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Birmingham Half Marathon: Part 2/3 Nine months to make a runner!

In the 12 years since I qualified as a Physiotherapist, I have worked across many sports: football, athletics and more recently professional Rugby with Glasgow Warriors. All of this has given me a greater insight to fitness preparation and the world of strength and conditioning – in addition to sports injury management.  It feels that this time around, as I train to run in the Birmingham Half Marathon, my training choices are more informed, thought-out and, well … sensible.
I’m not planning a night out drinking on the evening before the race this time around, and I have used my professional knowledge to steer me away from the training pitfalls I narrowly avoided when I was fresh out of university. That’s not to say that I am 100% confident I’ve got everything right just yet…  
For example, I had planned on buying a decent running watch – but, one week before the race, I still have not got around to it!  Instead, I have been trawling my i-phone around with me since January. While cumbersome, it’s done the job: recording stats on Strava, telling me I have run on average four times each week, averaging a distance of nineteen miles per week.  And reflecting on these figures, I’m happy with my preparations so far – particularly considering the importance I now place on strengthening and mobility exercises.
As lots of you may know, I am often preaching to runners that they should focus less on stretching and more on these aspects of training. Since focusing more on my running at start of this year I have maintained two gym sessions each week. Session 1 has consisted of basic resistance exercises such as squats and deadlifts. I worked up to around 1.5 times my body weight; this simulates the type of load and force which would be put through my body while running. Through regular resistance exercises, I have aimed to support my body’s tissues and joints to adapt to the strain extra training places upon it.  But variety is the spice of life, so I also added a few other exercises such as weighted lunges or step ups and a little upper body work. Session 2 generally incorporated more gymnastic and mobility exercises using body weight: bent hollow rocks, side planks, table, deck squat, skiers and the like… I was lucky to have the support and guidance of Roderic O’Donnel at Back4heath Gym @RodericFitness
What’s important here from an injury reduction point of view, is that I ensured I had a good block of quality strength and conditioning in the bank before starting to increase the distances I was running. Two to three regular gym sessions each week gave me this. Then, as I increased the intensity of my running regime, it was easier to maintain a baseline with one or two gym sessions each week. In fact, having trained properly this time around, I definitely feel it’s worth putting at least 3-4 months a side each year to really focus on strength and conditioning. Running races all year round may help some achieve equal or greater gains to those they find in the gym, but the risks to injury must be increased.
Like every runner, I have slowly built up my mileage over the past 8 months. Despite challenges in controlling my pace, I have stuck to my routine of warming up with a one mile jog followed by a 5 minute pre-run mobility session. Any time I cheated this, I really felt the effect.
There are aspects of training I had wanted to regularly incorporate, but it just hasn’t happened: track work and regular interval training to name a couple. This is what I tend to blame for the slight over-reaction in my calves when I have modestly increased my pace over the past six to eight weeks.
Although all-in-all, I have felt my pace improve with training.  My baseline fitness in January allowed me to run at a paces between 8.15 – 30 min miles. After the first three months, I felt comfortable running at a pace of 7.30- 45. Possibly, I was bit slow in my efforts to bring this down; instead, I lingered in my comfort zone for a couple months to long. But since around June, I have been trying to bring my pace closer to the 7 minute mile mark. Now, I can really feel the difference in how the muscles around my calves and achilles tendon are reacting to this new pace. It doesn’t seem to be a fitness issue for me.
While everyone is different, the key is to be aware of your body’s reaction – and respect that. That might mean reducing your runs from four to three; maybe even keeping your mileage static for period to allow tissues to adopt; or hitting the gym instead of the track.
But with work and family commitments it can be hard to fit in all of the training you may ideally like to. Personally, I have been kept very busy over the last 6 weeks. As a result, my twice weekly gym / gymnastic core stability and mobility sessions have almost stopped. This has left me really noticing my back tightening up whilst running; whilst this isn’t such a great feeling, it has served to reiterate the importance of practicing what I preach!
When I was younger, I didn’t really see the point in a massive amount of stretching post-exercise. But now my body has started to want a little stretching after long runs. Whether that is because I’m training harder or getting older I’m not sure – I’ll tell myself it’s the former.
Although, I don’t think I will be able to match the time I hit at 21 years young. I had hoped to get to 1 hour 30, but this time around my lungs, cardio-vascular fitness and legs really can’t handle running at a 6.45 pace for longer than 4-5 miles. Perhaps had I managed the intended speed and track sessions I would have got there. Instead, I think a more realistic expectation is trying to scrape under or around the 1 hour 35 mark.
I now even feel the need for some of the passive interventions us physios are known for. It would seem I am a wuss; I can’t cause myself enough pain with a foam roller or massage ball! So, I think I might be asking Annie to return the physiotherapy favour over the coming weeks.  A sports massage or dry needling might help to tackle one or two of the areas of my body which are proving problematic.
Failing that, I’m hoping that being busy will stop any nerves from growing! So, if we can help you, give us a call or book online – the more I have to distract me from the impending pain of race day, the better!