Tuesday, 27 February 2018

What goes up must come down - the Sheffield Half.

This years Sheffield Half Marathon will be staged on Sunday 8th April. It’s an unusually hilly course for a half marathon with the first section uphill most of the way from Arundel Gate to the edge of the Peak District followed by a long undulating descent all the way back down to the city centre. Overall there is around 300m of ascent and descent.

I have raced this exciting course twice. The views over the city and moors are amazing and the
support throughout the route is fantastic. However it places very different demands on your body
compared to a flat half marathon.
Conquering the hill on Front Runner's Sheffield half taster session

The hill:
From Hunters Bar roundabout the route goes uphill,  220m ascent in just over 5 km to the Norfolk
Arms. This is the part of the course people fear most. Try to keep your breathing steady and take
little steps.

The first two sections of the hill - to Banner Cross and then too Knowle Lane are the steepest.
After that it flattens out with some short sections of flat or even slightly down hill running.

A minion tackling the steepest section in 2016. 

The return:
Back from the Norfolk Arms is mainly downhill. It is easy to underestimate this section. However
downhill running for such a prolonged period is tough on your body.

The effect of gravity causes you to land more heavily on each stride. Your body has to absorb more
force before pushing off. More load is placed on the legs increasing both the fatigue in your legs and
the risk of injury in the lower body - from the hips down to the feet.

This descent catches out a lot of runners with jelly legs setting in around the Prince of Wales pub.
The occasional tumble has been known as legs buckle under a tired runner.

Running downhill also encourages you to stride out too much and land your foot too far in front of
your body. This overstriding increases the breaking force through your leg and causes greater load
and injury risk.

If you know you have a particular lower-body weakness or recent injury e.g. to the glutes, kneecap,
iliotibial band (ITB), calf or foot, then racing ten kilometres mostly downhill on roads is going to test it.

So… how can you ensure you are ready for race day and minimise your risk of injury both in training
and during the race?

1) Build your strength. Standard leg strengthening exercises can build up the strength in all the main
muscles of your legs, helping you to power up the hills and better absorb the forces of the downhill
section. Here is a 20 minute workout for runners that will help you increase your strength over the
next six weeks.

2) If you are not used to running hills add them gradually into your training program, initially at a
steady pace, especially downhill, before adding some faster hill work.

3) Ensure adequate recovery between hard sessions. Leave forty eight hours or more recovery
between hard or long sessions to give your tendons, muscles and joints time to recover from the
loading before you put the next load through.

4) Work at your downhill technique. Practice taking shorter strides landing your foot under your body.
This will reduce the load through your legs. Try to avoid over-striding.

5) Practice long descents - downhill running and fatigue are a dangerous combination as you can
lose the capacity to manage the landing forces. Practice runs should mimic the nature of the race to
help you build up your body’s tolerance to prolonged descents. Start with runs of two kilometres uphill
followed by two kilometres downhill then build up slowly until you can comfortably manage the five
kilometres up and down.

6) In training only do what your body can manage. There’s only six weeks left before race day and
so there is only a certain amount that can be achieved. Don’t be tempted to do too much and push
into the zone where you risk hitting race day overtired or carrying a niggle which will have a negative
impact on your race .Especially in the last few weeks of training there is relatively little to gain and a
lot to lose.

7) Take it easy before race day and after. Two weeks of easier training beforehand means you will be
fresh and ready to race. Afterwards give your body lots of recovery time and TLC - between ten and
twenty days depending on how hard you pushed it and how much you are used to running such
distances.

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