Park runs are just around the corner… and just like the rest of you Bears, we can’t wait until they’re back! Here are some top tips from British Marathon Champion Jonny Mellor on how to achieve a park run PB!
It is impossible to get the fitness benefit of a week of hard training in just seven days, however, JM Coaching can help you run a personal best over 5k in just one week by following our top tips and tricks below.
Remember ‘tricks’ won’t work long term; ultimately you have to run more to improve fitness with smart consistent training. The tips below are designed to maximise the training you have already done.
In the week leading up to the race focus on good quality sleep. Growth hormone, which is fundamental to regeneration and growth is released when you sleep, meaning all of the hard work you’ve put in training before this race will come out as you reduce your training load. You should be aiming for at a very minimum of seven hours a night, but preferably eight. Sleep is for champions!
If you look good you tend to feel good! Providing you have the right kit, which fits well and performs (keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter) you won’t get much performance gain in changing your race kit. However, taking inspiration from Nike’s Sub 2 attempt and watching Eliud Kipchoge race around Berlin in lycra could help shave off a few seconds! Compression gear has also been shown to boost blood flow to muscles and reduce the risk of injury, however, some don’t like to feel restricted so it really is a personal preference.
Running in new trainers before a race is always a risk, however, given it is a 5k and not a long distance event, I’m fairly comfortable in suggesting a new pair of running trainers will give you a skip in your step mentally as much as physically! Some people have also been known to wear spikes during a Parkrun, especially if your event is predominately on grass or soft trail. You can often pick up last season’s spikes discounted online or alternatively, a trail shoe is a very sound investment and something you’re much likely to get the use out of long term.
Know the Course
You might race the same Parkrun course each week if so you should know the course inside out but if not or you’re a Parkrun tourist make sure you know the course prior to racing. You need to know the ups and downs, any sharp bends or turns and when to sprint finish for the line. If you know the course you can eliminate worries in the days leading up to the event. The fewer worries you have the more relaxed you are.
The most common rule for taper is to gradually drop training volume starting two weeks before the race, with about 50 percent of normal volume in the last week, while maintaining intensity (so you don’t lose fitness). Given this is for a 5k a good taper is important but not as vital as a long distance event. Plan your 5k taper to start five or six days before the race, then run a medium hard workout around four days out so you don’t feel lethargic. If you don’t currently run intervals I’d recommend just reducing the volume and duration of runs, while maintaining the current pace. Don’t start running intervals now!! The right duration and intensity will help you stay fresh but be careful not to get it wrong. Research suggests you will run faster by tapering than simply not running at all!
If like me you’re not the supplest of runners, consider adding some light stretching into your week to help improve flexibility. If you’re not used to stretching I’d stretch on Wednesday with two days to recover prior to racing. If you’re more flexible on race day there is less resistance to overcome during the event.
I wouldn’t advise a pre-race massage but I would recommend getting a massage around three days out from the competition. This can help to improve your range of motion and like stretching can free up friction and tension within muscles. Explain to your massage therapist that you’re racing at the weekend and ask for a flush through rather than deep tissue massage, which can leave you feeling tired.
You can’t make too many drastic changes to your diet in a week. Nutrition is a complicated topic, where evidence is contested at best. Whatever the amount of vegetable and fruit you’re eating, increase it. High quantity and as much variety as possible but don’t go overboard to risk stomach upset in the week leading into an event. You’ll soon notice a difference in how you feel on runs.
Pre Race Nutrition
For a 5k my advice would be to eat as little as possible, especially with an early start time. If you eat a good healthy meal the evening before you should have enough energy to run a 5k. By overindulging at breakfast time you’re risking stomach upset and excess blood being used to digest your food rather than muscles. Some people can’t run on empty, so eat/drink what works best for you. Don’t try anything new. Perhaps a banana and a coffee/energy drink? I’d recommend drinking no more than 500ml prior to a 5k race starting early in the morning. Hydrate well the day and evening before to make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated but you don’t want excess water sloshing around in your stomach.
Caffeine and Supplements
Speaking of coffee, caffeine is a legal sporting stimulant that has been scientifically proven to improve performance. You require 2-5mg of caffeine per kg body weight for a two-hour event. One espresso is about 100mg. If like me you don’t like coffee, opt for a ProPlus or similar supplement. I use the Elite Health Span 200mg Caffeine tablets, mostly because they’re on the informed sports list but are also relatively cheap. Other supplements I’d recommend would be Beet It Juice. I think the evidence is pretty solid for enhancing endurance. In brief, I’d recommend taking a shot the night before and another shot two or three hours before racing. Ensuring you are stocked up on magnesium, iron, vitamin B and B12 might also help.
Go to the Toilet!
It might sound silly, but it really is important to ‘empty the tank’! I’m assuming as a runner you’ve experienced stomach issues on a run before?? So make sure you’re ready to go on race morning and not worrying about any mid-race toilet stops.
Pick a 5k or Parkrun event, which you know people have run fast on before. Look for courses, which are flat and sheltered.
The importance of a good warm-up should never be neglected, especially if you’re running a Parkrun early on a Saturday morning! Perform an easy 10-minutes jog or even cycle to the event to increase blood flow to working muscles and prepare them for the race ahead. Follow your easy jog with some dynamic stretching (here). Perform two 30-second bursts at race pace to help get your breathing ready with 90-seconds easy jog/walk recovery between. If I simply roll out of the bed in the morning and run it takes me a good few miles to iron out any creaks and actually feel like I’m moving normally!
This is very difficult to change in just one week, however, simple changes can make a huge difference to your running gait helping you to run more economically (using less energy). Breathe through your mouth and keep your shoulders relaxed at all times. Focus on driving with your arms and imagine holding an egg in each hand. You don’t want to clench too hard you drop the egg, but you still want to be able to hold an egg in your hands. Keep your arms parallel to your body as much as possible. Your arms can move forwards to the midline, but do not let them cross it. You should keep your body as upright as possible when running, with your hips just behind the point where your foot strikes. Look straight ahead and not down.
If you’re a fan of athletics I’m sure you will have seen pace makers at various Diamond League meetings and road events across the world. Having a pacemaker you can rely on can be a huge help on race day making sure you don’t go off too fast or slow as well as being by your side (or preferably just in front if it’s windy!) to offer encouragement and motivation. Hang on to your pacemaker for as long as possible remembering to save one final kick in the final 400m to smash that personal best!
Run with Others
Even without a pacemaker we all know the benefits of running with others and how this can help drive you to run faster and for longer so just running with a group of friends of a similar (or just a bit faster!) can also be a big help.
If you don’t have a pacemaker (or any running friends!) you could always rely on modern technology in your personal best attempt. It’s very hard to judge pace on your own, however, a GPS device can help by offering feedback on your current speed and distance. Don’t forget if you’re racing a Parkrun, your GPS can be affected by trees and other obstacles such as high-rise buildings and bridges so bear this in mind. Most events have km markings throughout so if you don’t have use of a GPS you can always keep an eye out on your splits at each marker and aim to run at an even pace.
Check the Weather
On a windy day run behind someone for as long as possible to shelter from the wind and ‘take a ride’. Don’t worry about using them, perhaps you can help the following week and surely for a personal best it’s worth it?!
When racing try and follow the best racing line, that doesn’t mean cutting corners but instead running the shortest distance around corners. Always save something for a final 400m-sprint finish. You can make up so much time by finishing faster overtaking other runners rather than shuffling home. All those seconds count! Try and run an even pace throughout if you can but if you can run an even pace try and run the first two km a bit faster than the third and fourth with the final km faster with a fast finish. Start nearer to the front on busy events, with fields in the hundreds at some Parkruns it can take you several seconds to cross the start line but don’t start to near to the finish if you’re young or at risk of being knocked over by faster runners.
Smile! It will help you enjoy the day, in turn helping you to stay relaxed. Studies also show a relaxed forehead from smiling can help the rest of your body stay relaxed. Plus you’ll look a lot better on post race pictures!
Think Outside the Box
Ok so this article is mostly about Parkrun, however, have you looked to see if there are any track open meetings coming up? Pace judgment is much easier on the track and is always much quicker than running on the road or trails.
Believe you can do it!! If you believe in yourself and visualise running the perfect race beforehand you will be unstoppable! Good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who don’t give up and the best things come to those who believe.
If all else fails, show a growth rather than a fixed mindset. Embrace the challenge ahead, learn from previous setbacks, put more effort in, keep trying and never give up at any stage of the race, be inspired by others, friends, workmates, fellow Parkrunners and learn from them. Most of all ENJOY your day! Always free, everyone always welcome.