Coaches Top Tips

Welcome to the GBRC coaching page. Our UKA qualified coaches regularly provide advice, hints and tips to help you prepare for races and events, and keep your running injury free. The most successful athletes have a balanced training programme tailored to their specific goals, so have a read and plan your training accordingly. If you have any questions at all regarding running technique or training, please feel free to contact us through this site, or speak to a coach at one of our sessions. Happy running!


The Principle of Recovery – when is your rest day?

Some parts of being a running coach are great. I get to see my athletes beat their PB’s, running further and faster than they thought possible, claiming club standards and medals along the way. Lots of smiley faces and medals flood my Facebook page on a Sunday afternoon. The downside is when an athlete is injured, and without proper recovery between races and training sessions, this is inevitable. You’ve only got to look at the club Facebook page or listen to the chat in a training session to see how many people are carrying injuries or niggles, and the sad thing is that nearly all of them were easily preventable. How many of us have run tough training sessions back to back, or raced hard at the weekend before turning up to the Monday hill session, expecting to put in some decent training? I’ve done it, and paid the price. It starts with a little stiffness or soreness in the legs, maybe feeling a bit tired. ‘I’ll run it off’, is the general attitude, especially in a group where taking a day off training may be perceived as a sign of weakness. So people run the next day, and start to feel a bit worse. They’re convinced that running more miles is the only way to improve. The cycle continues, as you are afraid of taking a day off in case you ‘lose fitness’. I’ll happily talk about the principle of reversibility another time, but the general result of this cycle is pain, injury and prolonged periods out of running.

This can be avoided by training towards a set goal or target and listening to your body, not just chucking endless ‘junk miles’ down the road. The following principles should be part of your training cycle all year round:

Specific – All training sessions should have a specific fitness or technical goal. For example, you might be doing a 5K run at a fast pace to improve your lactate threshold, or a long slow run to build on your aerobic endurance. Decide what race, distance or speed you’re aiming for and train for it. Any of the club coaches or captains will be happy to help you with this, we want you to achieve your athletic potential and are here to help you. So train like an athlete, and give up the ‘junk miles’.

Overload – Once you’ve decided what your training goal is, you work that session intensity accordingly. If, for example, you’re working on your 5K speed then the harder you work, the greater your potential for improvement. If you run uphill at a steady pace for long periods, you’ll increase your strength endurance. You need to overload the corresponding energy system and muscle groups for a set time period to increase your capacity for whatever you’re training for. If you run every session at the same pace, no matter what the distance, you’ll always race at the same pace too. So make every session count.

Recover – Overloading your body causes short term damage. Muscle fibres will start to break down, and may feel stiff and sore the next day (known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is a natural response to unaccustomed exertion, and the key to improving your ability is to allow your body to recover. Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean no exercise, it might mean a light run at a slow pace, a walk or a different exercise session entirely, such as swimming or Yoga. Taking a lighter session after a hard one allows the blood to carry waste materials such as broken cells away, and replenish them with new ones. Don’t worry about how far or how long you run for, the key word here is ‘recovery’. The most successful athletes cross train, and will include strength and conditioning work, flexibility sessions and other sports alongside their main discipline. This allows them to maintain a high level of fitness and ability without constantly overloading the same areas. Putting muscles and joints that are already damaged through an intense training session, and the damage level will increase. Have a chat with one of the coaches for more information about this.

Adapt – If you follow the first three principles, your body will adapt to the standards you are asking of it and you will be able to run faster and further without injury. This will take time and you should be realistic when constructing a training plan. The most common cause of injury in new runners is running too far, too fast. Learn from the mistakes of others and don’t let them become your own!

To help you put this into practice, I’ve created a good and bad example of a weekly micro cycle (training programme).

Example A…..
Monday – Hill training
Tuesday – 5K race
Wednesday – Club night, 5 mile Tempo run
Thursday – social run with friends
Friday – Club night, Speed development
Saturday – Parkrun (only 12 to go before I get my t-shirt…)
Sunday – Half marathon race

Example B…..
Monday – Hill training
Tuesday – Gym session, strength & conditioning
Wednesday – Club night, drill session
Thursday – 30 minute walk and stretching session
Friday – Club night, speed development
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Long run, easy pace

At first glance you can see that Example A has a higher training load. The week includes 2 races and no rest days or recovery sessions – a recipe for disaster. Example B has a lower training load, is more varied and includes rest & recovery. These are just examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Now write down your last week of running and take a look for the recovery sessions!

FAQ – these are typical questions that I get asked on a club night. Do any of these apply to you?

Question – My last 3 half marathon times have been awful. I’m just getting slower and slower and don’t think I’ll ever get a club standard. What can I do?
Answer – Well, 2 of these half marathons have been run in the last month, so maybe a little recovery in between would help. Pick a race and allow around 8 weeks to train for it properly and you’ll see better results. Oh, and don’t do a Parkrun the day before you race. That’s just silly.

Question – I’m doing my first half marathon this weekend, when should I do my long run this week?
Answer – Don’t. You should be tapering at this point, allowing your body to recover from the intense training you put in to build yourself up for this race. You can have a short, fast run around 3 days before (it varies from person to person), but allow yourself a couple of days rest before you race. Your hard earned fitness won’t disappear overnight!

Question – I’m doing a marathon on Sunday, I’ll be alright to do hills on Monday though, right? I’ll just have an easy one.
Answer – I’d recommend you take 2 weeks off from running and then build your mileage back up slowly. A lot of people finish their marathon on a high and come away convinced they’re invincible, which unfortunately leads to over training. You’ve put your body through a lot, take some well earned time to recover and come back who you feel ready. The club has some awesome marathon runners, (Clive, Vicky, Chris, Barbara, to name but a few), have a chat with them and take advantage of their wisdom. If you turn up for hill training, expect the coach to have a word with you!

Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’ll understand that recovery is an essential part of your training programme. It’s not a ‘soft option’ or an excuse to miss training, and without it you can expect injury and run envy as all your mates carry on racing. So if you’re nursing a niggle or racing this weekend, ask yourself when your recovery day is and plan your activity accordingly. No athletes were harmed during the production of this coaches top tip, but if you or an athlete you know are not including recovery in your training, come and have a chat with a coach and get yourself sorted.

Darren Horner
GBRC Head Coach
UKA Level 2 Coach in Running Fitness