Category Archives: Coaching Advice

Ten Tips to Help You Run Faster in 2019



To absorb your training, it is advisable to take adequate rest which will also help prevent over-use injuries which can set your fitness back weeks, if not months. Sandwich strong workouts between easy and rest days.


Short and long intervals are fundamental to developing aerobic power. The increased demand for oxygen during these runs improves heart:lung efficiency and the rate of oxygen conversion to the muscles.


No training programme is complete without hills. They strengthen legs, improve technique and are always an excellent workout for the lungs. For middle-distance runners, try running reps downhill as well.


The introduction of fartlek training in the 1940s was revolutionary in the development of endurance training. Experiment with the duration of all sorts of hard efforts and easy recoveries. Best done off road with forest paths ideal for this type of training.


Long, slow runs are the foundation of any training programme but should be done at a moderate pace. Run them too fast and you will have nothing left for the race. These runs will improve your body’s ability to utilize carbohydrates and fats for energy. Start with an hour easy and build up depending on the race distance you are targeting.


You may have the best engine in the world but this will be wasted unless you have an efficient running technique. This will improve with training but you may have to get someone experienced to give you some tips on how to improve your running style.


Sometimes more training effect can be achieved with an hour in the gym rather than pounding the roads. Improved strength directly influences the performance of the runner and makes them more resistant to injury. It also helps you recover quicker from hard sessions. Core strength is vitally important for all runners.


One of the common failings for runners is too slow a frequency of stride. Besides slowing you down, it also means that you tire quicker. Aim for 180 foot strikes per minute but anything over 160 is acceptable. Get into the habit of counting your strides when out running – just count one leg for 30 seconds and multiply by four.


It is impossible to exaggerate the positive effect that sleep has on training and performance. Everyone is different but all runners should be getting at least eight hours per night. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not reap the full rewards of your training.


No matter what your level you need a plan. No-one can train with intensity 52 weeks a year indefinitely. Target you’re your races sensibly throughout the year and build in periods of recovery. These can take the form of active rest where maybe you just go out for an easy run 2-3 times a week or try another sport. Preferably not one where you are going to get injured.


Most people are looking forward to the festive season and the opportunity to relax and indulge a little after a long year.  But for many sportspeople it can be a season to be endured rather than enjoyed particularly in relation to eating and drinking. Many restrict their diet believing that constant weight loss can assist in improving performance even to the point of the body’s functions beginning to shut down.

Runners believe thinner the better but nothing could be further from the truth. 

The condition can bring on a variety of health problems in both men and women including a fall in hormone levels, a deterioration in bone density, a drop in metabolic rate and mental health problems.  These symptoms collectively can indicate a condition called Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (Red-S).

While there is no research to support the theory that less is better, it is a belief widely held in distance running circles from parkrunners to Olympic elite. The pressure to run fasterand run longer can be a catalyst for developing eating disorders. If other factors are also involved, such as peer pressure and/or low image self-esteem,the danger of developing an eating disorder can be increased exponentially.

An English runner Anna Boniface was featured this week in an investigation by the BBC’s Five Live radio station. Opportunity knocked for the Reading AC athlete when she recorded 2:37:07 in the 2017 London Marathon and was selected to represent England at the Toronto Marathon later that year.

But ten miles into the Canadian race, on her international debut, the 26-year-olds ankle fractured. Subsequent tests showed worse damage to her body, because in addition to the stress fracture of her ankle, she also had poor bone density including osteoporosis in herspine. This made future fractures more probable than possible.

“It was a lot to do with my training volume and not eating enough – not being wide enough in my food groups, being restrictive with carbohydrates,” she told BBC 5 Live Investigates. “I was training twice a day, I was running 100-plus miles aweek at times, and you burn up a lot of energy with that, and from a runner’s perspective you get it into your mind that you need to be this race weight. You get caught up in this cycle of running really fast, wanting to lose a little more weight, push that race weight a little bit more, running faster, and then just breaking, which is what happened.”

Fortunately for Anna Boniface,her condition was diagnosed before lasting damage was done.  After an extended rest and rehabilitation, she is now back running again albeit only in parkruns close to her home. Just a few weeks ago she recorded 18:03 at the Woodley event indicating she is getting back to her best form. Others are not so lucky and these behaviours spiral quickly out of control, leading rapidly to an eating disorder such as Anorexia or Bulimia.

Early intervention is crucial, and parents, coaches, or loved ones of a distance runner have an important role to play in preventing someone from experiencing many of the dangerous consequences that result from having an eating disorder. It is important to be aware of the risk factors which include: –

  • More frequent occurrences of injuries, such as sprains or muscle strains
  • Decreased concentration, coordination, and energy
  • Decreased social interaction with coaches and teammates
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Physical complaints, such as light-headedness, muscle aches, dizziness
  • Prolonging training beyond what is required for sport
  • Continued training, even when sick or injured

On Sunday, the #Trainbravecampaign is being launched to raise awareness of the risks of Red-S,particularly among promising amateur sports people who may be trying to improve their performance without giving enough thought to their diet. A little relaxation of the training regime will do no harm, probably a lot of good, over the next couple weeks.  


The organisers Run 4 Wales have promised a full review will take place but they were “100% satisfied” with the medical plan in place at last weekend’s Cardiff Half Marathon (7 October 2018).  Ben McDonald, 25, from Glamorgan and Dean Fletcher, 32, from Exeter, went into cardiac arrest after crossing the finishing line. Both later died at the city’s University Hospital of Wales.

The runners head off along Chichester Street in the Belfast City Marathon – Do they know the risks?

It has been a bad year for deaths at running events. No less than four runners died at the Great North Run last month. The eldest of these, deputy headmaster Phil Lewis, 52, was running his 24th GNR, having only missed the first edition.

Earlier this year Stephen Heaney, 50, from Limavady died during the Belfast Marathon and Masterchef Matt Campbell was a fatality when close to the finish of the London Marathon in April.

It should be remembered that the man who inspired the modern event, Pheidippides, collapsed and died after running from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. “Joy to you, we’ve won” he said before gasping his last breath.

A hemerodrome (professional running courier) by profession, Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon. He covered about 240 km (150 mi) in two days before running 40 km (25 miles) from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory.

This is a common theme in that most of the deaths occur after the participant has finished or almost completed the race. Experts point out that even after crossing the finish line a lot of circulating adrenaline is still coursing through the body while blood starts to pool in the legs. Because the muscles are no longer contracting to push the blood back, this places an enormous strain on the heart.

The greater majority of deaths among younger runners is on account of cardiac arrest while in older runners it is due to heart disease or arteriosclerosis, a deterioration of the valves around the heart. Unfortunately, many heart problems especially in the right ventricle cannot be detected when the runner is at rest.

Anyone taking on a marathon should realise the physical demands of running 42.2 kilometres (26.2 miles).  At rest, the heart pumps approximately five litres of blood around the body every minute but this increases to 35 litres when running. The body can cope quite easily with this extra strain for short periods of time but when you get into two, three, four hours or more, the strain on the heart increases exponentially.

All too often when someone completes a six week couch to 5K programme, the first question is “when can I run a marathon?” To prepare adequately for a marathon should take at least a year of consistent training and racing shorter distances. Most people do not conform to this advice before making their debut at the marathon.

A Canadian study shows that running a marathon, even for professionals, causes damage to the heart although this self-heals with time. For this reason downtime of several weeks, if not months, is needed to allow the body to complete the repair process and let the immune system get back to normal. Turning out in a race the week following a marathon does not make you a hero –  probably a fool risking their health and possibly more!

What The Ladies Can Teach Us About Injuries…

In the second article of an occasional series Dr Andrew Maguire looks at the disparity in injury rates between men and women. What can male runners learn from the ladies?

When I first started to run 15 years ago, I was often the solitary practitioner of this now very popular sports activity. When running on the Queens Quay along the banks of the River Foyle, I now find myself one of many runners taking advantage of what are now excellent running routes that are both safe and picturesque.

There are more running clubs than ever before and these reflect a broad demographic. What is often overlooked, is the number of women who are now pounding the highways and byways. What I have noticed over the years is that female runners tend to get injured significantly less than their male counterparts! Why is this the case?

Well, van der Worp et al. have surveyed much of the research on this phenomenon and come up with some interesting findings in their article on the risk factors between the sexes.

Although running is considered as “one of the most efficient ways to achieve physical fitness”, there is always the ever-present risk of injury (especially lower-limb), and strategies are needed to prevent such injuries in the first place. In analysing the differences in male/female injury rates, van der Worp asserts that “women are at a lower risk of running injuries than men”.

They identified the following factors that placed women at increased risk of injury; older age, running marathons, training on hard surfaces (road & concrete), weekly mileage more than 30 and coming from non-axial (shock impact) sports such as swimming/cycling.

On the other hand, factors that placed men at greater risk of injury were; running more than 40 miles per week, novice runners with less than 2 years’ experience, just returning to running, and previous injury. They found that men have a significantly higher risk of injury than women – especially those under 40 years of age.

However, regardless of gender, 80% of running disorders are attributed to overuse.  And what can be gleaned from their findings is that men tend to over-train in terms of distance and intensity whereas women tend to err on the side of caution. Additionally, it appears that men do not give themselves sufficient recovery time from injury, and even when they do, they increase their training regime too much upon returning.

Even from personal experience, I have often found myself pushing too hard, too soon, in terms of what I am capable of – thus resulting in repeat injury. From participant observation over the years, I certainly echo the findings of van der Worp in so much as men generally adopt a less patient approach to running and ultimately find themselves paying the price of being side-lined for prolonged periods.

Such an approach to a very physically and psychologically demanding sport, can easy result in a vicious circle of injury after injury.  In conclusion, it’s fair to say that male runners can learn a lot from their female counterparts in terms of training and avoiding injury.

Further reading: Maarten van der Worp et al. ‘Injuries in Runners: A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences’, PLOS ONE, Feb. 2015, pp.1-18


Couch 2 5K but then where?

Couch to 5K classes are common place in practically every town and city in Ireland.  A similar Fit 4 Life programme runs in the Republic.  Some of the Couch programmes may last as little as six weeks but better ones go on for maybe ten to twelve. 

Dental Solutions 5K – One of many races at the distance.

Many people have been introduced to running in this manner in recent years and have benefited from the improvement in health and sometimes mental wellbeing that come with exercise.

But what do you do when you have conquered the 3.1 miles distance and put your photo on Facebook wearing that treasured tee-shirt?  A lot of people move immediately on to 10K, half-marathon or even the full 26.2 mile distance.  But is that a wise decision given the lack of background work done by many?  Why not improve at 5K before moving up?


Races over this distance are short but intense. They are perfect for anyone who wants to take part in local races or a parkrun near their home.  One of the benefits of racing 5K is that you recover quickly.  You can get up and go to your work the following morning without have to go down the stairs backwards as is the case after a half or full marathon.


If you want success that you have a plan.  The internet is full of 5K training plans or you can draw up your own with the assistance of a qualified coach. Any plan will have to take into account your own running background, your circumstances and what you hope to achieve. Without a plan you will not achieve your máximum.

In a race of 5000 metres, the energy requirement is met largely by the aerobic system (90-95%).  For that reason, it would be unwise to fill your training programme with intense training and speedwork. Slow, easy running has a part to play in all training programmes and 5K is no different.

The combination of easy running combined with a measure of intense training and adequate rest will help you achieve that desired personal best.


Like all distances, this is the 64 million dollar question and always difficult to answer. For a start, a runner of 20 and one of 50 are very different creatures.  Similarly, there is a gulf in training capacity between someone who has run all their life and a person who has just got into running through a couch to 5K programme.

A distinction has to be drawn between a runner who wishes to be competitive and one who simply wants to improve their time. There is no stock answer.  However with training on 4-5 times per week, it is possible to achieve your goal without affecting your work or family life. On the other hand some people run well on just two sessions per week.


The natural progression is to move up to 10K – unfortunately five-milers (8K) races are not as common as once they were in the past. Again, the time for this move varies from runner to runner depending on individual circumstances such as background, experience and objectives.  Probably the best time is when you feel you can run a 5K without it being a huge effort for your body.

If you are still finishing 5Ks in a physically distressed state and you cannot train the next day, perhaps you should not contemplate a race of a longer distance for the present.  You could also think about your 5K time and if you are not breaking 35 minutes, it might be an indicator to stick to the shorter efforts until you do

Get a Running High on Grass..

The evenings are getting brighter and there is more opportunity for runners to leave the road and enjoy our parks and trails.  Derry Track Club’s Dr Andrew Maguire PhD, a dedicated runner and triathlete himself, shares some recent research on the benefits of getting off those hard footpaths.

Do your legs a favour and get off the hard roads and onto grass this spring and summer.

As runners, we have been told time and again, that running on grass is better for us. Instead of relying on anecdotal chat, here is the science to prove it!

In recent research by Lin Wang & Co., they scientifically measured the plantar (sole) loads experienced by runners when running on different surfaces. Their research was done by studying 15 runners.  These were all male with averages of 23 years of age, weight 63kg, Height 172cm height and UK shoe size of 8.5.

The researchers analysed how the runners’ plantars interacted with various surfaces using insole sensor systems when running on concrete (road/pavement), synthetic rubber (track), and grass surfaces at a running speed of 3.8 m/s that equates to a nifty seven minutes per mile pace.

Although the article goes in to a lot of scientific detail, their overall findings are interesting. One of the first things that they found was that the plantar had a longer surface contact time when running on grass, compared to track and road.

Overall, running on grass showed ‘a lower magnitude of maximum plantar pressure (451.8kPa vs. 401.7kPa, p = 0.016)’ which basically means that there was less pressure placed on the sole of the foot that amounted to a reduction of about 12%. This reduction is quite significant and clearly shows how injuries can be avoided.

Wang also reminded us that the impact force on the foot when running is approximately 2.5 times greater than our body weight and carrying excessive body weight can increase your risk of injury. What the authors also highlight is that running on different surfaces requires different techniques in so much as ‘runners must increase their leg stiffness when running on compliant surfaces (e.g. natural grass) and decrease leg stiffness on hard surfaces’.

Thus, ‘when runners run on concrete, they run with larger ankle, knee, and hip flexion at heel strike’ – flexion is movement decreasing the angle between articulating bones, such as decreasing the inner angle of the joint (for example, plantarflexion is the bending of the toes towards the sole, and the opposite movement to flexion is extension.

So, there we have it folks, we now have scientific proof to back up what many have been saying for years – running on softer surfaces can significantly help in the prevention of injuries. But it is also important that you remember that you need appropriate footwear, but more importantly, an adjusted/appropriate running technique for the surface in question.

(Further reading: ‘Comparison of Plantar Loads During Running on Different Overground Surfaces’, Research in Sports Medicine, 2012, Vol. 20, Issue 2.)


The Benefits of Beetroot for Runners

In the last few years there have been a number of studies that have shown the significant benefits of consuming beetroot in improving athletics performance. The good news for both club and recreational fun runners is that it is not necessary to be an elite athlete to take advantage of the benefits of beetroot. In fact the contrary may be the case.

No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.
No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.

The reason that the much-maligned tuber is an aid to athletic performance is down to the high concentrations of nitrates that it contains. Nitrate (NO3) is a molecule produced in only limited quantities in the body and solely as a bi-product of nitric oxide.

Eating beetroot or green leaf vegetables such as spinach can increase nitrate levels in our bodies. Once in the system, it interacts with enzymes in saliva to form Nitric Oxide in the cardio-vascular system that in turn improves the vasodilation i.e. the capacity of the veins to carry blood.

This is achieved by dilating the blood vessels and in that way increasing the blood flow. The consequence of this is a fall in blood pressure at rest and a greater oxidisation of the muscles during exercise.

One test ( found that nitrate supplementation produced two distinct and contrasting outcomes. There was a reduction in the maximum VO2 yet the time to the point of exhaustion improved significantly.

In another study on cyclists (Handzlik y Gleeson) it was seen that a mixture of beetroot juice and caffeine brought about a 46% increase in time to exhaustion point over the placebo group. The increase even without the caffeine showed a significant improvement. In addition, drinking the beetroot and caffeine cocktail gave the test subjects the perception of having to expend less effort.

Studies have also shown that the most positive effect is on middle distance performances in events lasting between 5 and 30 minutes. That is to say, those who will benefit the most are athletes who run distances from 1500 – 10,000m.

In another study (Murphy et al), the participants consumed 500 milligrams of nitrate (the equivalent of 200/300 grams of beetroot). It was found that not only did they improve their times in the 5000 metres but also they felt better in the first third of the race and they ran the final 1800m 5% quicker.

Some improved their 5000m times by 41 seconds! However, it is not all good news. In another experiment with elite 1500m runners (3:56 or better), they found that six of the eight showed no improvement in performance after consuming nitrates. That merely confirmed that supplementation is only effective in events between 5 and 30 minutes.

Results have shown that ideal consumption for a person of 70kgs to be between 448 and 896 grams of nitrate per day. The effects should be seen within two to three hours after which they will start to diminish. Although some have benefitted from a single dose, the investigators have generally fed their subjects nitrate anywhere between three and six days ahead of the tests.

It is believed to be best to take beetroot in liquid form but one well-known sailor achieved outstanding results after consuming a can of spinach when faced by a situation that required a little extra effort.