Now, I probably can’t call myself an expert in the field, but I’ve been running for a couple of years now and I’ve experienced the ups, downs, what to do’s and what not to do’s.

For a professional relationship, my colleagues have seen me in Lycra far too many times, and hence, they’ve got to know about my running exploits and basically I’m the mad nutter that goes running distances most people would drive unless it was for a very good reason.

A week or two ago I got an instant message from a work friend delighted to tell me she’d signed up for another Half Marathon (had been signed up for Royal Parks but one thing and another led to a DNS – although the training never materialised). This time it’s a Half Marathon at Eton Dorney  with a few friends to accompany her and she came to me asking for tips and advice.

Then yesterday another friend came over and said “can you talk to x, he’s doing North London Half and doesn’t know where to start” – the answer in my head was about 10 weeks ago, as at the time of writing it is 7 weeks on Sunday to race day.

I myself have a race on the same day and with tailing off a bit before Christmas and not really doing anything over 4mile since mid-December I decided I needed to pick up the miles again this week if I wanted to have a decent shot at it. I incorporated the run up to Silverstone into my Berlin Marathon training plan and still building mileage slowly, however I’ve been invited to run Brighton Half which means i now have 5 weeks.

Person x however, although generally fit, doesn’t run, hasn’t run and until peer pressured into the North London Half probably wouldn’t run.l

We sat down for 30 mins and I blurted as much advice as I could to prepare him and we’re going to get together once a week to chat & see how things are going.

A few bits and bobs of advice I’d give to anyone starting running:

1. Running Shoes

This guy needed to move quickly, he didn’t have any running shoes – my advice, call Sweatshop on Trump St (local to office) go and get a gait analysis from day 1 and get some.

Get the fair analysis & take the advice, but don’t go based on looks or brand – granted, if there’s a pair of smashing Asics Stability shoes for over pronators and that’s what you are – go for it.

Don’t completely avoid the bargain bin. Just because they’re a season old doesn’t mean they don’t work just as well, in fact they’re probably just the same with a different pattern – exception is something like the Hoka Clifton where they widened the toe box between versions 2 & 3.

 Try them on, have a go on the treadmill if you can and see how you go on with them.

2. Training Plan

Let’s just say there aren’t many Couch to 21k training plans out there, but to give some guidance I suggested checking out Hal Higdon. My issue with most training plans is that they tell you to go for a 90min long run – that’s not going to work for a newbie or slow runner like me – 90mins and i’ll just nudge over 10k, so I’d much rather have a plan that tells me exactly how far I’m running that day and I can work my schedule around it.

I like the Hal Higdon plans for two reasons 1) they are tailored to your level and goal, they literally go from Walk/get round to Advanced, plus they give you actual mileage to train for and the time is open so you can do your 10 mile training run without any pressure.


3. Training

It’s not hard and fast rule that you have to stick to the training plan, if you can great, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session here and there – life happens!

Also, if the mileage feels like it’s getting too much, take it slower (if you have enough time to allow).

 

 4. Target

if it’s your first race, whether 5k, 10k or half, don’t set yourself one time target, just set yourself the target of finishing – it’s a great achievement in itself.

For Royal Parks (and for most of my races) I set myself three targets to meet: a) Finish, b) under time A which I would be happy about  c) under time B which seems out of reach but not impossible on the day.  As it turns out, I missed 2/3 of my targets, but I still finished and for my first half the most important thing, particularly after the parts where I considered bailing.

 

 5. Walk

Don’t be afraid to walk if you have to – you wont be disqualified.


It’s about the journey and at least trying to enjoy the experience. I do know of some who have PB’d by using a run/walk method rather than all out and hitting the wall at x mile. [http://news.runtowin.com/2010/04/27/marathon-pr-run-walk-run.html]

In my first half I was loving the first 6 miles, it was around  London (Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Whitehall, The Mall) and I flew around and got to 10k not far off my PB and I was sure I would hit Target A if I kept it together. However no amount of gels, jelly babies or Colin the Caterpillars are going to help you once you’ve gone past a certain point – I just couldn’t get energy back in my legs and I started to wish I’d taken it easier and slower in the first half of the race.
 

 6. Build distance slowly

Most Half Marathon plans are 10-14 weeks, but personally why wait – get started as soon as you can and build up slower and reduce the risk of injuries and the stress of whether you’ll make it to the start-line with confidence you’ll make it round the course.

Personally I’ve actually just kicked off my Berlin Marathon Training plan – a whole 30-something weeks in advance. I’ve taken one of Hal Higdon’s plans (usually 16 weeks) and stretched it out.

One topic that I’ve discussed quite a lot lately is time on feet! I know of people who’ve done MdS not by training silly miles but running/waking & extending the amount of time on their feet to get used to the feeling. In a couple of weeks I’ll be doing the exact same thing, I’ll be walking Putney-Tower Bridge-Waterloo via every walkable bridge en route. Now I’m not bothered about how much of it I run – of course I will run some of it. The idea is to get 3 hours on my feet and so get an idea when the legs start to feel tired, to practice nutrition & to practice run/walk intervals. You learn so much by just spending time on your feet! 

 

7. Join the community & a club

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re already on Twitter or Instagram or one of the other various social media platforms.

Get involved with the likes of @UKRUNCHAT and engage with people – I am still learning and what better people to learn from. We all started somewhere (don’t forget that either), so that person who now does 100km runs was a struggling parkrunner at one point. Ask them about what they did and what they got wrong and it’ll help you avoid the same mistakes.

One of the best things I did was joining a running club. My dad has always been a member of a running club, but I didn’t think it was for me. I thought it was only for the quick runners or those who want to go and get muddy doing cross-country at the weekend – IT’s NOT!!


I am fortunate, I have a really friendly, social multisport club. I go along to the Sunday Social run which involves a 3,5 & 7mile runs with specific coaches and no one gets left behind. You don’t have to sign up on the spot, go a few times, see if you like it, if not – walk away.

 

8. Don’t stress about fancy gear

Ask yourself, you’re doing  Half Marathon, you hate swimming and don’t have a bike – do you need a £500 Fenix 3 – probably not. I still use my trusty Forerunner225 and it works perfectly for what I need (although seeing as im doing triathlons this year I wouldn’t mind an upgrade).


I’ve seen people run Halves with their phones literally strapped to their arms using an elastic band (ooooh the chaffing), I would at least recommend a arm strap in that case.

 

9. Get a Mantra

Trust me, I know it sounds silly but when you need that something to get you to keep putting that one foot in front of the other – it comes in handy.

Mine have been:

“One foot forward” – training run along embankment on a hot summers day

“You are tough enough” – during Tough 10k at Box Hill (only at 6k)

“Keep moving forward” – Royal Parks somewhere near mile 10 when I just wanted to finish

 

10. ENJOY IT!!!!!!

Ok, okay, I know running 3,6, 13 miles for a metal disc and a banana may not seem like much fun, but it’s only as fun as you make it. I think some of us once we’ve been running for a while we forget that actually you can have fun whilst racing – chat to other runners, say hi to spectators (or ask for a hug like I did – not recommended) or rope in some friends, I had the best time ever at Brixton 10 because I had to fab friends with me to drag me along!

 

What would you advise a new runner or what did you wish you knew now that you didn’t then?