With the Delhi Half Marathon on 27 November, a number of fitness enthusiasts are challenging themselves to complete the 21km run. There’s a lot of excitement at gyms and running parks, with everyone trying to work on improving their speed and time, working on the “mental aspect” of reaching the finish line, but most importantly, doing all of the above and staying injury-free. There are many great things about running: It’s raw, it’s instinctive, it pitches you against yourself. Top that with a little technique and science, and you are at the finish line.
Here are some tips to fine-tune your last-minute effort at improving speed and time.
Challenge your run and change tracks
Don’t allow your body to get too comfortable running on the same surface; running on the treadmill will give you different times than the same distance covered on the road. Choose a challenging terrain to shock your muscles and do at least one trial run on the actual route if you can.
Change training techniques to improve speed and time
You may have started with a basic walk/run programme but by now you should be familiar with different training techniques such as the Fartlek (Swedish word for speed play—unstructured bursts of speed in the middle of a normal training run to help you increase speed and endurance); endurance/long runs (these are runs that challenge your endurance and aim for maximum distance, not speed), best done once a week; tempo runs (just a faster pace than a relaxed jog maintained continuously for a maximum distance); striders (these are 20 seconds or so of running at close to your maximum speed and then gradually returning to your normal) mixed into a basic run; and finally, some hill repeats (speed runs up and down a hill, mounds in a park or a short flyover, mainly to improve flat surface speed and strength). Refer to the Internet for useful training schedules on sites such as www.runnersworld.com, www.marathontraining.com, and www.marathonandbeyond.com
Perfect that practice: Do at least one trial run on the actual marathon route. Photo: Arvind Yadav / Hindustan Times
It’s very difficult to improve your speed and form if you don’t have lean, strong and agile muscles to support correct posture, underpinned by the foundation of a strong core. Visits to the gym are as important as running to build strength and work on those fast twitch muscles. There are two main types of muscle fibres, fast twitch and slow twitch— these influence how muscles respond to training and physical activity. Fast twitch muscles are much better at generating short bursts of speed and strength and though they tire quickly these are assets for sprinters. Slow twitch fibres, on the other hand, recruit more slowly, can go on for longer durations without getting tired, and are great assets for endurance and long-distance sports.
Make sure to include core training workouts, plyometric drills, resistance bands, foam rollers for release of muscular tightness and tension, along with the regular weights routine. Plyometric exercises challenge your muscles’ quick response with a view to gaining force and strength—jumps are a great example. Understand that speed and quickness are not the same as strength and endurance and that you won’t achieve great speed by only training for strength. Speed is not determined just by how strong your muscles are, but also by how quickly they react and contract. Your gym routine should help you develop strong muscles, challenge your muscles’ quick response, create more kinaesthetic awareness, better balance, better running efficiency, a strong core and more powerful strides.
Address your injuries
Make sure you apply ice every time you feel sore in any particular part of the body. If the soreness lasts longer than 48 hours, it’s time for medical intervention. Most runners ignore nagging aches and pains but this is the No. 1 cause of developing chronic injuries. Even if you’re not injured it’s a good idea to use a sports therapist or chiropractor on a regular basis to watch for any muscular imbalances or gait changes. Rest and recovery should be as important as training itself. Rest a day between runs; sleep at least a minimum of 8 hours a day because it is then that your muscles repair and recover.
Load up on carbs
Slow-release complex carbohydrates make a great pre-workout snack as they provide sustained and continuous release of energy. Banana shakes, energy bars or sweet potatoes are good examples. Hydrate with the right drink during your run, one that maintains correct electrolyte balance, like coconut water. A good post-run snack would be a peanut butter sandwich or an egg sandwich, basically a mix of protein with a substantial amount of carbohydrate. “Carbohydrate loading” refers to the process of increasing energy in endurance activities by maximizing the amount of glycogen reserves in the muscles. In layman terms, it means eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich food—like rice or pasts—a day before and on the morning of the race; this will be stored as fuel for your muscles to be used up during the race. This extra carb will be stored as glycogen in the body and will kick in by giving you an energy boost when your body would normally begin to hit a lull.
On the run: Try different training techniques like the Fartlek, tempo runs, endurance or long runs, striders, basic run and hill repeats
Me, myself and I
Running is as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport. Every time I go running, I try to inspire myself to go further and faster than the last time. It’s my time with myself, it’s my meditation, it’s where I get my most rational thoughts because I have time to think them through. Work on thoughts that motivate you. As runners, we need to constantly stay on our toes (pun intended) and push to get to that finish line.
Fine-tune your running gear
Avoid any last-minute surprises like a blister with a new pair of socks/ shoes or running gear that doesn’t feel right. The right shoes and socks top the list—make sure you’ve run a reasonable distance in the pairs you’ve chosen. Other things to put together: eyewear; running apparel, including tights/shorts, appropriate underclothes, cap and breathable and light T-shirts; inspirational and motivating music on your iPod; an appropriate arm or waist band; energy bars; a water bottle with a recovery drink like coconut water or from the Gatorade series, etc.
So go ahead and accept the challenge…the goal—to reach the finish line!
Sumaya Dalmia is the owner of The Bodyworks Studio, a personal training studio in New Delhi.
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