Amongst the parkrun family there are numerous international athletes, Olympians, Paralympians 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 Noel Thatcher!
Noel is a true great of Paralympic sport. He represented Great Britain at six Paralympic Games between 1984 and 2004, winning an incredible total of five gold medals. One of Noel’s many career highlights was breaking the 5000m world record at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics in the astonishing time of 14:56.
Noel was made an MBE in the 1997 New Years Honours for ‘Services to Athletics for Disabled People’ and in 2004 he had the honour of carrying the flag for Great Britain at the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
He was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009, and is also a physiotherapist, whilst working to encourage other visually impaired individuals to take up running.
Hi Noel! First up, what’s your home parkrun?
My home parkrun is effectively Harlow juniors as I have to work Saturday mornings. I do my parkrunning with my six year old son Soshin who has done over 50 junior parkruns so far.
It’s amazing to think that we’ve done over 100k together. The time we as a family, (my wife volunteers), and the friendships made have been amazing.
It can be hard to fit in running and training around a work, family and social life – what’s your best tip for finding a work-life balance?
Your runs don’t have to be overly long – you can get good quality work done in 30 minutes with a one mile warm up, a few minute faster efforts with short recovery, followed by a cool down. Run commuting is also a great way of optimising training time or running while the kids are doing a club activity.
What is your top tip to new parkrunners on how to improve their running?
Consistency, variety and gradual progression are the key to improving as a runner. Some form of strength training, even a few body weight exercises will help improve form, speed and economy and don’t forget to rest, eat and sleep as this is when all the adaptation happens.
As a physiotherapist treating lots of runners, I see a lot of confusion and anxiety around running information and training. Ultimately keep it fun and simple and you won’t go far wrong.
What would be your advice to parkrunners who are thinking about going beyond parkrun and training for 10ks and half marathons?
For those runners looking to go beyond parkrun there is no getting away from the fact that that you need to clock more miles. This needs to be done gradually and it may be best to start by adding a couple of easy shorter runs into your week first, before you begin increasing the length of your runs. It’s easier for your body to adapt to more shorter runs than one or two very long runs.
Build longer runs slowly and take every third week easy. Supplementing running with swimming or cycling will ease the load on joints, tendons etc. I would also recommend running with friends and in nature to lift the spirits and help make the miles pass more quickly.
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?
If you have plateaued, then change something – anything. If you run steady and long, you should try some faster efforts building slowly. Or if you are a speed monster, try a few longer easy efforts or faster sustained running.
Form drills to improve your technique, or strength training are also good ways of stimulating 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?
One of my favourite sessions before winning 5000m Gold in Sydney was:
The pace gets faster with each effort, and varying the speed and finishing fast is a great way to get used to the harder 3k – 5k stretch of a parkrun. I would warm up with a Mile or two of jogging and some drills and short sprints to ensure my body is good to go on the first rep.
This would be preceded and followed by an easy day to ensure I was fresh and recovered. The last 400m would be almost as hard as I could go, but I’d run with control ie. even pace/effort.
You can follow Noel on Twitter.
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