With less than two months to go before the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, most runners will be keen to up their mileage by getting out onto the local roads and trails for longer runs.
Week two of the Gazette’s half marathon training schedule lends itself well to the terrain in and around the borough – and there’s no better place to test out your fitness than on the country lanes and hills of the course itself.
Dacorum & Tring AC Road Runner’s head coach John Jales has set out several timed speed sessions and a long run this week for both the Elite Athletes and Club Runners groups.
Potten End is an ideal starting place for a longer run. From the village green, it’s a 3/4 mile run down The Common towards Berkhamsted, then, after a sharp right, it’s another two miles down the Nettleden Road to the bottom of the ‘big hill’ up to Little Gaddesden.
Taking the left turn into Ashridge and past the management college and then left again into Frithsden and back up to Potten End makes for a neat 10-mile route – nine of which cover the Berkhamsted Half marathon course.
The Frithsden Road, just over a mile in length, also makes a great route for those hard speed sessions – it’s mostly flat and traffic is minimal, although you might run into a few deer!
One person who has pounded the lanes and paths around Berkhamsted many times in the past is Ed Banks, a three-time winner of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon.
He’s run the race every year since 2006, winning the race outright in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
His fastest time over the course is 1hr 10m 57s, which he did in 2011 – and what’s remarkable about that time is that it’s only 10 seconds slower than his personal best for the distance, which he achieved on a flat course in Bristol in 2012.
Many people have achieved PBs at Berkhamsted which, despite being a tough course is, according to Banks: “Varied enough to keep you on your toes, and has a great downhill finish.”
Banks grew up in Berkhamsted, but moved away after university and now lives in Birmingham, where he works as a teacher and runs for Birmingham Running Athletics and Triathlon Club.
But the pull of Ashridge and the Chiltern Hills is strong, and he keeps coming back to run the Berkhamsted Half. “It’s become a bit of a tradition for me,” he said.
“I love coming back for the half marathon. I usually choose Berkhamsted over other spring races, because it’s good to go back and visit, and because it’s also one of the most scenic and picturesque road races out there.
“It’s a great course if you can handle the hills,” he adds. “It’s also a nasty course if you’re having a bad day. The first mile takes you through residential areas and out of the town.
“The third mile is the first big challenge, a long climb up to Potten End. If you get up that without too much trouble, it’s a great downhill stretch all the way to Nettleden. This is where you can make up the time you lost on the hill.
“The hill up to Little Gaddesden in the seventh mile is probably the toughest on the course – it’s short but very steep – but it also marks the highest point of the course and it’s reassuring to know that it’s largely downhill from there.
“After this you pass through the beautiful scenery of the Ashridge estate. There is one more short climb in the 12th mile and once you’re up that it’s downhill all the way to the finish.
“Because the course loops back just before the finish, you can see the finish from quite a long way away, which I really like. It’s a fantastic course.”
The buzz surrounding the town on race day is also a big part of the appeal. Banks says the Rotary Club do a great job of putting the event on every year.
“The event is well organised and well supported, and raises lots of money for local causes. The five mile Fun Run also gives an opportunity for people to try their hand at a more manageable distance, and I know that lots of local children like to take part in this.”
Banks is still undecided about whether he’ll toe the start line in 2014, as he’s been struggling with a foot injury since the summer, but if he can get fit enough in the next two months, he’ll be back.
Last year was a stellar year for him: as a serious club runner, he racked up PBs of 4m 40s for the mile, 8m 47s in 3,000m and 15m 19a over 5,000m and will be looking to build on those times this year.
“I just want to keep on improving until I can’t improve any more,” he said, “but hopefully that day is still a long way away!”
> Please visit www.berkorun.com to sign-up for the race or click here
> Tip of the week: Recent research in the US has revealed that up to 75 per cent of runners train on their own, either through preference or for practical reasons.
But running with a group or a friend has a number of benefits - it’s safer to run accompanied, it is almost always more motivating, as you won’t want to let your partner or group down if you’ve arranged to meet for a run and it can vastly improve the quality of your training.
Doing your weekly hard session/s with a group makes it more likely you’ll work harder than when you train alone, especially if your fellow runners are faster than you – and you can choose a slightly slower group for your easy sessions to make sure you’re not running too fast on recovery days.
There are a number of local running clubs that welcome new runners; you can generally try them out before committing to joining.
Dacorum & Tring AC Road Runners trains every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 7pm from the Jarman Park athletics track in Hemel Hempstead and offers a variety of road, off-road and track sessions for runners of all abilities, with hands-on coaching and other support. Find Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club – Road Runners on Facebook for more details.
> John Jales’ timed speed sessions:
Week 2/8 (Jan 13-19): Elite athletes
Men: Sub 1h18 / Women: Sub 1h25
Monday: 6 miles easy
Tuesday: 6-7 mile hilly run, with hard bursts up hills
Wednesday: 6 miles easy
Thursday: 6-7 miles, including 10 x (1 min fast, 1 min slow)
Saturday: 1 mile jog, then 6 miles fairly fast, 1 mile slow.
Sunday: 10-12 miles slow
Week 2/8 (Jan 13-19): Club runners
Men: Sub 1h18 to 1.31 / Women: Under 1.39
Monday: 4 miles easy
Tuesday: 6 miles fairly fast
Wednesday: Warm up + (4 x 3 mins fast with 2 mins recoveries)
Thursday: 5 miles easy
Saturday: 1 mile jog, then 5 miles fairly fast, 1 mile slow
Sunday: 10 miles slow
Week 2/8 (Jan 13-19): Beginners, based on athletes who have been running at least 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week
Monday: 4 miles easy
Wednesday: 4 miles with several 30 second bursts
Friday: 4 miles
Sunday: 6 miles slow