On The Run

Five Great Lessons From Soweto

I recently recapped my Soweto Half Marathon which took place in November last year. It was an awesome adventure. I had a solid training plan and although I got injured a week before the Big Day, I ran quite a solid race. However, it was only my second Half Marathon and in the last few months I have reflected on some mistakes I made in training and on race day and the valuable lessons I gained as a result. The more I run, the more comfortable I am, but as with everything in life, I also know I have a lot more to learn.

1 – Stick to the Plan: My training plan was designed by Coach Nicola from Running Happy and it was beautifully tailored to my needs. Towards the end of my training cycle, my running was feeling so much stronger and I was eager to do even more. So eager that I starting sneaking in more kilometres. I remember doing 15 km for one Long Run, instead of 10 km; and 9 km of hill repeats instead of 6 km. I can’t help but wonder whether that may have contributed to the injury. The plan was solid but in my enthusiasm to do more as I got stronger, I may have done myself more harm than good. Stick to the Plan. Overdoing it in the final few weeks may result in injury and spoil your chances for a good race.

2 – Do Them Squats: I was doing all the runs, I was eating right and I was going for pilates. But I avoided strength training at all costs! Again, this may have contributed to my pre-race injury. This article summaries the benefits of strength training for runners and notes that “Strength training helps your body better deal with the stresses of running. Your muscles will be able to perform longer before getting fatigued, which will help you maintain your proper running form.” This was a good lesson for me and in recent weeks, I have been more consistent and put a lot more effort into strength training.

3 – Break In Those Shoes: I bought new shoes about 6 weeks from race day and I figured this was plenty of time to break them in. However, I simply stopped using my old shoes and did all my runs in the new shoes. The first thing my physiotherapist asked me was “Have you started using new shoes?” Apparently this is a big cause of injury especially when you haven’t transitioned properly to new shoes. Sean Conroy in this article talks about the importance of gradually phasing new shoes into your running schedule, first using them once a week and then more whilst still using the older shoes for longer distances. This article from Runner’s World aptly states, “Your feet are super adaptable – but you have to give them time to adjust.” Another critical lesson.

4 – Grab That Gel: I did my first Half Marathon without having to fuel (aside from water) en route. And in all my long runs I’ve never had to refuel. However, in the Soweto Race particularly with the gruelling hills in the second half, I really started to battle and when I was waiting for my medal, I was so nauseous and could hardly stand. By the time I met up with my friends I was feeling extremely sick. Luckily my husband quickly told me to take the gel I had been carrying all along and he got me some coke and hydration salts. All my friends doing the Half said they had taken a gel around 13/14 km which was when I had started to struggle on the course. Looking back, that was the time I should have taken something. This was a huge lesson for me. Run by run, I’m learning.

5 – Hop on the Bus: No, not that kind of bus! 🙂 As I was struggling up one of the countless hills in the second half, I heard a cheerful voice behind me with a tambourine. He was leading a huge group of runners and they were using a walk-run approach. I was determined to keep jogging so I initially stayed in front of them. But when the “bus driver” told them to start running they soon overtook me and looked in much better spirits than I was! Eventually, I was too far behind to catch up. In hindsight, I should have hopped on the bus to get me back on track. Given those hills, their walk-run approach would have been the best way for me to get up. This article looks at the pros and cons of hopping on the bus, and although I don’t think I would start and end on the bus, I think they are pretty useful for getting you through a tough patch!

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards” – Vernon Sanders Law

One of the things I love about running is that you never stop learning and growing. The more I run, the more I see there is a lot more I need to learn. Do any of these lessons resonate with you? What are some of the key things you have learnt about running and racing? Do you have any other running tips to add?

I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their new link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also linking up with Lora from Crazy Running Girl, Marc from Train With Marc and Debbie from Coach Debbie Runs for Coaches’ Corner! Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!

25 thoughts on “Five Great Lessons From Soweto

  1. Even though I’ve done a lot of races, I’m still learning something new with each race! I think that’s one of the best things about running – you just continue to keep learning and growing from each experience.

    I’m a huge fan of strength training and I think that it can really help with running. For my next marathon training cycle I’m going to try to make sure I strength train 3x a week.

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    1. I’m always amazed at all the lessons. Once I’ve sat down and reflected, there is always something I find I’ve learnt or can improve. One thing I’ve always loved about your training routine is the varied nature of it, so I have no doubt you’ll be able to strength train 3x a week!

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  2. You learned some great lessons! Race day always has its surprises, even when you’re the most prepared! I think you did a great job on your race and hope you’ll have more half marathons to look forward to in the future!

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  3. Each race teaches you something something. I should have done this or I shouldn’t have done that.

    I also have a coach and do try to do my runs exactly as she has them in my plan. I am already paying her so why do something else than what she is telling me to do?

    I am bad when it comes to strength training too. Ugh, I know that it will help me become a faster and stronger runner but yet still don’t do it.

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  4. Great learning points!

    I think I did OK with my halves, but I did learn this one in the first one: If you’re running with a friend, have a plan for what happens if one of you has a bad race, because I spent a mile with her urging me on and me wanting to stay with her. I always do that now.

    My first mara, I trained for the best conditions – not that many hills and cool weather (even getting up super early all summer to train). Then it was BOILING HOT and I was panicky and did not have the resilience that the hill training would have done. Since then, I train for the worst conditions and try to work in a 20-miler with more elevation than the race will have.

    I’ve also seen people get over excited at the strength and speed they’re gaining and increase both on those long runs. Each time, pretty well, the person has ended up injured or having a terrible race.

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    1. I love these points Liz! One of the “rules” I have with my running friends is on race day it’s one man for himself. It sounds awful when I write it like that, LOL – but the point behind it is really if you can start/finish together because you have the same pace and its working, then brilliant. But if anyone wants to pick up the pace, or anyone starts struggling, it’s okay to part ways and find each other at the end. Unless of course, you have specifically agreed to stay together no matter what. But that agreement of what happens out there is crucial.

      “Train for the worst conditions” – I love that too.

      Thank you for sharing all these.

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  5. That is the best quote. I need to borrow it.

    I just ran a half. I can identify with most of what you said.

    Hope we both learn from our mistakes for the next one.

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    1. I was looking for a quote to use and loved it as soon as I saw it! 🙂 We will learn! 🙂 The strength training is one that I have long neglected and I’m really working hard to correct. I’ve got a 16 km on Saturday so I will also try one of the gels and see if it agrees with me!

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  6. One thing I pride myself on is that I’m never too proud to walk.With my long legs, it’s often times faster to power walk a tough hill than it is to “run” it…and that power walking maintains the cardio aspect but gives your body (and mind) a bit of a reprieve. YOU have had so much progress this past year!!! Great job on your dedication to the sport we all love so dearly 😉

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  7. Important lessons! I agree that I think I learn something with each race too 🙂 My first distance race was a 10 miler and I got so caught up in the excitement that I forgot to take any fuel and ended up really loopy at the end.

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  8. I also love that there’s always something to learn with running! And sometimes those lessons are hard. I never understand the people who don’t eat during longer distances. I need some fuel for anything over 9 miles. And run/walk really works for me.

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    1. I did a 16 km run this past Saturday and for the first time I took a gel… took it around 13 km. It worked. Felt so much better and looking back, I could even have taken it around 12 km. I have an 18 km scheduled for this weekend, so will keep experimenting with what works!

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  9. I think these are all great points! One thing that people seem to overlook often is the fact that you should be doing about 80 percent of your training runs at an easy, conversational pace. It might seem counterintuitive, but it really does help you build endurance, build your aerobic capacity and get ready for a successful race day!

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