Eye on the finish line
A few last-minute tips for getting in shape ahead of Prague's half-marathon
Posted: March 6, 2013
By Michael Finnegan
For the Post
With just a month to go before Prague's 15th half-marathon springs to life with a gun shot and a plume of smoke, ill-prepared runners may now be regretting signing up to the country's most popular running event.
Racers will be faced with a grueling, albeit flat course that is likely to be made all the more difficult by cold weather.
Review the race materials: Know in advance where to drop off your gear, which miles have water stations, and where you have to prepare for a steep climb
Don't wear anything new: If you insist on new-fangled clothing, give yourself ample time to try it out
Pick your pace: Most half-marathons have pacemakers you can run behind. If not, there are many free playlists online that will help you find your rhythm
Every runner gets an electronic chip that accurately measures the race: Remember that the clock doesn't begin ticking until you cross the start line, so make sure to take your time
Don't stop dead at the water stations: Avoid crowds by visiting the second or third stalls
The race doesn't start until the second half: Don't go bursting out of the gates
After you cross the finish line, keep moving: This helps in recovery and prevents dizziness
Water and sports drinks will be available at the finish line: Make sure to eat something as soon as you can; research shows that muscle glycogen is replaced twice as rapidly in the first hour following the race
Finally, make sure to take a break from running when you are done: Consult a doctor if you have an injury that persists more than three or four days
Vladimír Korbel, coordinator of personal trainers at World Class, which has three gyms in Prague, said those who have yet to start training will struggle to get fit in time for the event.
"Simply put, I can't in good conscience recommend training for the half-marathon at this late stage," says the veteran of the New York City Marathon. "The best way to get in shape is [to do it] slowly and with a lot of preparation; that way, you get maximum enjoyment out of the event, but of course you can do it if you want to."
He advises participants to complete two runs per week, starting with a long distance run of 7 miles and adding one mile each week until hitting 10 miles in the fourth week. The second run should be focused on speed and intensity and incorporate steep slopes and sprints.
Korbel points out that strength training, with a special emphasis on recovery, will best prepare racers for the demanding 13.1 miles.
"You'll want to be in the gym doing compound exercises at least once a week," he said. "And when you've finished, focus on repairing your body. That means stretching, foam rolling, and getting at least eight hours' sleep a night."
Competitors, then, should expect to train at least three times a week to be best prepared for the big event April 6.
Those who make it through the taxing training regime will get more than just sore legs and a shiny medal, says Martin Yelling, co-founder of Yelling Fitness and husband of two-time Olympic marathon competitor Liz Yelling.
"The feeling of achievement when you not only aspire toward a goal like a half-marathon, but also accomplish it, is brilliant," he said. "Realizing the goal you have set yourself makes you feel like you can achieve other things in your life, whether that's at work or in your social life."
The average half-marathon time for both genders, according to reports, is around two hours. But just crossing the line is an accomplishment few achieve.
Last year, the course record was shattered in both the men's and women's categories by Ethiopia's Atsedu Tsegay in 58:47 and Kenya's Joyce Chepkirui in 1:07:03, respectively, making it the fastest half-marathon of the year.
The IAAF Gold Label event has seen a steady influx of participants since its inception in 1999 and hopes to accommodate 12,000 racers this year. Those who compete will have access to a live online ranking system that gives participants a detailed breakdown of their time and can be viewed after the event.
On race day, Yelling advises runners to stick to any pre-race plan they might have and keep their head.
"Be patient at the start. Focus on running your mile splits and remain as relaxed and comfortable as possible," he said. "You should feel easy for the first half of the race and remember that the real contest begins in the second half. It's normal to experience a few low spells. If you do, stay positive and keep moving forward."
Another issue that can hamper race-day performance is nutrition, according to Korbel. Many runners undo a great deal of hard work by eating incorrectly just before the event.
"Before the big day, I recommend you eat exactly what you normally do," he said. "Otherwise, you run the risk of encountering digestive problems. Breakfast should be the same, too. Just eat the same portions as normal, like a bowl of porridge with fruit and nuts, and you will be fine."
The Prague Half-Marathon features a looped course that begins and ends on Jan Palach Square, meandering along the Vltava River before finally winding through the northern parts of the city.
While the race is now at capacity, there are still around 1,000 places available through charity organizations.
Yelling advises those finishing the event to put on a warm top and to keep moving even once they cross the finishing line.
"It is also important to walk a little even if it is hard, because movement will help you recover," he said. "Make sure to get some food and drink as well, and then wear your medal with pride," he said.
Michael Finnegan can be reached at email@example.com