Five weeks to go! Runners ramp up Berko Half prep as challenges creep in

Richard Bawn has been busy training for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon
Richard Bawn has been busy training for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon

The Berkhamsted Half Marathon is now less than five weeks away, and the group of eight athletes that we’re following as they prepare for the big day have met with a few unexpected bumps in the road in their carefully-planned training regime.

What has emerged is that the members of the group aren’t immune from the hurdles and setbacks that affect every runner as they work towards their goals.

Niamh Demspey has been busy training for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon

Niamh Demspey has been busy training for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon

Coach Rob says that this week, “the runners will be doing somewhere in the region of 20 miles a week. This is the crucial phase building up strength and endurance and coping with running at race pace.

“Each runner though has strengths and weaknesses and their plans will reflect this together with the demands of everyday life”.

This week, we hear from Richard and Niamh, two competitive runners who are hoping to get under the 1h35 mark for the first time in the Berkhamsted half.

Richard and Niamh both ran in the Fred Hughes 10 mile race earlier this month, looking for an early-season marker of how their Berko Half training is going.

While Niamh finished on a high, Richard had a less than positive experience.

Niamh said: “Apart from a darting left-foot pain, the Fred Hughes 10 was a really enjoyable race. I took it steady for the first three miles – constantly telling myself to slow down and keep breathing comfortably.

“I gradually increased the speed and was delighted to finish within my half marathon target pace. I’m worried now that coach Rob might change my Berko target but I am keeping quiet for now!

“Since the race, though, I hobbled around on my left foot and woke with a infected and badly swollen eye on Tuesday morning.

“The antibiotics I was prescribed have kicked in quickly, my left foot has recovered and training has restarted.

Richard: “I really struggled in the Fred Hughes. My legs felt tired from the outset and my back was hurting as a bit as well. I think I’ve pulled a muscle in my back as it’s been really painful the past few days – it may in fact have happened before the race.

“I’ve already missed one of my training sessions this week. I also found it difficult to run at the pace I was meant to be running at in training last week so that has made me doubt that I’m going to hit my target now.”

Real life often encroaches on training, making it harder to achieve those targets. Richard is a website tester, working a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 schedule, but often works longer hours to deal with a heavy workload – meaning training sessions have to be done in the evenings or weekends. “It’s so much harder to run after a day’s work,” he said.

“I love running though, and I love my gym work so they are commitments I’m happy to make.”

Coach Rob concluded that Niamh and Richard are “both making good progress despite the minor problems they have experienced.

“A poor race has dented Richard’s confidence and led to doubts creeping in. He should trust in the plan and his training for now. We won’t alter anything based on one poor race or training session but look for a trend before making any changes.”

He added: “Niamh by contrast had a great run in the same race which has boosted her confidence and showed her preparation is on the right track.”

Alexis, meanwhile, had a bit of a setback last week; her hip was painful so she had to stop her training session. “I can’t run at the moment but I think it’s just a strain as it feels so much better now. I’ve had a physio session and I’m still feeling positive.”

Jim wasn’t able to run for the first part of the week due to a sickness bug but was hoping to get back on his feet by the weekend. “Last week was good though; I got two 10-mile training runs comfortably in the bag and I’m looking forward to an 11-miler this weekend!”

Sam said that after the Fred Hughes 10 and a mid-week hill session plus another six miler have made her legs “feel like lead this week. But I felt good during the race and it shows I can keep my anticipated race pace up for 10 miles at least – I’ve just got to work on the remaining 3.1 miles!”

Rob was told he had a small hamstring tear so has been advised by the physio to take it a bit easier -– no hill reps or speed sessions, but he said he managed “a steady parkrun at St Albans and an eight-miler the following day so I’m still on track”.

Kelly explained that it was not going that well at the moment. “I’ve had flu for the last 2 weeks so I haven’t done anything. Hoping to be back to running this week but haven’t run for three weeks now so lacking a bit of fitness.

“On the plus I’ve had lots of rest so that might do me some good so fingers crossed I’ll see how training goes this week!”

Jamie said he’s been “working hard but have had to play around with sessions to try and fit in around child care, work and fatigue. Fred Hughes 10m was my first test of the year.

“I found it much harder than I would have liked, but it’s early in the plan and the race come at the end of a 47-mile training week”.

According to coach Rob, the rest of the group are “all experiencing some of the highs and lows that come with training for a race. Rarely does anything go smoothly and it often becomes a real test of character when the runner has to deal with problems and setbacks.

“Missing sessions or even weeks of training due to illness and injury is common. When it happens it is a question of re-assessing goals and adapting the plan accordingly.”

Next week, we’ll check in with Samantha and Rob and see how training is going for them four weeks out from race day.