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Runners: how to stay in shape for race day

With the race fast approaching, Dr Peter Francis from Leeds Beckett University’s School of Clinical & Applied Sciences offers some top tips for Leeds Half Marathon runners.

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With little over two weeks to go, there will be three types of runners preparing for the Leeds half marathon.

Those who have their training in the bag and are managing a descent toward the start line, those that are trying to make up for lost time, and those who have done some good training but are managing an injury on the home straight.

In the words of Professor Steve Peters, ‘taming the chimp’ will be key for all three.

I ran the race myself in 2015 with a finish time of one hour and 24 minutes. I was in the 3rd camp. After some good training early that year, I was coaxing my achilles tendon towards the line by the end.

Here is my advice to all three groups of runners.

Training in the bag and managing the descent

You are the most fortunate of the three.

Even if things were to go awry in the next couple of weeks, you would probably be okay. Therefore, my advice to you is not to change a thing.

Your current fitness has been built over time and is not going to change dramatically in the next two weeks.

Don’t do anything silly like reach for a bit more training in the hope of a better time. This will probably lead to an injury.

By contrast, more of the same will probably lead to a performance improvement. Start to wind down about 10 days beforehand. In other words, do not do your normal long run on the last Sunday before. Do about 60% of it.

The week of the race itself, the readiness is all. Have some rest and any day you do run, run about 50% of what you normally would. I suggest you have the Friday or Saturday completely off and whichever of these days you do run – make it a jog. 13 miles is a long way and freshness will get you there sooner than more training.

Making up for lost time

Yes, there is still time. You can still get some training in that will be beneficial.

There is a skill to being in this group. You have to start with an honest appraisal of where you are right now. In other words, if you haven’t run more than five miles up to this point, forget about the great time and focus on getting there.

You can gradually increase mileage for four of your runs, adding 1.25 miles for example - enough to bring you from five to 10 miles. This will get you to 75% of the distance the Tuesday before the race, at a reasonably low risk of injury.

You can get away with a later last long run as you will not be carrying the same training fatigue as those in group one.

The week of the race, you can then conduct a sharp descent to the start line. As with group one, there is very little running in the two days prior. The key to being in this group is trusting that 10 miles in training is enough. You will carry yourself home on the day.

Physically fit but starting to limp

This can be the most frustrating group to be in, but if managed correctly, it can leave you performing pretty close to those in group one.

You have put in a lot of hard work, hence the frustration at your new found niggle. The majority of the hard work is still there. Half the battle is realising this and starting to appreciate the potential competitive advantage of having a little more rest than planned.

This requires a certain degree of confidence, which after 10 years of making mistakes, I had thankfully developed by 2015.

Be strategic. Get treatment. Start cross-training (e.g. 20 x 30-sec hard 30-sec easy on a spin bike).

Pick your battles. If you have an injury that settles in between runs with rest, decide the remaining runs you will do between here and the end. This is a maintenance plan not a progression plan.

Consider developing three plans: worst case scenario (one run a week for the next two), probable case scenario (two runs a week for the next two) and a best case scenario (three runs per week for the next two).

You may want the runs you do to be long runs – this makes sense if you can manage it given the event you are training for. If distance is the aggravating factor, consider a higher volume of shorter runs to keep you going.

Then – go with what you’ve got – which is more than you might think!

Good luck to all three groups!

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