Mara Yamauchi, the UK’s second-fastest female marathon runner of all time and a two-time Olympian, shares her advice to help you prepare for the race ahead.
What I love most about running is that it’s a simple and inclusive sport – whatever our speed, we all face the same challenges of training, motivating ourselves, overcoming setbacks, and the excitement of racing. After all, we humans are born to run long distances, and running really is a terrific sport for mind and body. So congratulations on taking up the challenge of the London Landmarks Half Marathon!
Let’s get active!
First, physical activity of any kind brings many benefits, so if you are not doing regular exercise at the moment, try to start a routine as soon as you can. Please don’t wait until the LLHM is round the corner. The sooner you can start, the better. If you have never run before, you don’t have to start with running – walking, swimming and cycling are all great forms of training too. Running is a weight-bearing activity and is therefore harder on your joints and soft tissues, so doing it alongside other types of training can reduce the risk of injury. Furthermore, it’s always easier to train during the summer months when the days are longer and the weather kinder, but if you wait until the LLHM is nearly here, it will be mid-winter! So what are you waiting for?!
Adapting to training
Second, training is not actually what makes you fitter and faster. What does make you fitter and faster is the adaptation your body undergoes after training while you are resting, in response to the stimulus which training provides. So ideally we enter a cycle of ‘train then adapt’, ‘train then adapt’, and so on, and over time we improve and get faster.
To make sure this cycle works for you, your training needs to do two things: 1) it must be challenging but realistic – it has to stretch you but not so much that it leads to injury or illness; and 2) it needs to be consistent – sticking to your training week after week is crucial to ensure this cycle of adaptation works. These two things are linked – if your training is too hard, you won’t be able to do it consistently over weeks and months. So the key is to find a training routine that you can stick to consistently over time, without injury or illness. An important element of this is the rest and recovery you enjoy between training sessions – if anything, rest is more important than training for runners!
Third, setting yourself training goals can be very helpful. When it comes to goal-setting, we tend to focus on our results in races, or setting a personal best. These goals can help to motivate you, but without effective training, they won’t materialise. So try setting yourself some goals for your training, such as running x times per week, always doing a good warm-up and warm-down, or keeping a training diary. These will help you to train effectively, and then the performances will take care of themselves.
Running uses your entire body!
Fourth, training is not only about your cardio-vascular system. You also need to train your body (joints, soft tissues, bones, tendons etc) to withstand the running load. Running does this to some extent but a strength programme targeting key muscle groups (gluts, calves, hamstrings, core etc) done once or twice a week can be very valuable.
And finally, increments to training, whether that is the frequency, intensity or volume of training, must always be gradual. And if you increase your training one week, try sticking to that level for 2-3 weeks before increasing it again.
Please take a look at the other parts of the training section of this website for useful advice on nutrition & hydration, injury-prevention, and race preparation. And good luck with your training – I hope you enjoy it!
Copyright Mara Yamauchi 2017
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