Running the gauntlet in Dubai: 10 training tips for a half marathon!

As a generally active bod who likes to get out and about, I am ashamed to say that I signed up for the Dubai Creek Half Marathon two years’ running before actually taking part. The first time I hadn’t trained or taken it seriously, the second I had trained for but when it came to the day my self-doubt and fear took over, so this year I decided early on that I would make a firm commitment and make it happen.

I signed up with a personal trainer through Ignite, I’d trained with them in the past in bootcamps and classes, but decided I needed a programme more tailored to my goal of running 21.1k without stopping or walking. Let me be clear, I am not a runner. Not at all. I had run a few 10k’s in the past but very very slowly and would never have been able to go any further, however  with my trainer Waly’s expert support, guidance – and evil whip cracking – I managed to run the half marathon non-stop in 2 hours 18. I was ecstatic and thought it might be helpful to share my top tips here – not as a fitness pro (just the thought makes me laugh) but as someone who has achieved their goal:

1. Get a trainer. The difference between just running yourself or following tips on a website, and actually spending a few hours a week with a professional is huge. Waly ensured I was working beyond my maximum every second of my training, he also gave me programmes to follow alone, expert advice, tips on my food and non-stop motivation, inspiration, support and encouragement

2. Build your fitness first. I spent the first 4-6 weeks of my training focussing on getting fit and building stamina and endurance, particularly in my legs – in fact I only started running a couple of months before the race! Under Waly’s guidance I did a mixture of circuits, cardio, weight training, boxing and swimming – a similar routine to what I had been doing, only much more intense and almost every day.

3. Mix it up. Not just in terms of the mix of different exercise, but during the exercising/running too – alternate your speed, resistance, incline, regularly to keep your body guessing. The next stage of my training saw us supplement one of my circuits sessions with Waly for a run with him. I was running myself once or twice a week 6-8k anyway but running with a trainer was a whole new experience. We didn’t measure distances, it was all about pushing the speed, and we would throw in sprints throughout the run and race each other (things I would certainly not do when running alone!) I also got tips on my technique, from the strides I was taking, to my breathing, and even some run psychology!

4. Increase distance slowly. When I first started I was only running 3-5k on my own once or twice a week. A month into the training, I had progressed to 10k twice a week, once with a trainer, once without. A few weeks later I tried 13k alone, which I did once a week for a couple of weeks (in addition to a couple of 10k’s during the week). Once satisfied with that I pushed it to 16k, which I ran once a week for two or three weeks before the race. I never once ran the entire 21.1k before the day itself.

5. Have fun! Pick activities you enjoy and make sure your trainer is right for you. I met with Waly for a coffee and chat about my objectives before we started training to make sure we could work together – and despite all the hard work, we laugh too. A LOT. After perusing Premier Marathons event listings, I signed up for lots of events along the way that supported my training but were also fun activities that I could do with friends – Ignite’s Pink is Punk, the Pink Biathlon, Dubai Midnight Marathon, Supersports Run Series, and Dubai Women’s Run, among others – and I met some great new people too.

6. Look after yourself. The final week, I did a couple of light training sessions but no running at all. I made sure I got plenty of sleep and ate well. I had a bowl of pasta the night before, and got up in plenty of time on the day to have a bowl of cereal and a banana. I also took some Gu sachets with me for just before the start, although I couldn’t say if they really made a difference (judging by all the empty sachets around the route they were very popular though!) I was almost obsessive over hydration levels, drinking around 3L of water a day during my training, and after having a few issues with my knee I had been taking glucosamine supplements for months and wore a good knee support on the day.

7. Invest in some half-decent gear. I now wonder if part of the aforementioned knee problems might not have been related to my worn-out and exhausted trainers. They were a few years old and had been well used, but still seemed to be in good condition, however as my knee ached more and more, I invested in a new pair. I got my feet measured and the arches checked and picked a pair of Asics that fitted the exact shape of my foot and were designed for long distance running – I cannot stress enough how fantastic they felt on my feet and what a difference it made! I’d love to say I’ve not had any trouble with the knee since, but that wouldn’t be true, however I do find running so much more comfortable. I also invested in a good pair of leggings with temperature control and a pocket at the back for my car key so I didn’t have to worry about queuing to get my belongings in a locker on the day, and socks with added support. And ladies, don’t forget a good sports bra – so important when you’re running constantly for nearly two and a half hours!

8. Create a good playlist. I cannot run without my music, it’s as simple as that. Over the months I’ve also established that the speed of my running and my enjoyment of the run varies according to the soundtrack. Now, I did already have an upbeat gym playlist, but even this needed a lot of modifying to ensure all of the tracks for the half marathon were at the right speed and were positive/inspirational enough to keep me going all the way through. I keep the playlist set on shuffle when I run to ensure that I’m surprised every time I hear a new song, rather than having the routine memorised.

9. Get there early. Suck it up, you just have to arrive early. Even though it was 4am and I was grumpy, getting up earlier meant I wasn’t stressing about getting there in time, parking before the roads were closed, and rushing through my stretches/warm up. I even sat in the car for half an hour once I had arrived, but I was in a much better place mentally than all those people rushing through minutes before the start having had to park miles away and wanting to put bags in lockers, queue for the toilet, etc.

10. KEEP GOING!! Once you start, don’t stop till you reach the finish line – you CAN do it! The majority of the challenge with a long distance run is psychological. I made sure to look around, smile at people we passed, savour the sunrise over the creek and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I could – and just kept those legs pumping!

Crossing that finish line was incredible – achieving something you have worked so hard for and doubted for so long. I thought I would slow the training down after reaching my goal, and although I did cut back on the running (my knee didn’t appreciate 21.1k’s of abuse) I kept going with everything else until I was ready to start running once a week again, and now I have new goals, this time it’s about speed. I know I can do the distance, now I want to see if I can increase my time running a 10k, which I will put to the test at the Dubai Marathon this weekend. The signs are looking good, the last 8k race I managed in 47 minutes – an increase of 10% on the previous run I did. Once that is over I am signed up for the Wadi Bih Relay in the mountains next month – 71k up and down, but at least this will be as a team! I don’t want to turn into some kind of exercise hermit, but I am loving the challenge at the moment, and will keep you all posted on my developments in the months ahead!

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2 responses to “Running the gauntlet in Dubai: 10 training tips for a half marathon!

  1. Thanks Nourhan, I did it – another goal achieved – broke the hour barrier in the 10k! Achieved a personal best of 58 minutes 30 (8 minutes faster than my last run), so now I have achieved my distance and my speed targets. Need to get ready for the mountains now – only two weeks to go!

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