SINGAPORE - You may have been running regularly for a few months now and some running buddies have suggested that you all sign up for a race.
Should you take your training plan up to another level?
First of all, know why you want to race and decide on a goal, said Dr Lim Baoying, resident physician at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital (CGH).
Some people race for bragging rights, because their friends are racing as well or to better their timing.
It is important to be honest about your own abilities and potential in order to improve further, said Dr Lim.
Once you have set a clear target, you can draw up a training plan.
When planning a training regimen, there are different areas to consider, such as training volume (distance and duration), training intensity (maximum heart rate achieved and terrain covered), rest and recovery and nutrition and hydration.
Each area needs to be adjusted according to the race distance that is being run.
The runner can seek advice from a running coach and set goals with the coach to arrive at a training plan, or use an online coaching programme - some are purely for running and some for multi-sports events such as triathlons.
Experienced runners can usually do the planning themselves.
Having a training plan might help in discipline, said Dr Lim.
It is also important to identify weaknesses and challenges and how to overcome them, she said.
These could include planning for flexible work scheduling to allow for intensive training, or adjusting for a recurring injury which does not allow for such rigorous training.
Consult a sports physician if an injury is involved.
Once a training programme has been decided on, monitor the progress by keeping a log book.
Record the type of run done, the location or terrain, the distance covered and time taken.
The record can be motivational and helps the runner to see his progress. It also provides a record as to whether a runner's times are improving.
Using this log book, the runner can plan for races over blocks of time, even up to a year.
This helps to prevent inadequate training, as longer, tougher races need more training time.
When training, it is useful to include cross-training in the weekly training schedule to help prevent overuse injury of the lower limbs. Some examples of cross training include swimming, cycling and yoga.
There are tests available at sports medicine clinics to help fine-tune training programmes, said Dr Lim.
This includes correcting and perfecting one's running form and posture with a professional by having one's running gait recorded in slow-motion video and having it analysed by a sports trainer or physiotherapist. This service is available at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre at CGH or the CGH-run Singapore Sports Medicine Centre at Novena Medical Centre.
The sports trainer or physiotherapist may be able to give pointers on how to improve running form and translate the results to effective training plans.
There are a few areas to focus on.
One is tapering off training for races. For marathons, training should wind down five to 14 days before a race.
The intensity and duration of training runs have to be cut concurrently, starting from around 10 to 20 per cent in the initial three or four days and up to 50 to 70 per cent less three to four days before the race.
The runner may even want a complete rest the day before.
This varies from runner to runner, as some need complete rest at least two or three days before marathons or even a half-marathon, to about one day before a 10km race, said Dr Lim.
Get an estimate of your race pace from a previous race time or time trial.
This is a projection of how fast you can finish the run but it does not have to dictate the pace of the race.
If a runner feels good, he can run faster, said Dr Lim.
Apply lubrication over areas such as the armpits, nipples and the inner thighs, to prevent abrasions from developing during the race.
Hydration and nutrition
Runners must drink to replace the fluids they lose, said Dr Lim.
For example, for marathons, a person can tolerate losing up to 2 per cent of his body weight.
That means a 60kg person can lose up to 1.2 litres of water without bodily damage.
But Dr Lim warned that this "safe margin" of 2 per cent fluid loss is also dependent on the runner's condition.
"One can feel unwell even with body fluid loss of less than 2 per cent as this depends on how fit the person is, the physical health of the person and run conditions," she said.
A 60kg person should drink 400 to 600ml of water two or three hours before the marathon, then 250 to 300ml of water just before the marathon.
This should be followed by 250 to 300ml of water every 10 to 15 minutes during the run.
For running events that last more than 90 minutes, runners should also take 250 to 300ml of a sports drink - which is designed to help athletes rehydrate quickly when fluids are depleted after training or competition - every 15 to 30 minutes.
The hydration plan also depends on the water point availability during the race and the types of fluid that are offered at each water point.
After the race, replace fluids lost with 1.2 to 1.4 litres of water per kg of body weight lost. For example, if the runner loses around 2kg after the marathon, he should try to drink around 2.4 litres of water.
As for nutrition, it is best to have carbohydrates such as bananas, energy gels and raisins, which are main fuel sources.
You should be eating 5 to 7g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight for low- to moderate-intensity exercise such as running or brisk walking at about 5 to 7kmh.
Eat 7 to 10g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight for moderate- to high-intensity exercise such as running at 10 to 12 kmh.
Eat 10 to 12g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight for exercise lasting more than four hours.
Marathon runners should have 1g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight every half hour or hour for up to four hours after a race.
About two hours after the marathon, aim to take carbohydrates and proteins in a 4:1 ratio. This helps the body recover.
Protein intake will help the body repair micro-damage in muscles during exercise.
The carbohydrates are to replace depleted muscle glycogen stores, said Dr Lim.
She cautioned that runners should pay attention to their hunger and thirst levels so they are aware of what their body needs.
When to stop
You may have hit the limit of your endurance when you are excessively tired, injured or cannot continue running.
The warning signs include: an increased resting heart rate (higher by more than six to 10 beats per minute than usual in the early morning before getting up from bed), loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, sleep disturbances, emotional instability, frequent fatigue, frequent and prolonged infections.
These are all signs of over-training and if it happens to you, it is time to stop and re-examine the training schedule, said Dr Lim.
The tell-tale signs that one has reached one's limit and should not go on include: injury such as persistent pain over a particular body area that stops you from continuing the run, stiffness in a joint that does not go away with stretching, heat exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, giddiness, chills, headaches, chest pain or tightness, and excessive breathlessness.
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