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Training & advice

What could possibly go wrong?

Has it ever happened to you? You are working towards your target race or you're actually running in your target race and then the wheels come off, so to speak?

It is very rare that you have the perfect build up to a race and even rarer to run the perfect race. In fact, if you did, you would probably quit and move onto some other challenge such as bungee jumping or swimming with sharks! We all make mistakes, after all, we are only human. The good thing is that we learn from these mistakes. Even better is to learn from other people's mistakes! This article looks at things that commonly go wrong and what you might do to prevent them.

Too much too soon

Setting a new goal and starting a new training programme can be an exciting experience and you may set out with tonnes of enthusiasm. However, you must ensure that you progress your training gradually and only increase one thing at a time. If you are increasing the volume or length of your training runs you should keep the intensity or the speed of them the same, if you are increasing the speed of your runs then you should keep the duration of the runs the same or less. A good 'rule of thumb' is to ensure you don't increase anything more than 10% each week. If you do then you are in danger of becoming injured or ill as it takes time for the body to adapt to the stress we impose when we run.


It is so easy to slip into overtraining without realising you are doing it. You are building up your training, getting fitter each week and enjoying the attention of your peers who complement you on your lean and trim shape and your impressive times in training and racing. So you keep ramping up the volume and the intensity of your sessions, after all, the training has paid off so far so all it needs is more of the same? Right? WRONG! An important part of training is recovery and this doesn't just mean a day off every now and then. Some weeks should be easier than others and putting in a "double rest day" every now and then will keep your legs fresh and your mood happy.

Signs of overtraining can be quite polarised. You can feel lethargic but you can also have trouble sleeping, you may notice an elevated resting heart rate but you may also notice that you can't get your heart rate high during training sessions. If you don't address this problem it will lead to illness or injury. Plan recovery into your training and avoid burning out!

Failing to taper

Once you have done all of the training and your target race is just around the corner it is time to cut down on the volume of training and taper for the big day. Tapering allows your body to get to the start line feeling fresh and feisty! However, if you train hard right up to the big day, you will stand on the start line feeling tired and jaded before you take your first step in the race. Don't compromise your chances of achieveing your target. Make sure you plan a good taper into your programme.

Wearing the any old kit

We are lucky that running is a relatively inexpensive sport but there is some equipment that should not be compromised and that is your shoes. Some runners are lucky. They have a great running style and float across the ground with everything moving as it should. Unfortunately they are in the minority. Most runners are not as biomechanically efficient as they could be and many can be injury prone because of it. Buying a cheap pair of running shoes because you're not sure you're going to stick with it is a sure way of making sure you won't stick with it as you are risking injury. It is worth visiting your local running specialist to ask their advice on the right shoes for your unique running style. Don't be tempted to buy from the recommendation of a running partner. They may be good for him or her but they may have an entirely different running style than you. Take the advice of the experts in the specialist running shops. Technical running clothing is also worth considering. It will keep you cool and dry whereas cotton can become wet and heavy.

Wearing new shoes or kit for the race

Having advised you to invest in new shoes and kit we should also mention that they need to be worn in before you stand on the start line in them. Running in new shoes or kit is risky. it would be unfortunate to develop a blister mid-race or to suffer from 'runner's nipple' because of an ill-placed seam! Always wear your new shoes around the house as slippers for a few nights before running in them and always have a few runs in new shoes and kit before racing in them.

Trying new foods or drinks close to or during a race

Just as it is not advisable to race in new kit, it is also unadvisable to try any new foods or drinks before or during a race. Stick to what you know so that you avoid stomach cramps or, even worse, 'runners trots'!

Racing on a different surface than that which you train on

A change is as good as a rest, or so they say. This may be true but, just as you should gradually adapt to more training, you should also gradually adapt to a surface that you're body isn't used to and the time to do that is during training and not in a race. If you do all of your training off road but are planning a road race then you should factor in some training on the road to get your body used to this surface. Likewise, if you have, so far, stuck to the road and now fancy a trail or fell race then you need to do some practice on this softer and more uneven surface. Not only that, but you need to research the route and expected conditions. Some fell races have more risk attached to them. The descents can be treachorous so if you are a novice, you need to go out and recce the route first and consider running with a buddy.


Finally, the most common reason for the wheels coming off in a race is the runner going off too quickly from the start. If you have been training well, you should have a good idea of the pace that you can handle for the distance required. Remember that the pace at the beginning of a race will feel easy. You will get carried away with the atmosphere, nerves and camaraderie so you need to hold back when the gun goes off and ease yourself into a pace that you are confident of sustaining.

So, now you know what not to do, it's time to go out there and do what it right! Keep running, keep learning and one day you may even run the perfect race!