Get set: Week 6 of our step by step build-up for runners preparing for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon

Action from the 2013 Berkhamsted Half Marathon
Action from the 2013 Berkhamsted Half Marathon

The Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run are well-known in Dacorum and beyond for their challenging, picturesque routes through Berkhamsted, Potten End and the wonderful Ashridge estate - and for the hundreds of athletes from around the country who line up on the day to take part.

Make sure you are part of this year’s bonanza by signing up at the official website by clicking here.

Brendon Gilbert (Gil-lec) in the Bournemouth Half earlier this year

Brendon Gilbert (Gil-lec) in the Bournemouth Half earlier this year

But neither event would not be possible without the generous support of the many sponsors who have contributed in so many ways over the years, and who have helped to make the Half Marathon and the five-mile Fun Run two of the top events in the south-east – with the Half Marathon serving as a regular tune-up for the spring marathon season including, of course, the Virgin London marathon which takes place six weeks later.

Local estate agent Knight Frank has come on board as a key event sponsor for 2014, and partner Oliver Beales will be in the thick of the action on race day.

A keen runner, he’s competed in the Fun Run three times in the past, and is stepping up to the half marathon this year for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he says. “Training has been going well – I compete in triathlon regularly but having only completed one half marathon before I’ve incorporated some longer runs into my program. With such a hilly course, I’d be happy with 1hr, 40min on the day.”

Richard Smith (GPS) racing cross country for Dacorum & Tring. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell

Richard Smith (GPS) racing cross country for Dacorum & Tring. Picture (c) Gary Mitchell

“The course is great, although it’s tough,” he adds. “You can really get into your running before the hills, and as long as you keep it steady going up, it’s OK.

“Then the last mile is all downhill to the finish, with a great view. In fact, the stunning countryside takes your mind off the running but to be honest, at that point, I’ll be looking forward to finishing!”

Beales says: “The event has a wonderful family atmosphere and really helps to showcase our charming town and beautiful countryside.

“It’s a real community event that appeals to first time Fun Runners and hardened competitors alike, enjoyed by the whole family. Knight Frank are delighted to be sponsoring the event and I’m looking forward to participating as well.”

Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club logo

Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club logo

Brendon Gilbert, finance director of Chesham-based Gil-lec Electrical Wholesalers, will be running the Fun Run this year for the first time.

An accomplished half-marathon runner, he said he would have liked to have run the Berkhamsted Half, but his wife is due to give birth just six days later and so he’s opted for the shorter race, just in case!

Gilbert runs with Handy Cross Runners in High Wycombe, and has a host of good results to his name, including third place overall in the 2013 Bournemouth Half Marathon, and a strong top-half finish at the South of England Cross Country Championships last month.

In Berkhamsted next month, he’ll be looking to get very close to 30 minutes flat. “Ideally, I’d dip under 30 minutes,” he said. “But it’s a tough course, so I won’t be viewing it as a fun run.”

Rotary Club logo

Rotary Club logo

He’s familiar with the half marathon course, having run his PB in Berkhamsted in 2009 in a fast 1:20.29, and says the route is “fantastic and challenging, with great local support at several stretches on the route.

“The scenery is great, especially through Frithsden and Nettleden. Berkhamsted is a thriving town with a strong sense of community, which is showcased in events such as this. The final mile is downhill and fast with great support at the finish.”

The main reason Gilbert is running the race is that his company, Gil-lec, is one of the race sponsors. “As a company we often look to support local events and charities,” he said.

“I believe it’s very important that businesses work with local communities when they can. As a company Gil-lec also support the Chiltern Harriers Athletic club, who are based in Chesham.

“They offer excellent junior coaching, so it’s great to know we’re supporting athletics at a grass roots level.

“We also encourage our staff to stay active, and in fact one of my employees will be tackling the half marathon course.”

Richard Smith, managing director of Kings Langley-based GPS Document Management, a print management company, is in training for his first Berkhamsted Half marathon, as part of his preparation for the 2014 London Marathon – his first stab at the 26.2 mile distance.

“I was very keen to give it a go and got an early entry,” he said. “It’s beautiful countryside to run in. Ashridge is spectacular whatever the time of the year and, living locally, it’s really convenient.”

He’s run over much of the course with his running club, Dacorum & Tring AC Road Runners, and said it will be fun to run it competitively and in a larger field.

“I have a half marathon PB of 1:47 set at St Albans last year so with an undulating course I hope to get close to it but we’ll have to see.”

Unusually for a runner, Smith started out as a triathlete and a cyclist, finding there was more time to devote to training as his two daughters grew older.

After getting back into reasonable shape and taking part in a number of cyclo-sportives, he was up for a new challenge and became a regular Olympic distance triathlete.

But when his daughters, both keen athletes, joined Dacorum & Tring AC last year, he discovered that the adult Road Running section trained at the same time as the youngsters and decided to give it a try. “I’ve never looked back from that point,” he said.

“Running has always been my weakest triathlon discipline so it was great to join a group of friendly runners and to go along and enjoy the club runs.

“The variety of routes, different levels of ability and all round great atmosphere make training a whole lot easier and I have seen a marked improvement in my running ability with my best-ever 10k and half marathon times recorded in the first few months of joining.”

“In addition, I have learned much about training correctly, injury prevention, stretching and more. Instead of having to think about how and where to run, I can turn up and have someone else provide a planned and thought-out session with the added benefit of running in a group.

“Training is easier, more fun and I have achieved much more than I ever would on my own.”

Smith will be running in London for the Anthony Nolan Blood Cancer charity, and said training for both London and the Berkhamsted Half is going well, thanks to a tailored 16-week training schedule provided by the club’s head coach John Jales.

He said: “I see so many solitary runners especially at this time of the year who would also benefit from the club environment and training – I hope my comments will encourage some of them to try us out!”

The final word belongs to Dave Walden, director at Berkhamsted Sports, a sporting goods shop located on the town’s High Street.

The company has come back on board as a supporter of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run for 2014 after a hiatus of several years, and Walden says it’s great to be supporting a local event again.

He notes that lots of customers have entered the event this year, many using it as a springboard for London and other spring marathons, in large part because it’s a good local event at an optimum five to six weeks before the start of the spring marathon season.

Walden has seen a steady uptake in the amount of running shoes flying out the doors of the shop in recent months.

“Running is still a growing sport, and I don’t think it’s just because of the Olympics, although the games were clearly an influence,” he said.

“Running is such an easy sport to participate in. People lead such busy lives these days, and running is so convenient – it’s easy to nip out the door for a quick run.”

There are also more and more running clubs popping up, he says, which makes what is by nature a solitary sport into a very social one.

After the initial expense of footwear, running is one of the least expensive sports to take part in,” he says. “But good footwear is essential. The shop has been selling a reasonable amount of off-road/trail shoes at the moment, a sign of the weather and the season, while the barefoot-type of ‘minimal’ shoes are also creating interest.”

Berkhamsted Sports is providing the voucher prizes for the top-three male and female finishers in the five-mile Fun Run, and the shop also offers free gait analysis and expert fitting and advice to runners looking for the best possible shoe for their running endeavours.

Next week, we hear from a range of local runners about why they run - and what taking part in their local event means to them, whether it’s a ‘family affair’ or to raise funds for admirable local charities.

Tip of the week: At this point in your training schedule – Week 6 of the 8-week Berkhamsted Half Marathon schedule or nine weeks before London – your body will be nearing that coveted stage of peak fitness, the point where you’ve never felt fitter or faster.

But it’s also a time when you’re undergoing physical stress from the intensity of the training, not to mention the shocking weather, busy working schedules and a plethora of viruses and other nasties out there.

It’s essential to keep hydrated, well-nourished and isolated as much as possible from germs and bacteria.

Erring on the side of caution is always a good choice: if you’re overly tired or you have any unusual niggles, think seriously about easing back, even for just a day – your body will thank you.

You’re on the cusp of peak fitness, and this is the point where you could tumble down the wrong side if you overdo it.

There’s still one more week of tough training, then your taper beings – and it’s race day in no time at all! Keep up the good work and stretch, stretch, stretch after every run!

JOHN JALES’ TRAINING SESSIONS

Week 6/8 (Feb 10th-Feb 17th): Elite athletes

Men: Sub 1h18 / Women: Sub 1h25

Monday: 6 miles easy off-road if possible

Tuesday: 7-8 miles over hilly course, with bursts up hills

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: Warm up, then 6 x 1 mile with 3 minute recovery

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 5-6 miles easy

Sunday: 14-15 miles steady

Week 6/8 (Feb 10th-Feb 17th): Club runners

Men: Sub 1h18 to 1.31 / Women: Under 1.39

Monday: 5 miles easy

Tuesday: 6 miles over hilly course, working up the hills

Wednesday: Warm-up, then 3 x 5 minutes fast, with 5 minute recoveries

Thursday: 5 miles easy

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 6 miles including 10 x 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow

Sunday: 10-12 miles steady

Week 6/8 (Feb 10th-Feb 17th): Beginners, based on athletes who have been running at least 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week

Monday: 4-5 miles easy

Wednesday: 1 mile jog, warm-up, then 2 x 7-8 minutes fast with 5 minute jog recoveries

Friday: 4 miles on grass if possible

Sunday: 10-11 miles, as slow as you like