Half Marathon Preparation – part 2

A series of blogs taking you through your half marathon preparation

Half Marathon Preparation Part 2: kit you can wear, effective warm ups, nutrition both before and during the event, strength and conditioning, including stretching, foam rolling, and strengthening exercises.

Running Kit – The obvious place to start is a good pair of running shoes, if the shoes on your feet aren’t of good quality, aren’t specific to running or they don’t have the correct amount of support then running may be a little harder than it needs to be. At Advance Performance we carry out an in-depth assessment of several different types of running shoes on your feet via video analysis. Once we have found the shoes that are working well we will then ask you to run outside and choose the most comfortable pair. It’s definitely worth doing, we have helped countless numbers of runners improve or enjoy their running more.

A set of running-specific socks is a necessity, they have extra features contained within them that  make your running more enjoyable. Features such as moisture wicking, blister protection, extra padding and air channels are usually present on various different makes of sock. All of these features can help your feet stay cool, blister free and comfortable.

Depending upon the time of year, the clothes you wear can vary a great deal. In Autumn and Winter time jackets and long-sleeve tops may be in order, long leggings will feel nice and toasty as well. In spring/summer, peel back the layers and enjoy the sun, the choices are obviously vests or T-shirts and shorts of various styles. The main requirements with any clothing is correct sizing – try it on to check, soft feel – not scratchy, breathable and moisture wicking.

Compression clothing has really boomed over the last two years in the running community. There have been a few studies carried out on compression clothing the last ten years. The area in which the strongest evidence was found to support the use of compression clothing is following a run, during recovery, it speeded recovery by up to 25%.

The handiest bit of clothing on race-day though is probably a bin bag. Yes, a bin bag. Why? Well, once you’ve peeled off your over-trousers and fleece you are horribly exposed to the elements while waiting in your starting pen. A large bin bag will double up nicely as a waterproof, windproof smock. You simply punch a hole through for your head, two holes for your arms and wear it over the top of your race kit. Thirty seconds before your race starts you tear it off and deposit it just the other side of the railing/in a bin and off you go.

Effective Warm Ups – In our experience at Advance Performance runners are generally rubbish at warming up i.e. they lace up their shoes, step out their door at the most do a couple of bad static stretches, start their Garmin and then off they go at race pace. Be honest does this describe you?

A warm-up should really follow the R.A.M.P. method used the world over by strength and conditioning coaches with elite athletes in order to minimise injury chances.

R = Raise the Heart Rate
A = Activate
M = Mobilise
P = Potentiate

As a runner, raising the heart rate is easy but it should be done in a progressive manner over five to ten minutes, an example would be walk, slow jog, jog quicker, run, run at your ‘about to be run’ pace.

The activation and mobilisation parts are done together and include exercises such as Sumo squats, knee to chest walks, knee out walks, knee across walks etc. They are exercises simply designed to mobilise the joints, increasing synovial fluid production – the joint’s oil – and activate the muscles that control those joints.

The Potentiate section focuses on dynamic stretches of all the major running muscle groups. These dynamic stretches may include Ankle rockers – calf muscles, Leg Swings forwards and backwards – quads, hip flexors and hamstrings, Leg rotations – Glutes and spine and Arm Circles – Shoulders.

Please note there are no static stretches in the warm-up, we don’t want to remove the natural elasticity contained within the muscles we are about to use.

Nutrition – As with any exercise there is a caloric demand in running. The approximate rule of thumb is that you burn 100 calories per mile covered – obviously this is effected by size, weight, pace of run, resistance etc.

On average women require 2000 calories per day and men require 2500, now that’s just to exist as a human being. When we throw a 13.1 mile run into the equation we need to add 1300 calories into our diets, in the form of food and drink or gels within the race, within a 24 hour period. If you are short on calories then your body will force you to slow down your pace, subsequently reducing your heart rate, allowing you to burn fat as a fuel.

You cannot run your best time without having enough calories onboard before you start the race. Even though a carb-loading period isn’t as intensive and long as it is for a marathon it should still be carried out over a few days before the race. The calorie count has to increase but in particular, the composition of your diet should become more carb-heavy. This allows the body to pack the glycogen into the muscles and liver from where it can be called upon in-race. The day before the race the lunch meal should be the largest of the day, dinner should be easily digestible and light in nature, this allows your body to digest the bulk of the food before you start.

During the race it is wise to take onboard 200-300 calories via either energy-based drink or gels. If you, like most people are running a half marathon in excess of 75 minutes then refueling is a must. Remember the running burns off approximately 100 calories per mile but your body is also burning off fuel just to function normally at the same time. You can’t digest more than 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, unless you mix the carbohydrate types, which is the equivalent of roughly two gels, which is also approximately 200 calories. So if you’re coming in at around the 2hr 20 mark then four gels is an adequate amount over the course of the race -one gel every half hour. Don’t leave the fueling until the end of the race, reacting when you feel tired is too late, taking fuel onboard at the beginning ensures you are stocking up the fuel tank while you’re going along rather than running on empty at a slow pace.

Strength and Conditioning – We’ve already compiled a hefty guide to strength and conditioning exercises that you can use to prepare for your marathon and obviously despite the shorter distance these are all still applicable. It’s definitely worth a read, as it provides you with the key stretching, foam rolling and strengthening exercises that target key areas that are involved in the process of running. If you improve mobility around a joint while at the same time strengthen the muscles that control it you will speed up.

There is some very confusing advice concerning stretching on the internet and I have no doubt that some people will disagree with what I am about to write, but static stretching is a good thing to do. I base this not only on supporting evidence but also on the hundreds of clients I have helped over the years. The vast majority of my clients have improved their range of motion around joints that have been restricted by undertaking a daily stretching program, subsequently adverse muscle tension has reduced while stride length and cadence has increased.

My recommendations on static stretches are to carry them out a couple of times in the day, the first being early in the morning when most of the muscles are nice and relaxed, the second being after a run. The stretches in the morning can be used for developmental stretching, i.e. making a long-term change to the length of a muscle. The stretches carried out after a run are shorter in duration but are designed to return the muscle to its normal functional length. The recommendation for developmental stretching is to hold the stretch for thirty seconds to a minute, while the post run stretches can be held for 15 seconds. Unfortunately the repetitive nature of running can lead to tightness in the muscles in the long term. In particular the calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and pectorals can all get a bit overactive leading to restricted movement patterns and possibly poor running form. Stretching is at its best when used in conjunction with foam rolling.

Foam rolling is at its best when it’s used every day. The rolling should be carried out on every muscle that feels knotted or tight. You simply find an area that’s giving you a lot of feedback and then stay on that point for about 45 seconds. By rolling, you’re trying to separate the strands of fascia that are getting stuck together or knotted.

The strength exercises are designed to fire up and strengthen key running muscles. In particular the hip stabilising muscles and hip extensors are targeted. In today’s society we seem to be switching off these muscles via the amount of sitting that we are doing in everyday life. We no longer have to forage for food and so we don’t spend nearly enough time working our hamstrings, glutes and back extensors but we expect them to work well when we go for a run.

Read Part 3…

Anyone who would like more advice is always welcome to pop in-store for help

Blog by – Matt Jeffery

Synergy Physical Training @ Advance Performance

About the author; Matt Jeffery is Advance Performance’s strength and conditioning specialist, he’s a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and runs a strength and conditioning company called Synergy Physical Training