The big day in the running world:
On Sunday 10 October, thousands of recreational runners will take on the challenge of a 5km, 10km, half marathon or full marathon distance at the Melbourne Marathon Festival. With new title sponsors and following the 2020 cancellation of this event, this 2021 version promises to be bigger than ever.
Getting off on the right foot:
To help PMPP clients prepare, we chat to local running coach, Chris White. Chris is the founder of GoRun Australia. In this blog, he shares his thoughts on building your running fitness and preparing for Melbourne’s largest running event – no matter which distance you choose.
Where would you recommend people start with their training?
- COACH TIP 1: Start with Where You are at.
No matter what challenge you have decided to take on, you have to start with where you are at. That means being honest about your current fitness, any injuries and what is going on in life at the moment. Being honest, rather than aspirational, is the key here. We can all aspire to have more time, hope to be a little faster, lighter or not have that calf niggle. However, this may not be your current reality.
It is important to start with an honest assessment and plan from that point onwards. This way, you dramatically reduce the likelihood of stretching your body to breaking point in those first few weeks of training. A great example follows: many people immediately start to run at their goal pace, rather than gradually building up to that point. This is where the phenomenon of “too much, too fast, too soon” can creep in. The good news is that your body will usually let you know what is too much. The bad news is that you have to listen to it!
With your event now in the diary, it is time to start your training early. This will allow yourself time to gather momentum and also for your body to adapt to your new training regime. You can even start slightly behind where you are at. You can think of the first week as just about building a new habit and ticking a few easy boxes. The challenge now is being consistent!
What is one thing you emphasise above all else when you are coaching?
- COACH TIP 2: Consistency is Key.
We’ve all been there – started a program and then found that 2 weeks later we are either injured or can’t find the time. As a runner, I’ve certainly had my fair share of false starts. Sticking with the program is tough, but it’s also where the gold is.
As a coach, if I had a dollar for every time I said, the phrase “consistency is key,” I would be very rich! I probably say it to someone each and every day. There are hundreds of different ways to train, different coaches with different methodologies. The one similarity? All of them require you to be consistent and disciplined. It’s the same thing with diet, work, and most other things in life. Without a doubt, consistency wins almost all the time.
When training for a running event, that consistency comes in the form of running and recovering regularly. This consistency is what allows your body to progress and adapt over time. Most people I coach will run 3-5 times per week. They usually have a couple of key sessions per week, such as their long run at the weekend and a faster run/intervals session during the week. There will usually be plenty of easy running thrown in there as well, to build up cardio fitness.
Completing these sessions each week and having consistent recovery can not be understated. As a coach, this consistency is one of the main things that I look for. However, If you struggle to maintain consistency and momentum, we look at how this be can improved. I would rather see someone regularly doing 3 runs/week, than 3 weeks of 6 runs/week, followed by time off due to injury.
What about recovery? Any tips to help people improve their recovery?
- COACH TIP 3: “Training = Workout + Recovery”
I’m borrowing this little gem from Dr Phil Maffetone, who often writes about health and endurance sports. To me, the value of this equation cannot be understated. So many runners or athletes only look at one part: the workout. They hit the treadmill, trails or track every day, stacking up the km’s on Strava as they go. Don’t get me wrong, working out is addictive and recovery, lets face it, can be kind of boring. On the other hand, recovery is where the magic and the adaptations happen to your body.
Recovery allows you to keep doing the fun workouts. This equation simply shows that if you aren’t recovering, then you aren’t training. Yep, it’s that important. You are going to be putting your body through more than normal during this training. In light of this, it will need more recovery than normal. After those long runs or tough sessions, you are likely to be tired, sore and possibly nutrient-depleted. With this in mind, taking care of your body becomes doubly important.
That care comes in various forms:
- Increased sleep
- Foam rolling
- Stretching those tight and sore muscles
- Dry needling
Good planning of your routine should include strategically-placed days of total rest and lighter recovery days. On these days, the aim is just to get the body moving again. Remember, you can not finish the race if you don’t start it. Getting on top your recovery in order to avoid injury, particularly in the last few weeks of your training, becomes really important.
We hear a lot about the value of easy running, what are your thoughts on that? How easy is easy?
- COACH TIP 4: Easy Means Easy
Easy running is the foundation of most running programs. Obviously, we add in strength, mobility etc but a half marathon, at it’s core, is a long and aerobic endurance run. Importantly, you need to run at an intensity that you can hold for hours at a time.
Easy training runs do two things:
- Help us to build our aerobic system
- Cause less strain on our joints and muscles.
It’s two for the price of one! In addition to developing the right type of fitness for your event, you are also less likely to injure yourself. I would encourage you to not think of ‘easy’ as a particular pace on your watch. Instead, think of it like a level of effort where you are comfortably running. This means not gasping for breath and able to talk to the person running next to you.
Some coaches will encourage you to stay below a certain heart rate or pace to keep things easy. Nonetheless, the principle is the same. Don’t push hard. This way, you are able to repeat these runs again and again, week after week, consistently. As mentioned before, consistent running and recovery are two of our main aims in training for your event.
What about food and drink? Do people need to make changes to their nutrition?
- COACH TIP 5: With Nutrition, do What Works for You.
Whenever I say the word nutrition, I cringe a little. To be honest, I’ve tried to stop using the term with the people I coach. It sounds too scientific and implies we need to be eating all sorts of weird and wonderful gels, powders and herbal concoctions. Certainly all of these things can help, but in my opinion they can’t replace a good diet of healthy food and drink. The trouble with the word ‘nutrition’ is that we mainly think about what is needed for race day. Conversely, we need to consider everyday nutrition that allows us to sustain the months of training to make the start line.
To prepare for your event, you are hopefully going to be training a fair bit! The food you eat and the liquids you drink will give you the fuel to run regularly and recover well. To find this out, you will need to experiment a little and discover what works for you. If after testing a few things, you find that eating a Snickers during your long run works best, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The best time to test this is before, during and after your long run. This is because it’s the closest you will come to replicating race day. A few ideas:
- Try to eat a meal that you might eat the night before the actual race.
- Do your long training run at the same time you will be starting your race.
By doing this you will get a sense of what your energy levels are like at that time, how much food/drink you will need beforehand and what food will sit well in your stomach. Remember, everyone is different. Whilst I might have a pizza the night before and coffee, banana and muesli in the morning, other people would swear by another combination. Whilst I might only be able to have 2 gels during a long run, somebody else might be able to have 4. Experiment with it and see what works for you.
PMPP’s Dietician, Bella, can be found here for tailored dietary/nutrition plans and advice: https://www.chowbellanutrition.net
~ Chris White
Chris White is Head Coach at GoRun Australia. He has coached hundreds of runners to their own running goals. He continues to run to keep fit and has run over 30 marathons as well as ultra marathons and ultra endurance triathlons.
You can contact Chris directly if you have any questions about his coaching for Melbourne Marathon Festival or any points in this article:
Read these blogs to learn how Chris has helped both Sally and Ali achieve their running goals: