Runher: Eight women complete rigorous nine week training for running event
Now, they tell Stephanie Bell they are eager to set the pace
They have faithfully turned out week after week to put themselves through a tough training regime and now they are more than ready to hit the road on Sunday for the Belfast Telegraph Titanic Runher.
The women who took part in our very first Runher Training Programme, coached by Melissa Eccles, our official trainer for the event, have spent the past nine weeks bonding as they worked together to improve their pace in preparation for the big event.
Some were complete beginners simply hoping to develop a new hobby while others were more experienced runners intent on increasing their timings.
Wonderful friendships have also emerged and while the programme ends this week, the women plan to keep on running together.
Melissa has also thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of helping our readers to be in top form for the Titanic event.
Hundreds of other runners have been able to follow Melissa's programme online and through a weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph.
Melissa says: "My priority starting the programme was fun and fitness and while we were in a group, it was also very much about individual goals. It has been brilliant and I have to say the women have done all of it themselves.
"I had hoped everyone would bond as a group and make friends, but I didn't think it would happen to the extent that it has. The women have been a great support to each other and plan to continue running together even after Sunday's race."
Runher brings women together, regardless of age or ability, to enjoy a sense of achievement and to create a special event that is all about them.
And as the participants of our training programme reveal that is exactly what they have enjoyed even before they cross the starting line.
Sally Anderson (44), a teaching assistant in Bangor Grammar, lives in Groomsport and is a single mum to Thomas (16). Sally only took up running in January at the Bangor parkrun and has been bitten by the bug. She says:
From the moment I was chosen to be a part of the Runher Training Group I was thrilled - excited that I would be meeting and running with other women and that we would have a trainer to help and guide us and that is exactly what happened. It has been fantastic.
Melissa is so experienced and is calm, thoughtful and encouraging. She has helped each of us individually as well as a group. I feel very lucky to have had such an opportunity.
I have really looked forward to Wednesday nights, even when the weather has been less than favourable. Over the weeks we have really come together as a running group and it has just been so positive.
Personally, I have benefited immensely. Having the training schedule set out by Melissa was so helpful and has kept me on track. The training on a Wednesday evening was great and with Melissa made many improvement suggestions. My main one was 'relax those shoulders'.
My fitness level has definitely increased and my parkrun times have improved during the time I have been training for Runher which to me says it all.
It is such a wonderful sense of achievement and I have met wonderful people. My goal when I first wrote in to the Belfast Telegraph was to meet people, learn, improve and enjoy and these have been more than met.
My next goal is to do Melissa, Runher and the Training Group proud this weekend with a good run."
Beth Allen (28), a solicitor from Belfast, joined the programme at an advanced level and aimed to improve her 10k time. She says:
I love the running group, it's great craic and great motivation. I look forward to it and to seeing everyone each week.
Everyone is so friendly and supportive of each other - it is a great atmosphere to train in.
The BelTel Runher races are fantastic as there is such a good atmosphere and involve so many people at different levels of ability. I think the fact that the races are for women encourages people to take part in groups of girlfriends who otherwise may not take part if it was a normal mixed gender race.
I have benefited socially by meeting all the new people. I now have excellent running gear and I had expert analysis of my gait at the Pure Running store. I have benefited from having professional training so that I know I'm training in the right way. I'm really looking forward to the race now
I have managed to keep to a set routine for the first time, and haven't missed any group sessions except for when I was sick for one week."
Angela Dunlop (47), from Comber is a single mum with grown up children. She recently retired from the civil service and now runs her own small equestrian business. She says:
I absolutely loved the Beltel Runher and running group. It was a great set up and so well organised.
The other women in the group were so friendly and welcoming and, despite being a non runner, no one judged, everyone was delighted to swap tales of starting out and the fun we had training together was absolutely the best.
Melissa and Catriona were well organised, highly motivated trainers - always making sure my pace was comfortable but always giving me a sense that 'I could do it'.
While I'm still racked with self doubt about the race, the professional training has shown me what I can achieve. From not having run for longer than five minutes in 30 years, I can now run for 30 minutes. Training with someone is definitely easier than doing it on my own - but now when I am on my own, I know I can do it. It has given me a sense of achievement. I've lost a stone in weight, I feel much better in myself and I sleep like a log after a run. I've also joined the Comber Parkrun group. Oh and I've the fittest dogs in Comber now, too."
Donna Healey (50), from Belfast started the programme at beginner level and hoped to improve her 5km time. Donna is a theatre manager at the Ulster Hospital and is married to Neil (53), a Pilates instructor, and they have two children, Kerry (22) and Erin (20). She says:
The Runher running group has been excellent. We have a great group of enthusiastic runners receiving passionate coaching, making our weekly meeting something to look forward to.
I have greatly benefited from sticking to the schedule of running three times a week, becoming more confident and disciplined.
I am now able to run the 5k without stopping at a steadier, faster pace and feel much stronger."
Katherine James (56) from Holywood is head of Small Business for Dankse Bank. When she joined the programme, she was hoping to progress from 5k to run the full 10k at the Titanic Runher. Katherine is married to Harry (60) who runs his own travel company Uniglobe and they have three sons Ben (25), Oliver (24) and Gregory (22). She says:
Beltel Runher running group was a great initiative. Everyone in the group is so lovely and friendly and it is very motivating knowing that we are all on a similar journey together. The training sessions together are great and the overall training plan is very straightforward and easy to follow.
Having experienced trainers for our sessions has been great both for the company and also for running tips and advice. The plan is very straightforward and very achievable - even for me who hadn't run for four years.
My goal was to get back to running. I have certainly achieved that. A big difference I have noticed is in my general fitness. I do boot camp with Belfast Tribal Fitness and I have noticed that it is not as painful as it used to be. Also when I think about it before I started the programme, I could only run one minute at a time. Now I can run 30. The discipline of running to a plan is great and seeing improvements week on week is extremely motivating."
Primary school teacher Emma Holmes (35) from Lisburn entered the programme at an advanced level with the hope of improving her 10k time. Emma is married to Paul (34), a product developer, and they have two children, Ciaran (3) and Katie (1) She says:
I am looking forward to competing in my first Runher on Sunday. The running group has been fantastic and I am so grateful to have been part of it. It has been encouraging and motivating. I have really benefited from being involved in this group as it has given me the drive to keep running. I had been running by myself when I got a chance, but it was getting more and more difficult to get out there.
Having a specific plan and a meet-up day has ensured that I have something to aim for. I actually look forward to the Wednesday sessions with the rest of the girls and it motivates me for the rest of the week.
Having proper gait analysis done was enlightening. Being able to watch how you run in slow motion on the video and getting advice on that was useful. We were also so lucky to receive our fab new trainers and gorgeous running kit.
I have also really loved having Melissa there as our coach.
She has been on hand to give advice and tips during the sessions and over email - she has been a super source of motivation. It has also been brilliant to train with others. Having a wee chat when you are running has made the time go faster.
Since starting the programme, I have managed to take a minute off my Parkrun time, which I am delighted about, and I completed a 10k without stopping in just under an hour.
I am still running regularly and now the thought 'I really should run today' is slowly turning into 'I really want to run today' - something I never thought would happen.
I have made some lovely new running buddies."
Rebecca Tester (25) from Carrickfergus works as a substitute primary school teacher. She says:
The running group has provided lots of motivation and encouragement, and given me an incentive to get out and run on Wednesday nights. It's an amazing experience and the camaraderie will continue.
Melissa has been inspirational and provided an easy to follow training planning to help us make progress with running. I think being involved has helped my stamina and I have achieved PBs (personal bests) in 5k and half marathon along the way."
Emma McArdle (33) from Armagh joined the programme at intermediate level, hoping to progress from 5k to 10k. Emma works as the challenge events manager for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland. She says:
I am really enjoying the running group and I look forward to meeting the girls every Wednesday for training and a catch-up. It's so much fun, as well as getting fit and training for the run at the same time.
I am looking forward to Runher as it will be great to see all the girls achieve their goal of running either 5k or 10k.
It has been great having the support of a professional trainer, it's good to know I am on the right track to improve my time and be fit enough to do 10k. It makes me look forward to the run and hopefully I will enjoy it knowing I have put the training in.
Running as part of a group and having the professional routine has taught me how to pace myself and go at a steady speed for longer as opposed to running as fast as I can for a shorter space of time which is what I used to do."
Dealing with injuries and when to stop
In the lead up to Runher, many women participating may be suffering pains as their training reaches its peak. The number one rule when it comes to running injuries at Apex Clinic is to seek the help of a physiotherapist, experienced in treating injuries as soon as possible.
If you are experiencing pain on either the inside or outside of your knee, which feels like a deep ache and builds up as you run, sometimes with a click, catch or temporary lock of the knee, you should stop running as this is often an indication of a cartilage tear. Running on is likely to further tear the cartilage.
Mild Achilles pain, felt in the heel area, which is painful only in the morning or during a run, and which ranges from mild to moderate in intensity, may be the result of a mild Achilles tendon problem. Treatment is advisable in the longer term to clear it.
A dull ache, which is not sharp or stabbing and does not intensify as you , could be the result of referred pain from the joints of the lower back. Sometimes, this injury can be treated at a later stage.
Pins and needles
Pins and needles felt in the feet or legs and/or a feeling of weakness in your legs as you run, which is often worse uphill or first thing in the morning, may be a sign of nerve irritation or compression in the lower back. Leaving this condition can lead to serious injury. So you should stop running and seek a professional opinion immediately.
By Rebecca Nelson
Week nine: Our nutritionist Majella Farrell on how to boost your recovery
This is the final nutrition stage - the aftermath.
Recovering from a run is a crucial component which runners often neglect. After you cross the finish line, try to get some warm clothes on as you'll probably get cold very quickly.
Make your recovery food and fluid your first priority after an event.
After a training session, your muscle and liver glycogen stores are depleted. You need to replace these stores as quickly as possible and if you have had a hard race, or have bruising and muscle damage, pay special attention to meeting your carbohydrate needs to help muscle recovery.
Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours as it causes more blood to flow to the injured area, increasing swelling and bleeding that will slow recovery and make the injury worse.
Plan a high-carbohydrate meal, regular carbohydrate meals and snacks for the rest of the day. Moderate to high glycaemic index foods may promote greater glycogen storage than low glycaemic index foods. A handful of jelly beans, a banana or a muesli/protein bar immediately helps.
Carbohydrates can be consumed as solids, fluids or a combination of both. Including small amounts of protein in the recovery meal can help increase the rate of muscle glycogen storage. Rehydrate - no matter how well you followed your fluid plan during the event. It is essential to replace lost fluids. Isotonic sports drinks are recommended in addition to water. These replace electrolytes lost in sweat, such as sodium and potassium, which help the muscle cells to function efficiently.
To enhance recovery, athletes should take a cold shower or ice bath directly after a workout, followed by an Epsom salt bath a few hours later or even the next day. If you are sore post run, draw a bath and throw a few cups of Epsom salt in to help relax the muscles, decrease swelling and inflammation, and speed up recovery.
Trainer Melissa Eccles explains the secrets of the Hip Flexor Stretch
When you run, your hip flexors are used to pull your thigh forward with every step. If your hip flexors are too tight, they will limit your hip extension as you drive your leg forward. This will reduce your stride length and decrease your power.
Hip flexibility is key for a smooth and efficient stride and stretching your hips will also help you to fend off injury.
Sets and reps : three sets of 20-30 second holds.
Starting position : Get into the lunge position with your back knee on the ground and your front foot on the floor facing forward.
Keeping your upper body tall with your hands on your hips, tilt your pelvis up towards the ceiling, squeeze your glutes and press forward with your hips so that you feel a stretch down the front of your leg.
A resistance band can be used to intensify the stretch. Before you get into the starting position, loop the band round something that will not move and stretch it out to its full capacity before placing the leg that is going to be bent behind you in the band.