Race Reviews

ABP Southampton Race Review

This report was written by a friend of TRA, Marcus, this race was his first running event and was our local race, the ABP Southampton Half.

Signing up for your first running race can be a daunting prospect, so deciding to do a half marathon first time out is borderline mad. My local half, The APB race in Southampton, offers distances from below 5k for young runners all the way up to a full 42.2km marathon which take in various landmarks in and around Southampton.Being in May temperatures are usually favourable, but this edition was a sweltering 28deg – not ideal for anyone who struggles in heat, aka me!

Pre-race preparation included a light breakfast and walking the 3k or so to the start, there were free buses on for competitors however they weren’t too reliable so we decided to walk with the added benefit of a long warm up. Registration was all completed prior, so no sign in was required, just place yourself near the ‘zone’ you expect to run at. With thousands of competitors it’s not the end of the world if you’re nearer the back though, which is where we decided to place ourselves, fully immersed in the excitable pre race nervous buzz.

The half marathon route loosely goes through the city centre towards the docks, out and back over the never-ending Itchen Bridge to go through St Mary’s Football Stadium at the halfway point; before a longer slow drag up to the city common, signalling the final downhill blast to the finish. The full marathon is two laps.

Like I’m sure every runner in every race ever, you get caught up in the hysteria for the first mile or so, I’m a numbers person so am frequently checking my pace or heart rate to make sure I’m not overdoing it but this went out of the window at the start!! Settling into a rhythm is definitely easier said than done, which is why it’s so important to train smart to allow not just your body to be accustomed to a desired effort, but also to boost your own confidence and know that a slower start will yield a stronger overall performance.

One of the most impressive things I noticed during the event was the variety of local clubs and communities at frequent points along the route, cheering and offering support for everyone. There was even one point at around km 14 where local residents were outside their houses with hoses cooling runners down, a godsend! Was a shame that this support dwindled slightly for the runners at the back end of full marathon as the numbers reduced but for the half it was perfect.

I’d managed to hold a reasonable pace for the first 70% of the run, however on the drag up to the common I stopped to re-hydrate at one of the water stations, there didn’t seem to be much water to fill demand for many more behind me, probably due to the very hot conditions. The main upside to a local event is the fact your friends and family can be there cheering you on, and they provided the last bit of ‘oomph’ at the common, that or the fact I knew it was all downhill to the finish anwyay! A finish line sprint to finish somewhere in the middle probably looked a bit odd, but as far as I was concerned it was a huge success, even if one of the post-race freebies was an alcohol-free beer that felt rather underwhelming!

Once my calves had started functioning again, and I’d had a phenomenal chocolate milkshake to get rid of the warm beer taste, it was really nice to sit back and soak up the atmosphere in the race village, seeing everyone with their well earned medals before they start training for the next one, wherever that may be!


How to Eat

Eating around training is a difficult skill to master, especially when you have a million other things to think about like work and the kids around your sessions, however our resident tipster has a bit of advice. You don’t want to be running on empty, especially when doing hard or long sessions, but you also don’t want your food jumping around in your stomach as you run.

As a general rule of thumb you want a light carbohydrate based meal roughly two hours before your session then a protein snack as soon as possible afterwards. The carbohydrate meal can be something as simple as a sandwich or pasta salad and it serves the purpose of fuelling your training session. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugars which are stored in the muscles for use as fuel. The more intense a run is then the more important it is that you’re fuelled properly, running a hard session without sufficient carbohydrate consumption will reduce the quality of the training.

Sometimes we need to take on carbohydrates while training and racing, especially on runs over 60 minutes in length. The form these carbohydrates should take is highly personal. Sports drinks, gels and bars are all good options along with bananas and cereal bars. Our main tip would be to try out as many types of mid run snacks as possible at different intensities and figure out what works for you. We find that the harder we are running the more liquid our snack should be – sports drinks for long half marathon or marathon based efforts and bars for easier runs.

The protein based snack afterwards is equally as important. We recommend a hard boiled egg, protein bar or protein shake although any product high in protein will be sufficient. Protein helps our muscles repair as well as helps prevent us from overeating later on. Here at The Running Algorithm we are great believers in eating whenever you’re hungry and a protein snack immediately after training helps us moderate our hunger.

Generally speaking, there’s a lot to say for simplicity within our diet. Kenyan runners are world famous for their high quality distance running and it’s widely known that their diets are often very simple. Most of my food comes from my local supermarket and it often feels difficult to eat as simply as possible but I generally aim to buy things as close to how they looked on the farm as often as possible. Another practical tip is to include as many colours in your fruit and vegetable as possible – this makes ‘healthy’ meals look very appealing and I think it makes them taste better.

In general though, fuel your runs (especially hard ones) with carbohydrates around two hours before training and have a protein based snack afterwards. The rest of the time just eat to hunger and consume lots of fruits and vegetables. These rules apply if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater. Try to eat food as it grows.


The Simple Training Approach

Here at The Running Algorithm our code builds training plans with one key principle – simplicity. It’s all too common to see unreasonably complicated training sessions on our Strava feeds, often prescribed by coaches, that don’t seem to meet any particular training goals whatsoever. The key feature in any training plan is that most of your training is comfortably aerobic, which means we should be able to talk comfortably and not be breathing heavily, and some of your training is a bit harder. The exact ratio of easy:hard varies depending on who you talk to but most studies show a law of diminishing returns when it comes to increasing intensity. Something we see all too often is runners smashing out three interval sessions a week which comprises more than 50% of their overall volume, losing quality in those sessions and ultimately getting injured. More is not always better. How hard is hard? This is a question we see being asked a lot and it varies depending on where an athlete is in their training cycle, sometimes a hard session will be a longer ‘steady state’ tempo run, other times it will be 3 minute repetitions at 3-5k pace. A good training plan is comprised of enough hard sessions to stress your body but not too many that you’re overloaded which will lead to injury and burnout.

Each hard session should be simple, it should have a goal in mind which is appropriate for that point in the plan and it should aim to meet that goal. This is something I saw on my Strava feed today, it was prescribed for an experienced athlete of moderate ability by a coach. The session read – 5 minute warm up, 2 x 20s max effort with 60s recovery, 2 x 40s max effort with 90s recovery, 2 x 80s with 3 minutes recovery, 4 minutes at 5k pace and a 5 minute cool down. Eight days later this athlete got injured. This is a very clear example of something you should not do. I’ll go through this session issue by issue then explain how we prescribe our sessions. Firstly, the warm up is too short, a 20s max effort is very intense and five minutes of easy jogging before that isn’t sufficient. There appears to be no aim to the session, there’s not enough time accumulated in any particular training zone for any physiological response. I also think the cool down is too short. I had a flick back through this particular athlete’s Strava and there’s been no real sign of progression for quite a long time and three bouts of injury in the last six months. Sessions like these, which they’re paying a coach for, are partially responsible. 

All interval sessions built from our algorithm have a clear aim based on the phase of the plan, progressively increase time at the target intensity week on week and are simple to complete, there is no benefit from obscenely complicated interval sessions, we also prescribe comprehensive warm ups and cool downs. Each training cycle is important for improvement but long term consistency is often a key marker in successful endurance athletes which is why injury avoidance was at the forefront of our minds while we were writing our code. The principles behind writing a good running training programme are simple – avoid injury and spend time at intensity, endurance sports reward consistency more than they respect talent. We aim to make our athletes faster by improving their longevity with sensibly written, simple sessions with a well managed progression of workload.