Here’s the map (click for large version).
..and the elevation…
The Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon – Sheffield or PYHMS is a 13.1 mile race that takes you all the way up to Ringinglow and beyond, before heading back the way you came – via the village of Dore. The up starts in the city centre and doesn’t stop until you hit the 5.27mile mark, which you can see on the elevation graph above. But take a closer look at that graph and you’ll notice that it’s hardly downhill all the way back either. It undulates in such a way that your tired legs will still have to battle with a series of hills as you gradually descend towards the same road you came out on.
As long as you’ve done your training in advance and you don’t want to make a simple mistake on the day, here’s my advice.
1). Prep/Logistics: Try to sort some kit ahead of time. Attach your race number to your running shirt the night before and check it’s in a place that doesn’t obstruct your arms and that you feel comfy with it on. If you know that someone is coming to support you on the day – consider wearing a warm top or windproof until close to go time and handing it to your support. PYHMS 2015 involved a lot of standing around in overcast, breezy weather that was perfect for the run, but had everybody shivering before and after. If you have to use the official bag drop then move about a bit and try to avoid getting too cold. A few gentle warm up exercises wouldn’t be a bad idea in any case, so stay active – even if you’re on the spot.
2). Okay – go time! This is the bit where if you’re expecting to be quick, then you’d best be at the front. Most people who complain about missing their target time by mere seconds put it down to the number of people in their way at the start, or through the early stages. But be sensible. If you don’t think you’ve a chance of hitting the target, don’t be part of the problem for everybody else. Starting at the back and overtaking runners the entire time is also great fun. And you won’t be upsetting anybody who wasn’t already in a glass half empty kind of a mood.
3). Race pace. The course is basically a big up and down. So it invites, if not forces a ‘negative split’, which is always an ideal strategy for runners. The first half of your run, if slow and steady, should be performed at a pace that doesn’t hurt. It should be at about 60% or 70% effort for even the quickest of athletes if that downhill is worth exploiting soon after. If you’re ‘running to finish’ then consider even 50% of your maximum, hardly even out of breath – so that once it turns mainly downhill, you have the legs left to handle the pressure of going fast for a good 6 or so miles.
Get this wrong and you’ll have heavy legs, slappy-clappy feet and very painful thighs. You might even feel that long before the finish, you’ve run out of steam and can’t even run on the flat anymore, for being so broken. Easy does it.
4). Gauge the timing of your effort. That elevation graph looks pretty severe, but probably spans a few inches of your monitor. Imagine it stretched out for 13.1 miles and it’ll flatten right out. And when it undulates, you’ll notice that only particular sections of that climb are truly steep. A lot of it is gentle climb that shouldn’t pose too much of a threat unless you’ve already busted a gut to get where you are.
In simple terms, the first 2 miles are going to appear flat. Although a subtle climb, you’re still full of beans at this stage, so go gentle and you’ll be at the start of Ecclesall Rd South before you know it. Then don’t over do it to begin with as you climb. You should be moving efficiently and gradually increasing the effort as long as it feels within that percentage already mentioned.
Even if you deliberately ease off when you approach the hill, that’s not the daftest thing – if it means avoiding an early blow up. There’s Ecclesall Rd South, then Knowle Lane straight after and believe me, that is steep. But this too will pass, so don’t push your luck on these sections and you can maintain a good pace when it evens out again, rather than trying to keep up while your body hungers for Oxygen.
Similarly, don’t speed up too much when you reach the left turn from the Norfolk Arms in Ringinglow, as many people mistake this for the highest point of the route. It isn’t.
Soon as you turn left, the course swoops upward once more and travels the length of Sheephill Road, itself a gradual uphill for a mile or so and just as long as Ringinglow Road, but not quite as steep.
5). Free Speed! I hate the term ‘free speed’. Nothing is free. Downhill running, for some – is fun in short bursts. But when it goes on for miles it can hurt. And that’s without having just exhausted your system on a 5/6 mile uphill. So think about reserves. Have you trained on hills? Do you have experience at downhills? Can you maintain a smooth form under these conditions, or are you at risk from rubber legs and heavy feet? Is it worth all that hardship on the way up if you grind to a halt by the second visit to that ‘flat’ section from the first 2 miles……? The solution is to only run flat out if you know you should. For most of us, it’ll be that final 2 mile slog that undermines all of our achievement beforehand if we’re not careful. So just as you spared yourself on the up, do so on the down – then dig in and kick home on that final section and the finish funnel.
6). Be mindful of running technique. To run well uphill, by which I mean to run efficiently – take short strides and push the ground away underneath you, rather than to take giant strides and attempt to cover too much ground all at once. The steeper it gets, the more the ground gets in your way, so practice running up instead of forwards. Same thing on the downhills. Don’t take huge bounding steps that demand harsh landings and repeated shocks to your system. Try keeping the strides short, with fast feet and smooth pattern of movement that you might call ‘rolling’ downhill and subtly controlling the rate of descent so you don’t get caught knocking the hell out of your knees or your back.
7). Hydrate in advance. Eat a good breakfast. If you run 13 miles fairly often (or even 10 miles in training) then you might be confident running the entire race without need for food or water. That said, you’ll need to have drunk plenty of water the day before and have a drink waiting at the finish. Protein is a good idea soon after, as it facilitates the body’s muscle building abilities and will at this point allow the recovery process to get a move on.
If you’re used to having a drink with you when you run, then maybe carry a bottle with you, or in a hydration belt of some kind. If you don’t want the complication of drinking at the designated aid stations along the route and would sooner not carry too much for too long, then you could try purchasing a cheap sports drink from the supermarket and swapping the drink for something that you’re used to. Then when you’ve sipped for as long as you think sensible – unburden yourself. You can dispose of the bottle at one of the bins provided.
8). Assess your footwear situation and be sure you haven’t done all of your training in one pair of shoes that by now have seen better days. If you’ve a pair set aside as racing shoes, then you’ve probably already taken care of training sensibly in high mileage/deep cushioned shoes and are prepared for a more demanding but responsive pair to race quickly in. but if you consider yourself a plodder, or you prefer to do all of your training and your racing in just the one pair, maybe now is time to get a brand new set and bed them in as you taper*, so they’re effective on the day. Too many people attempt to increase their workload (longer runs/race pace or race day itself) just as their shoes are beginning to cope with less and less. Those mid-soles have degraded so slowly you might not have noticed, yet once into brand new shoes again – the difference all at once is clear and might spare you blisters, painful joints or slower results than you know you’d trained for.
9). *Tapering. With 2 weeks left, you’d be best to commence with what is known as your ‘Taper Period’, which as the name suggests – involves reducing the mileage one run at a time and settling on something like a 3 or 4 mile run every couple of days at a gentle pace, equivalent to what you might be doing as you start the race. Your body will stay conditioned against the demand for Oxygen, but your muscles will get a well earned rest. You can reduce the fatigue and risk of injury this way. Then for the few days immediately prior to the race, let’s say from Thursday through to Sunday – rest entirely, while sleeping well and hydrating yourself and eating properly. Avoiding too much tea or coffee can be a good idea on the Saturday, but if you’re used to a cup first thing in the morning, then still allow one on the big day – since it can be murder running though the headaches caused by denial of caffeine. Just the one cup until it’s over though. Too much coffee, chocolate or dairy can have a strong laxative effect and who needs that?!
And that’s about all I have to offer. If you finished with energy to spare in 2015, then chances are you already worked out where you might apply yourself differently this time over. If this is your first time, trust me it’ll be a lot of fun. I never had so much fun (in a race) as I did last year on this event.
Don’t let the hill psyche you out. Don’t work too hard, but rather pace yourself and speed up when the finish is in sight. Stay back at the start unless you truly intend to run it hard and don’t cause an unnecessary obstruction. Trust that with food and drink taken care of before and after, you might afford to keep your rhythm throughout the race and not get bogged down in trying to tackle a drink stop part way through. If you’ve people joining you and cheering you from the sidelines, see if they’d mind taking your warm layer just in time to set off. And most importantly of all…..ignore any or all of these points if you believe you already have a successful system of your own and HAVE FUN!
See you there.