I was set this question by the team at ashmei HQ a while ago and I've been thinking about the answer quite a bit.
My key race for 2015 is the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow next Sunday (4th October). I'm competing in the half marathon and I really want to get a PB to finish my 2015 road racing on a high.
This is how I prepare for a key race like this.
Get a training plan
I train best when I have a plan. I know others who just do whatever they feel like but if I don't have it written down then I lose focus. I like being able to tick a session off on a spreadsheet or bit of paper. It's a nice feeling afterwards but also, if I miss the session, I know that missing tick would annoy me so I try and get the run in somehow. An example of this was I knew I was going to miss a 16 mile run due to going away on holiday so I swapped some runs about and did a 16 mile run in to work one morning.
Train hard but sensibly
It's about the long term goal. Think in months not weeks. I've been focussed on Glasgow since the beginning of the year and all my training has been half marathon specific. Improving my pace over the 5k and 10k distances so that I can carry that pace up to half marathon.
I have 3 key sessions a week, 2 track sessions and 1 long run on a Sunday. The track sessions are full effort and every Wednesday my body knows it's done a track session. A Thursday is also a track session but with a difference, over a 4 or 5 week period I build up to the 4321. What's this? It's running 4 miles at target half marathon pace followed by 4 minutes jog recovery, then 3 miles at pace, 3 minutes jog recovery, all the way down to the final 1 mile at half marathon pace. It's brutal!
The Sunday long run is a conversational pace and targets endurance rather than speed, usually it's a 16 mile run with the squad along some amazing paths on the outskirts of Edinburgh and up in to the Pentlands.
Listen to your body but know when you are just being lazy!
I find I need a rest day most weeks, usually a Friday. This allows me some time just to put my feet up and feel a bit fresher for an easy run on a Saturday. I'll then head out on a Sunday for a longer endurance run. There are times though when I've thought I really need a rest after a hard session on the track on a Tuesday but realistically, once I got out and on the road, I find I was just being lazy and I'm glad I laced up my trainers and headed out.
Mandy is my gauge on when I should take a rest though, she knows me better than I know myself. She spots differences in my mood and energy levels if I've overdone it. If she tells me I need a rest then the chances are I needed one a couple of days ago and I've just over done it.
I enjoy running and when I use it as a commute in to work most days, you do tend to forget that those runs also take it out of you.
Listen to your coach and take their advice
If you are lucky enough to have a coach, listen to them. I'm luck that Edinburgh AC have a number of fantastic coaches and they really know their stuff. The sessions they set are set up for a reason. It might feel like an easy night but it's targeting specific muscles or other parts of your body. Some are to help build up the amount of time it takes before your body produces lactic acid. Some are to help strengthen your lungs to allow you to breath easier when giving it everything. Trust your coach!
On the week before a big race, it's all about resting and knocking the miles back to make sure my legs are in good shape for race day. Lower mileage but I still keep a Tuesday track session in, just at a slower pace.
This last one is one I am still trying to master, especially on the longer races. I tend to panic if my pace is going a drift and try and make up time within the next mile instead of thinking about just chipping away at it over the rest of the race. This panic has caused me to get really bad stitches this season as well during races.
I need to just relax and enjoy the run. Many of my training runs start slow and I finish on target, just slowing getting faster over the miles. I need to get this nailed for racing as well.
The night before a race I will lay out my kit that I plan on wearing for the race as well, so there is no panic when I find I don't have something that I need!
Don't get ill or injured!
I'm currently sitting here at home, off work, cuddled up in bed with my laptop on my knee full of the cold. This is not the norm for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't tend to get ill, and secondly when I do get a cold it's never enough to stop me from going to work or even worse, never enough to stop me going for a run. If anything, an easy run tends to clear it. Not this time!
The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a nightmare with regards to preparation for the Great Scottish Run next weekend. I am racing in the half marathon in Glasgow and all year it's been my main focus, my PB race, the one race I really wanted to do well in. It's not looking like it's going to happen now though.
Last week I had to cut back my training due to a niggle in my foot, this week I'm missing out on runs due to this cold and chesty cough I have.
I'll just need to treat it as a two week taper and hope that I can pull something out the bag for Glasgow in a week’s time!