.’

Running has become a way of life, and coach John has got him doing more than he ever thought he was capable of.

His words of advice to new runners out there? “Get out there and give it a try. When you’ve done that, build on it. If you need someone to get you motivated, join a club!”

> Please visit to sign-up for the race or click here

> Next week, we check in with Kate Rennie, a Berkhamsted working mum of two and two-time winner of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon.


Week3/8 (Jan 20-26): Elite athletes

Men: Sub 1h18 / Women: Sub 1h25

Monday: 6 miles easy

Tuesday: Warm-up, then 6 miles, to include 6 x 2 mins fast / 2 mins slow

Wednesday: 6 miles, starting slow, finishing faster

Thursday: Intervals: 12 x 400 metres with 90 sec recoveries

Friday: 3 miles slow jog or rest

Saturday: Warm-up, then 5 miles fairly fast, warm-down.

Sunday: 10-12 miles steady

Week 3/8 (Jan 20-26): Club runners

Men: Sub 1h18 to 1.31 / Women: Under 1.39

Monday: 5 miles easy

Tuesday: 6 miles starting slow, finishing faster

Wednesday: Warm up then 3 x 5 mins fast, with 5 mins recovery jogs

Thursday: 5 miles easy, including 6 x 150 fast strides

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 2 mile jog slow, then 1 mile fast, then 2 miles slow

Sunday: 10km race or 5 mile pace run (timed)

Week 3/8 (Jan 20-26): Beginners, based on athletes who have been running at least 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week

Monday: 4 miles easy

Wednesday: 4-5 miles of fast & slow running (fartlek)

Friday: 4 miles easy

Sunday: 7-8 miles easy