On your marks: Week 5 of our step by step briefing for would-be Berkhamsted Half Marathon runners

PE teacher David Jones and Ashlyns School runners
PE teacher David Jones and Ashlyns School runners

In the fifth instalment of our guide to preparing for distance running, prepared with the Berkhamsted Half Marathon in mind, we look at the challenges of winter running.

If you’re planning to take on the Berkhamsted challenge but haven’t yet officially entered, here’s a link to the official form

We also hear from Berkhamsted’s Ashlyns School, which will be fielding talented young runners in the inaugural Schools Challenge, a race within a race, over the five-mile Fun Run course on March 2.

But first, let’s look at Week 5 of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon race schedule laid out by John Jales, head coach of Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club and winner of the recent Lifetime Achievement award at the 2013 Dacorum Sports Awards ceremony.

All three groups of runners have been set at least one session of off-road running this week - and getting off the hard pavement onto softer grass or trail can be a make-or-break factor at this time of the season, as the miles start to accumulate in the legs.

One of the joys of living where we do is the easy access to spectacular countryside full of country lanes and winding footpaths on our very doorstep - not to mention the wonderful Ashridge estate, where much of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon takes place.

Running outdoors in January and February in Dacorum does have challenges, though, with the temperature and the terrain both meriting special attention.

Athletes will often make the mistake of over-dressing as they set out on a winter run. The key factor is to wear two or three layers, with a wind/rain-resistant outer layer that can be taken off and tied around the waist if you get too hot.

One quick tip to make those first few minutes out the door a bit more pleasant is to warm your running gear up on a radiator first. Investing in a buff – a tubular neckwarmer made from fleece, or even better, merino wool - will keep your neck warm and stop cold air going down your front. A buff can also be pulled up over your mouth when the temperature’s below zero, to stop freezing air causing that ‘burning’ sensation in the lungs.

It’s important to warm up well before starting into a hard session, but warm-ups should NOT involving stretching cold muscles. Leave the stretching to later, when you’re done. Instead, spend a good five to ten minutes doing a ‘mobility’ warm-up – gentle jogging, skipping, high knees and heel flicks – to warm up the leg muscles, along with wide arm rotations to open the lungs and ankle rotations and heel and toe walking to limber up your lower legs.

Also be aware that although you don’t sweat as much on cold days, you still need to re-hydrate, so take a bottle of water or diluted energy drink with you on longer runs, and drink lots and get warm and dry after you’re done.

Adequate footwear is also essential for off-road running. If you don’t have them already, consider investing in a decent pair of trail shoes with a chunky tread – you’ll be amazed at how much more traction they give you on muddy, wet ground and even in snow, compared to normal trainers.

Beware of hidden holes and cracks and uneven terrain; turning your ankle at this stage of the season could put paid to your spring marathon goals.

Finally, a word of advice from John: be flexible with your training! Going out to do a speed session in a gale force wind and driving rain will mean that your split times are certain to be below target.

You won’t be getting the full benefit of the session and the poorer-than-expected times could knock your confidence. If you can, swap the hard session to another day, or head indoors to a treadmill. Staying healthy is your number one goal in the depths of an English winter!

Winning the Schools Challenge would give Ashlyns ‘bragging rights’!

Ashlyns School in Berkhamsted is one of the first schools to sign up to the inaugural Schools Challenge, and has embraced the invitation to take part with gusto.

PE teacher David Jones told The Gazette that it’s “fantastic to have a Schools Challenge within our local race because it encourages friendly competition, with those coming out on top on the day gaining the town’s ‘bragging rights’.”

“It is also a great chance to compare our students to others in the borough within a one-off head-to-head race.”

He’s thrown down the gauntlet to other schools in the area - declaring that the “real competition” will come from Ashlyns, as it has a number of excellent runners, and has proven to be very competitive at district and county competitions in recent years.

David has been a PE teacher at Ashlyns School in Berkhamsted since September 2011 and was delighted to hear about the Challenge, which, he says, has given a real focus to the school’s running programme.

This year, he’s been able to boost his squads with talented students in Years 7 and 8, following the changes in Berhamsted that saw Ashlyns become a full secondary school as the town moved to a two-tier system. He’s been working hard with a group of committed runners across all age groups at Thursday lunchtime cross-country club sessions and has an eye firmly cast upon the Schools Challenge, both for the boys and girls categories.

“Ashlyns has some very competitive runners in both cross-country and athletics,” he says. “I think we have a good chance of taking both the boys and the girls prizes, because we’ve been very competitive at District and Country Cross Country level - for example, at the District championships in November, Year 8 student Ellen Northwood came away as U13 girls champion in a strong field of runners from around Dacorum.”

The school has also entered a competitive team of 10 runners for this weekend’s County Cross Country Championships at Verulamium Park in St Albans, which David says will allow the students to push themselves further and gain greater experience of running in highly competitive situations”.

The Ashlyns cross-country and athletics squad has been training once a week since October, with many of the runners also training two or more times a week with their athletics clubs, including Chiltern Harriers in Chesham and Dacorum & Tring AC in Hemel Hempstead.

David points out that the Ashlyns team has “some really fit runners: in addition to Ellen, we have brother and sister duo Jake and Emily Alderson, Zoe Richardson. Emily Bannister and Molly and William Jarvis to name a few. We also have three brothers, Stephen, Nathan and Zack Burgess, who have competed in many triathlons across the country together.”

Winning the schools Challenge would be a “real boost and an immense source of pride to the whole of Ashlyns School”, continued Jones, “and I’m confident it would help encourage more students to participate and compete”

He knows that winning the race won’t be easy. The course is “very hard, with Bulbeggars Hill at Mile 2, but I feel with the number of runners we have and with each of their strengths, the course will suit all of them during the race.”

Whatever the outcome on March 2, Ashlyns will continue to build the strengths of its competitive teams, not just in athletics and cross-country.

David says: “We have a great school in terms of PE because of the wide variety of sports that are provided, but also because there are so many sports clubs and activities available to our students within the local community and beyond”.

Among his goals as a PE teacher at Ashlyns are to continue fielding competitive teams in local competitions, but more importantly, to ensure that the students achieve something for themselves and, ultimately, that they have fun.

Next week, we hear from a series of local businesses who are backing the 2014 Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run, and what their runners hope to achieve.


Week 5/8 (Feb 3-Feb 9)


Men: Sub 1h18 / Women: Sub 1h25

Monday: 5 miles easy off-road if possible

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: 2 mile jog, then 5-6 miles at Half marathon page, then 1 mile jog

Thursday: 5 miles easy, to include 8 x 200m strides

Friday: Rest or 3 mile recovery jog

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Warm up, then 6-10 mile race if possible, warm down.


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

Monday: 5 miles easy, off road if possible

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: 8 miles fairly fast

Thursday: 4 miles easy

Friday: Rest or 3 mile jog

Saturday: 4 miles on grass if possible, to include 6 x 200m strides

Sunday: Warm up, then 10k race if possible, or 6 miles at good pace

BEGINNERS, based on athletes who have been running at least 2-3 miles, 2-3 times per week

Monday: 3-4 miles easy off-road, if possible

Wednesday: 3 miles, to include a few short bursts

Friday: 3 miles on grass if possible

Sunday: Warm up, then 10km race or 6 miles at good pace, then 10 min walk or jog

Find out more about the Rotary Club of Berkhamsted here

Find out more about Dacorum & Tring Athletics Club here