Want to know the best way to approach a multi-stage team relay event? GRTW Co-owner, Dawn Buoys reveals all …
A few months ago I got a call from my friend Tom asking if I fancied taking part in a relay team for Ragnar in Hamburg. Our last event in 2013 had been in San Francisco, where I’d run over the Golden Gate Bridge so, to be honest, the box was pretty much ticked with bells on. But since I’m currently training for a 38 mile ultra event, I thought at least it would be a good training weekend.
I didn’t realise I’d totally missed the point.
You see, Ragnar is not really about running, it’s about everything else that goes with it; it’s an adventure with your friends where you get really tired, probably lost, and go a bit feral. And if you get the right team, you spend most of the time struggling to speak not because you’re out of breath due to running but from laughing so much.
To get the most out of the weekend it’s all in the planning. Think about how best you can look after everyone on the team so that they can enjoy their experience. Our team leader knows what he’s doing so he matched each relay legs to each individual’s running ability based on distance (each relay leg can vary in distance), running experience and who would be best to run in certain areas in the dark. For instance, some of the relay legs are van supported and so, while they can be a bit longer, suit runners who prefer the security of a van nearby.
Sorting out a buddy system over night so that everyone has company when they need it is also vital – and most importantly, get an extra, non running person to drive.
Needless to say, in Hamburg we had no driver so were doing it all ourselves which unfortunately meant a few mess ups, like turning up at the wrong checkpoints at the wrong time. It meant one of our runners, Will was left stranded at the end of his leg but he fortunately made friends had eaten chips and got chatted up while he was waiting for us.
Also, keep the van tidy – I can be terribly messy but it’s exhausting if you can’t find what you need when you need it, especially at night. We kept a food, drink and lie down section at the back of the van, wipes, loo roll, bin bags in the passenger door and all the high viz and lights in the driver’s door. On that note, any extra head torches, or lights of any kind are super useful at night.
As a physiotherapist, I’d also recommend you try and keep moving. Once it gets cold at night it’s really tempting to hibernate in the van but your legs will stiffen quickly. Get out, walk around, support the others runners and do a few stretches; your legs will really appreciate your efforts. And eat!
Realistically, sleeping is unlikely so keep fuelling your body so it can keep going. Try and rest but don’t be upset if sleep doesn’t happen, your adrenaline will be pumping and it’s hard to totally switch off. Even if the day is warm you will get cold, I thought I had over packed in Hamburg but was so grateful for all my extra layers and especially my beanie hat and waterproof.
But most important of all, bring the right attitude. We vowed to never mention if we were cold or tired, as it’s pointless. That’s the challenge and that’s the bit that makes it worthwhile.
There are big highs and big lows often in the same mile. I was running through a cabbage field at three am panicking that it looked like an episode of Wallander when suddenly the clouds cleared, a huge moon appeared and shone so brightly that I found myself singing my heart out to Razorlight feeling like the luckiest girl in the world to be there.
So am I pleased I went to Hamburg? Of course. Was it better than San Fran? Actually it was, because I made some amazing new friends, had the biggest adventure and enjoyed so many belly laughs and that’s what a Ragnar is all about!
A recent article in The Times by Peta Bee highlighted the rise of online virtual training apps like Strava.
Love it or loathe it (and she was on the fence due to being confronted when meeting her virtual followers in real life – read the article here), being on Strava creates some funny behaviour. Do you recognise yourself in any of these…? I certainly do, I’m embarrassed to say…
The one where you spell out every bit of your training regime
No, not come across this? Or perhaps you don’t even know what it means and you think it is some kind of secret morse code. It will read something like; WU, 2m@HMP, 2m@MP x 3, WD. And that’s just a simplified version.
I’ve done it, others have done it. Why? It helps you to keep track of your training diary so that when you scroll back through your activities, you can see what pace you were hitting and what training you did. But it could equally be seen as showing off about your running know-how.
Which is silly because let’s face it, none of us on Strava are Paula Radcliffe…erm, although I do hear that Jo Pavey is on Strava.
Run with RP
The secret runner…this is the one where someone keeps their running companion a secret. Is it because someone couldn’t make the effort to write out their companion’s full name (although why bother to write at all?) or that they want to keep their running partner secret?
Perhaps they’re having an affair, or they want their other running friends to know about someone new they’re running with? Maybe it’s a new boyfriend? Or maybe it’s totally innocent and we should all have something better to do than wondering who it is?
Easy run with the kids
The one where you want to make sure your followers don’t think you’ve run really slowly, more slower than you’ve ver done before. Fair enough if you really have run with the kids. Not so cool if you actually ran by yourself and you just wanted to go on a slower run but couldn’t bear not posting it because you’d miss out on your Strava monthly miles target.
Felt awful, feeling sick, last mile my leg hurt. Then my head fell off. And I lost my running shoe.
The traumatised runner…this is the one where a runner explains in minute detail every feeling and niggle that occurred on a training run. Usually written just after a long training run when someone is still so internally focused, they don’t quite realise how much they’ve just shared via Strava because they’re still reeling – and glycogen deprived – from the run.
Sun run, feeling fine. OR, Running off the work headache. Stress. Feel like I could punch someone.
The confessional runner where someone inadvertently (or perhaps not?) shares a little too much information about what’s going in their life in general.
Despite all of this, we are BIG fans of Strava at Girls Run the World as a training app. It helps you to set challenges, connect with others, keeps track of your training and even gives you ideas about how to train by following other people.
Our community is small, around 3000 around the UK with a few outpost in the US and Australia but we’re growing all the time. By joining our club on Strava, we’re creating a network of GRTW runners which means that maybe next time you’re travelling to New York, Sydney or Mumbai, there might be another GRTW local runner who could show you her city.
Join Girls Run the World on Strava here. And if you’re worried about privacy settings, here’s a little video about how you can create privacy zones. Click here
If you find it a battle in training, let alone on race day, the key to unlocking improvement may all be in the mind..
Don’t forget to join us for our Facebook Live Mental Strategies for the Female Runner, Friday 19th January, 7pm, £4.99. Secure your space via our booking page and join us in our special Run Like a Pro Facebook group wherever you live in the UK for our live event.
Whatever goal you set yourself, whether to achieve a promotion at work, build a business, gain a personal best at a race, lose weight or just get to the end of your first 5km, having a firm grasp of your why is key.
Why is this so important? Because when things get hard, such as weighing up whether to scoff a cream cake or resist, or when it comes to running, push your body to run faster in training when it hurts, your brain is constantly weighing up how hard it feels against WHY you’re doing it. If your perception of how hard it feels outweighs your motivation, you slow down or stop. If the opposite is true, you keep you going.
So, there are two ways to improve – train more so that you get used to the feeling and it feels easier OR, increase your motivation so the drive to do it will aways carry you through.
Easier said than done, you might be thinking. But there are some simple tips that will help you to define your motivations so they help carry you through.
Love what you’re doing
One of the world’s foremost experts on human behaviour, Edward L.Deci, psychologist at the University of Rochester argues that the strongest motivation comes not from some sort of external reward, like more money, increased social standing, losing weight etc, but ‘from the satisfaction that one experiences in doing an activity itself.” So learn to love your fast pace work, do it with people you enjoy training with and even turn it into a social occasion so that after your weekly ‘hard’ session, you go out for a drink together so it becomes associated with a fun pastime that you enjoy doing in and of itself, not just because you’re aiming for a PB.
In my own experience, the more I love the process of what I’m doing and embrace it as a way of improving rather than doing it for the end result, the more I enjoy it. Try to frame whatever it is you are doing as a personal quest to get better—to improve and beat yourself—and focus on the satisfaction you gain from doing just that.
Think of others
Fear, discomfort and tiredness are the most common reasons why we slow down, walk or pull out of training or a race all together. Yet, people achieve incredible feats of superhuman effort, such as lifting cars, when helping others in danger. So it stands to reason that thinking of others when you’re feeling in discomfort could help to pull you through.
In fact, when Shalane Flanagan, who became the first American woman in 40 years to win the New York City Marathon last November when asked how she’d pushed through the pain barrier, she said: ‘I was thinking of other people when it started to hurt.’ So try that next time you’re on a hard training run and see if it works.
Turn on, tune in, drop out
Mindfulness and meditation are the big buzz words nowadays and for good reason – if you can meditate and learn to let go of distracting thoughts, you feel calmer, less anxious and gain better focus. It can work to improve all aspects of your life, and the same principles can apply to running. Like meditation where you learn to ‘watch’ thoughts pass through your mind without attaching to them, so too, you can try this method when running. It can help to disassociate from voice telling you to stop running if you’re just starting out, and help to keep you focused to that finish line. This is one that worked for me in February 2017 last year dong the Seville marathon. And as you can see from the picture of me when I’d just finished, the pain was real but I managed to disassociate from it long enough to get my PB.
Autumn is here and most of us are fully in the swing of running now but now is when a little strategic thinking about your running ‘season’ is vital, particularly if you’ve signed up to a Spring Marathon (London is 24 weeks way come November 6th!) ….
So, you’re a busy woman, juggling a career, social events, motherhood, or ALL of the above plus more. Running? That’s your way of keeping fit, having some me time, socialising and blowing off steam right?
But within this mix of factors as to WHY we run, how many of us enter races left, right and centre, particularly when fuelled by post race endorphins (or wine?) or because your running buddies are doing them?
I put my hand up as having done this in the past. And I understand it. It’s fun to have things to aim for, to motivate and inspire yourself (I once found myself signed up to five marathons in 14 months, from a trail race to road marathons spanning the globe from Mumbai to Istanbul and Italy). But it is when our running goals and targets end up injuring us, leaving us chronically fatigued, or always feeling like we’re not doing enough, that it becomes a problem.
How many times, for instance, have you run yourself ragged training for a race, trying to fit it around work, family, and generally having a life? You end up feeling guilty when you are running and guilty when you aren’t running. Or, perhaps you are someone that finds yourself limping from one race to the other, never quite recovered, carrying an injury or running through it until finally, it takes you out. Sound familiar?
To help you avoid this – and to ensure you end up a stronger, happier, more fulfilled runner, these are our tips to ensuring you have a fantastic running season or year ahead.
First, pick your goal race. You can have more than one of these per year, but make sure you follow the principle of progression for each of them. If you can’t, it means you are entering too many of them close together.
For every goal event, have a training plan. It can be one off the internet, designed for you personally, or one that you’ve written from your own experience. Whatever it is, here’s what we’d recommend in general; 8-12 weeks for 10km, 12-16 weeks for a half marathon, 16-24 weeks for a marathon and 24 weeks plus for an ultra.
And within EACH of these plans, they should have three components;
Base phase – 4-8 weeks focusing on endurance/strength and conditioning to prepare you for harder workouts and help you prevent injury.
Race specific – 4-8 weeks where workouts become more difficult and specific to your event. So, if doing a marathon, runs including faster sections at race pace, if doing a hilly trail race, runs that replicate this.
Taper period – this includes 2-3 weeks of reduced mileage and increased intensity.
Plan in ‘tune up races’ – once you’ve chosen your ‘A’ race, you can and should enter other events but these should be events that help support your main goal, where you can practise pace, your race strategy etc. For marathon runners, this should be a half marathon 4-6 weeks from your race, for a half marathon, these could be 2-3 races of 10km to 10miles in length, while 10km runners can choose some park runs.
And most importantly, within your training cycle for an individual race – and over a year, there should be recovery periods. If you keep on racing, or have events after events, your body has no time to recover. And it is in this recovery period that your body builds and gets stronger. Ignore this – which is what happens when you follow a scatter gun approach to entering races – and you will eventually find yourself injured. Perhaps not in the first year or even the second, but it gets everyone in the end.
Does this ring any bells with you? What’s the most events you’ve ever entered in one year? We’d love to find out so comment below.
If you are interested in our mentoring and training plan service, click here to find out more.
Marathons are a fantastic way to explore a city and culture and Berlin is one of the best, giving you the opportunity to run through it’s history as you run between east and west as Irene Maulenda reports…
Waking up on the morning of the marathon in Berlin, I was both excited and terrified. It was my first ever marathon, one that I’d wanted to do for years and I’d finally got in on my fourth ballot attempt with some of the other girls from Girls Run the World.
We’d travelled out and were staying separately in different areas which meant we all made our own way to the race start line, although i was with my parents who’d flown from my home in Spain to watch. But even after saying goodbye to them and going off to my starting pen on my own, I didn’t feel like I was alone. It was like being part of a big party from start from finish.
I’d arrived at the race at 9am for my race start at 10am (editor’s note: the race starts at 9.15am but is a staggered start with those with proven fast finish times going off first), had handed my bag in and spent the usual amount of time queuing for the toilet. With approximately, 43,500 runners, Berlin has a busy start area so it’s good to give yourself plenty of time – an hour is enough – to sort yourself out and walk to your start area.
Everybody in my starting pen wore the same excited look that must have been on my face too, and the atmosphere was electric. To keep myself calm while I was waiting to race , I read a few texts from my friends and thought of other runners who inspired me, such as my fellow runners in Girls Run the World, who were at that moment also taking on their own challenge doing the Ragnar Relay, a 170 mile run over the Kent Coast and my best friend who’d been the first person to inspire me to start running time seven years ago.
I didn’t have to wait long though before we were off, running down the streets of Berlin in a group like a huge street party.
I’d decided to ignore my intended race pace and to run to enjoy the experience, rather than trying to stick to a pace which would have been impossible to do in such a crowded group. It meant that I was able to chat to other runners, including Jaime and Javier, both Spanish, who told me that they were running their third marathon. I told them it was my first. “You’re going to experience things you’ve never felt before,’ they said. ‘But you will love this day.”
I lost them at the next water station, where I managed to perfect my technique of drinking while still running. Without an official pacer to follow, I spied a tall guy who was running a similar speed and decided to follow him to keep myself motivated. That said, the atmosphere was so amazing I felt buoyed up simply running along with so many others from around the world.
I was running for MacMillan Cancer and when I passed another runner who was also running for them, I said hello. Her name was Danielle, and she told me she’d also done London and LA and that I’d love London if I ever got the chance to run it. I wished her luck and set off after my unofficial ‘pacer’, through the 10km mark, where I high fived all the kids holding their hands out on the side of the route.
My German is rusty but I managed to say a few things “ganz toll” (great), genau (genius) and fantastisch (fantastic) to other runners, which helped to keep me distracted up to the half marathon point where I met a couple from Bilbao in Spain. “This is the second time I’ve run in Berlin and it won’t be the last, I love this race!’
Leaving them behind, I started to notice other runners were beginning to slow down and cramp, but I focused on sipping water at every station and taking on a gel every five miles. That and the iconic scenery kept me occupied as it started to feel harder. The route wound past the iconic Rathaus Schöneberg, the city hall for the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg which had served as the seat of the government of West Berlin till 1990. It’s where President J. F. Kennedy had proclaimed his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and where so many people had gathered when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The sense of running through history as I ran through just gave me goosebumps.
As I approached the 20 mile mark, I began to feel a bit anxious as I’d only ever ran this far once before when I’d bonked. Training for Berlin, my biggest fear was that I’d hit the wall but suddenly, I was past the point and reaching 21 miles feeling tired but good. Having my printed on my bib so that people could shout my name really helped encourage me and kept me going. And when I saw someone else struggling, I’d call out their name and say, ‘come on mate, you can do it.’ I don’t know whether it helped or annoyed people but it helped take my mind off the discomfort!
By the time I started my last 10k, I had my parents to look forward to seeing who’d arranged to wait at the next water station. AS I turned the corner into K’damm, music blared out and I could see my dad’s red raincoat (Editor’s note: get your supporters to wear something bright, or hold a colourful sign on a tall stick so you can spot them) and started waving like a mad woman.
I managed to blow them a kiss and as I ran past I began to feel even stronger. ‘Was I crazy if tried to run a bit faster?’ I thought. I checked my running form, mentally scanned my body for anything that hurt, and I decided I felt good and I was going to go for it.
I have never loved running more than that moment. People were shouting my name, and I couldn’t stop waving and smiling, it felt so AMAZING. By now, I was passing people and when I ran past the last aid station at the 40 km point I felt like I was flying. Finally, I could see Brandenburg Gate in front of me, and started to sprint. It nearly finished me off when I then realised that the finish line was a further 400 metres but I found the strength and pushed through to cross the finish line in 4.18.21.
When the race volunteer hung my medal around my neck, I was so overwhelmed I burst into tears and was still crying in the race picture. Heading out to meet my parents, I spotted the unofficial race pacer I’d followed for most of the race standing with his family. “Thanks so much for your help, I’ve been following you most of the race, you kept me going.” It turned out that it had been his first marathon too.
Berlin is renowned as being an iconic race and all I can say is that it lived up to and surpassed expectations. As a trail runner, I’d been worried about whether I’d enjoy a road marathon but the Berlin marathon is fantastic, for the scenery, its history and the support and sense of camaraderie amongst the other runners.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Here’s where we break down the race and give you our nuts and bolts assessment…
Amazing atmosphere and organisation
The expo was fantastic, packed full of fantastic new products like a foam roller with three vibration modes that is already in my Christmas list!, definitely worth going
A fast, flat course
Although each pen apparently has official pacers, it’s so busy in the pens at the back, I never saw any. If your aim is to get a good time, then having an official pacer to follow would be good.
It may be a flat course but it is difficult to get a personal best if you don’t start near the front because it’s so busy; in places the roads are not wide enough for the crowds and runners, and the water stations are a nightmare with cups all over the road.
No race finisher’s t-shirt.
How to get into the Berlin Marathon
The Berlin Marathon is very difficult to get into on the ballot which is why so many people enter via running travel companies like 209events.com. The other ways to do it are as a fast runner which affords you automatic entry, or enter the ballot as a team. It doesn’t mean that you have to run together, but it means that you ALL get in together if accepted. We don’t know whether it improves your chances but Irene had tried three times separately without success. It was fourth time lucky for her and first time success for all of those she entered with who were all women. Worth a try!
The list of running apps is endless but we champion the use of Strava. With its talk of leaderboards and course records, it may seem too competitive to some but it’s great for motivation and being part of a virtual community
Strava is super easy to use, open the app, tap the big record button, and off you go. When you finish, stop, press save and hey presto, you get a little outline of your route and it has recorded your data. So far, so like every other app but it is in the way that the data is presented which is the real key to Strava’s appeal.
I don’t know about you, but I can NEVER remember how fast or slow I ran a certain distance from one month to the next, let alone from last year (I even struggle to remember the ‘big’ races like marathons). Strava does it all for you, on every single run. So, if you’ve just started running and sticking to the same route, day by day, you’ll be able to see whether you’re getting faster. Just tap into the saved run and scroll down, where you’ll be able to see little medals, with 3, 2 or PR (personal record) depending on your run.
One of the best things about Strava is it helps you to connect, share, and be motivated by other runners. You can follow others (if they accept your request) and see their routes, speed, distance they run and give them kudos by clicking the thumb button. Alternatively, click the speech bubble and write a message. It’s so supportive when you get a comment from someone else, so don’t be afraid to do it.
This also means that, you can find others to run with in your area. It might sound strange contacting a total stranger, but you can soon build up a picture of someone from following their running and seeing the comments they post, to figure out whether you’d want to run with them and vice versa. I’ve increased the number of people I run with (I ALWAYS have days when I don’t want to run, so having a big pool of other women to go and run with is invaluable) means I’m never without a running buddy.
‘Segments’ are small sections (anything from 100metres upwards – see the first image) of popular routes, like parkrun, hilly sections or well known parts of races that have been created by other Strava users. When you run it, Strava automatically places you on a ‘leaderboard.’ If you place high on the leaderboard, you might even get a little golden cup with a number, to show your place. And, if you’re really fast, you could even get a course record, denoted by a crown. (Girls Run the World will soon be creating our segments for our runners around the UK – to find them, login on your computer, go to explore, find segments and search).
‘Huh, who cares, I’d never place on a leaderboard?’ I hear you say. But, even if you’re a beginner, seeing if you can move up the boards can help motivate you to run faster. Or, if you’re part of a Strava club (such as Girls Run The World) you will be able to see where you place amongst runners in your area from the club on certain sections.
Of course, sometimes, you just want to go out and run chat. But if you are running on your own and need some motivation, choosing one with a segment on it which you can try and run faster is a way of refreshing your running training.
That’s just a very brief background to why we love Strava at Girls Run the World and how it could help you. To set it up, we’ve created a brief video which highlights some of the other benefits and added extra that Strava provides.
And don’t forget, if you don’t want Strava to record your stopping time, turn Auto Pause on. Do this by pressing record, and then tapping the top left hand corner (1). Then choose Auto Pause (2) and toggle this on (3).