Amongst the parkrun family there are numerous international athletes, Olympians and experienced coaches.
Each week we invite one of them to share their top tips and advice on training and improving your running, whether you’re looking to complete the course without stopping, break 45 minutes, go sub-20 for the first time, or just bag that new PB.
This week it’s the turn of Robbie Britton!
Robbie is an ultramarathon runner for Great Britain, and finished 3rd in the world at the 2015 24-hour Running Championships, running an incredible 261k! He also ran a staggering 330k across Iceland and is now training for the Mont Blanc marathon, and the UTMB CCC.
Hi Robbie! First up, what’s your home parkrun?
I was brought up near Orpington parkrun, but now my Mum lives near Southend parkrun, which is a little faster! My club, however, is the North Norfolk Beach Runners, so they run the super tough Sheringham parkrun.
What is your top tip to new parkrunners on how to improve their running?
For anyone new I think the best thing to start looking at is consistency. You don’t have to be running every day or hundreds of miles, but just a sustainable amount each week consistently. You’ll see the progression come at first from just getting your body used to running on a regular basis.
Reflection is a good skill to develop. Making mistake is part of the fun of running, as you can learn from them. Beyond that, I can’t recommend local clubs highly enough. You’ll meet people in the same situation and more experienced runners who’ll happily give out advice. Patience is key though, don’t get carried away and do too much too soon.
Pacing equally can be a great way to get a PB, but also don’t be afraid to go out too fast. Failure is how we grow and there is alway’s next week’s parkrun if you shoot off too quick and suffer.
What would be your advice to parkrunners who are thinking about going beyond parkrun and training for 10ks and half marathons?
A key skill to develop when stepping up distances is pacing. What might be a sustainable pace for a parkrun might leave you a little short over 10k or a half marathon. It’s a skill you can develop over time, but experiment a little and don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. If you need a little walk because you’ve overcooked it a little then just remember that for next time.
Think about what mental tricks you use when the going gets tough on a parkrun and how you get to the end. Do you give yourself a talking to? “Come on Robbie, you can do this”. Self talk is a useful tool to motivate during racing and training. You can also break the challenge down and try to get to that next corner, mile marker or checkpoint. Make the task smaller and it is easier to manage.
Many parkrunners find that after weeks and months of PBs and improvements, their running can start plateau. What would you suggest to mix things up?
Get on the interval sessions. Take the pace you want to run and break it into smaller chunks with rest in between. Fartlek sessions (which is Swedish for speed play) are also really beneficial: You might run fast to the next lamppost and then take it easy until the next tree, then go fast again. Play around with running fast and recovering.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself and get things wrong. I’ve gone too fast, too slow, worn the wrong shoes/shorts/pants/bra and eaten curry the night before a marathon! Always remember though that running is fun. I love it and I love it when it goes wrong too. If you’re not enjoying your running then that can be a sign you need a rest or a change.
And finally, for those people who want an insight into the training of an elite athlete, what’s your favourite training session and why?
My favourite 5k session has to be 6 x 1k. Very simply I break down each interval to the speed I want to run the 5k, then see how much recovery I need between to be able to hit that speed.
With my 15 min goal it’s 3 mins/k and to start with I could only manage 3 reps and I needed 2 minutes rest. Over time, with adequate recovery between these hard sessions, I have managed 6 x 1km with 60 second recovery between them.
If you’re trying to break 25 minutes then maybe start with 3 or 4 x 1km and have a good rest between. Then run them at your goal pace. Progression can be the speed, recovery or number of reps. The key is is to allow recovery between sessions, at least a few easy days, and mix it up a little.
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