Here we share the answers from a few frequently asked questions to give you 17 Top Tips to help you prepare for the big day.
Nordic walking is often seen as a hobby. Most people enjoy just Nordic walking along the river, or exploring woodlands and different terrains. But Nordic walking is a very versatile sport.
Over the last three years 3JFitness have worked with quite a few members to get them fit and ready for a variety of challenges including the Reading Half Marathon. We have coached members for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 half marathons. For many of them is was their first ever half marathon. This year the Reading Half Marathon is on the 17th March 2019. It is a road race. It’s not something you could imagine Nordic walkers being a part of as it they are usually perceived as nordic walking on grass, mud and trails. Permission was successfully sought for our members to take part and they then take on the training at least 12-20 weeks beforehand. But there is more than just the physical training.
The training plan has been devised by Janine Lewis, using not only her own experience, but also the formula based on suggestions from successful road race strategy plans. The training plan takes in to account, form, posture, core strength, speed and the focus of good nutrition, hydration and stretching. It is also specifically tailored to meet the needs of a competitive Nordic walking participant. The challenge for a Nordic walker will be much harder than just running or walking the race; Nordic walking uses the poles to workout the upper body at the same time. It’s a massive calorie burn and cardio workout. 95% of the body’s muscles are being worked, hard. The poles also have to be used with due care and attention to avoid other race participants. So the racing style has been adapted and a new technique taught.
The training keeps you injury free but what are the other key factors? There are other elements to take in to account such as footwear, refuelling on the day, dealing with blisters, to name a few. Here are a few tips from Janine, who having participated in a variety of events and distances, has learned a few invaluable tricks to make sure she could always finish an event smiling and injury free. Let’s prepare for race day!
As with all the advice given, it is essential that you practice and trial whatever you are wearing and eating weeks before the event. It is also subjective and a personal choice. We are all built differently, have different budgets and expectations after the race. Expensive kit bought now could be collecting dust afterwards. It will be down to the experience as to whether it comes out again!
Your foot wear is chosen to suit the terrain. Reading half marathon is a road race so something that will help absorb the vibrations and shock going through the footwear into your feet and through your body will make massive difference between comfort and pain. It will also impact on the rest of your body too. If your feet hurt then your body posture will change, which will result in muscular and skeletal issues. Fatigue will also be the outcome through muscles absorbing the constant shock waves vibrating through the feet.
As a Nordic walker you are taught to roll your feet through from heel to toe so your shoe should allow that flex. You are moving forward so there is little impact in the heel. Road trainers will be sufficient and there is a degree of padding through the sole to absorb the foot placement impact.
The best advice is to visit a sportswear specialists trained to advise and select the right kit. Sweatshop or Cotswold Outdoors are local to us in Berkshire. Make sure you are looked after by a sports footwear specialist and do make sure you labour the point that a road shoe that flexes through the toe is essential. A neutral shoe should be sufficient as Nordic walking helps to correct under and over pronation to a degree. If in doubt or if you experience any foot pain then visit a podiatrist. Expect to invest about £75 for a decent pair of trainers. You are buying not just technology but an investment into foot care and body comfort and staying injury free.
These are an essential piece of kit to get right! Too loose, you will have blisters. Too tight and you will have circulation and blister issues. The best are ergonomically shaped socks for your foot size. Janine favours the Bridgedale (bought online and Cotswold Outdoors) as they of a material designed to wick moisture away from the feet, stay in position and have comfort padding in the right places. IInjinji socks are also a favourite as they are toes socks which prevents blistering between the toes. Be careful, they will make your shoes feel a little tighter across the front from the ball joint to the little toe. Make sure you shoe can accommodate that. Avoid any ribbing in the design or towelling as that does move around on your foot, as it is makes the fabric flexible, and the rubbing and friction will cause blistering. A decent pair of socks can set you back about £15 but again, you are not just investing in foot protection but a smile because you are staying injury free.
There are lots of ways to prevent blisters by acting in advance. Shoes and socks will play an important part. It is key to wear the shoes and socks of choice several weeks before race day. Make sure the shoes and socks are still functional and not worn out! Avoid wearing new shoes n the day as they have not had a chance to mould to the shape of your feet. Fresh new socks however can feel wonderful. If during the training you have felt a hotspot in the same palce, it may be wise to tape up that area. The hotspot feels like just that and is your warning that something is wrong. Act upon it fast. Do not think it will go away of you ignore it! Blisters and how you deal with them are the difference between finishing the race or game over time.
Another blister care tip is to carry the Spenco 2nd Skin blister care kit. You can get this from Amazon for about £10. These are more preferable to Compeed, which I do not think are good as they are often used incorrectly. To avoid tearing several layers of skin off, use the Spenco gel cushions and the adhesive knit sheets, topped up with the Decathlon Blister Tape described above.
Some folks will lather their feet up in vaseline, or sudocream or various lubricants designed to minimise chafing and friction, or even tac. This is a personal choice. You need to practice your preventative measure before hand. If you have not had any issues because your socks and shoes have performed beautifully, then don’t do anything more.
On race day, if something is not quite right it may be an idea to tape the area in advance. The tape needs to be fixed to dry skin, and over lap the taping to avoid it rubbing like a seam. For example, on the ball of the foot take the tape across the hotspot, around the joint up to the top of the foot and across the sole, through to the other side of the foot. Excessive but at least if the tape starts to break down you haven’t got the end curling back under and creating another rare that could potentially blister.
There are a variety of kinesiolgy or sport tapes available but they are expensive. Good old fashion zinc tape is a wonderful. It comes in different widths so you can tape little toes or wide soles with the right size tape for comfort.
If you get a blister during the race there are preventive measures but you must be true to yourself and STOP when you feel the hot spot. If there is no blister use the zinc or sports tape immediately. If there is a blister then there are a few choices – pop it with a sterilised pin and add a blister plaster, don’t pop it and add a blister plaster; the busier plaster is the dry sort like a band aid. Tape of it with overlapping zinc tape to hold it in place on a dried foot. These plasters are not designed to stay in place when you are constantly moving, There are specific gel blister aids such as Compeed. Janine is not a fan of those as they can cause long lasting damage if removed too soon or inadequetly positioned. You must read the instructions carefully.
It is advised that you carry a little blister care kit with you. Do not rely on someone else to have something. Also include a small pair of scissors so you can cut tape. Include a small sterilised needle; whilst it is not recommend to pop a blister as the fluids within it are protecting the raw skin beneath, sometimes it can be more painful to run on one. Janine does pop hers and dresses them with an iodine based antiseptic after the event and seeks medical help to avoid infection. carry a spare pair of socks as there is nothing worse than popping wet soggy one on especially if it could break down the blister care.
Wear technical fabrics as these do wick away the moisture from the body. It avoids friction which leads to chafing. You can apply vaseline or Bodyglide style lubricants to potential hotspots. These are notoriously nipples (especially for men), bra line, knicker line and armpits.
Lycra leggings, either as shorts, Capri or full leggings, are popular as they hug the body, allowing it to move freely and keeps us feeling comfortable. Janine wears compression leggings as this holds everything in place. This helps reduce muscle fatigue as it minimises the muscle movement or bouncing around. It also helps offset her groin, uterus and lower back grumbles.
Avoid underwear with seams. Ladies, consider merino wool boy pants! They avoid some rather embarrassing chafing in the groin which wreaks havoc weeks later!
Do wear a sports bra and again, make sure it is not worn out and stretched beyond its function.
Body belts, bum bags and rucksacks can also rub against you so make sure you either have padding (no bare skins) where these are placed, or they are very close fitting and will not move.
When the body sweats it leaves a layer of salt like a white powder against your skin. The salts dry and will become tiny beads of grit like chafing balls! Chafing with salt deposits will sting so apply vaseline if you can feel hot spot.
If the weather is incremental think about wearing a thin long sleeved shirt or fleece over a short sleeved shirt. Running or nordic walking in waterproofs will feel like working out in cling film. Wear a wooly hat to absorb the water and keep the body heat in. Baseball hats work well too especially if you are wearing glasses but they can be blow off. Lower up for warmth which can be pulled off and tied around your waist if necessary. Be mindful of the garment though making sure it cant trip you up or be too heavy and have an annoyance factor.
Dealing with the cold and heat
On race day the weather can change within minutes. If it starts cold and possibly wet then at the start of the race, a favourite trick is wear your race kit under a jacket you do not mind discarding (forever) to the kerbside (they are often collected for charity) or wear a bin bag that can be disposed of carefully when you warm up moving. Just make sure you have packed something warm to put on after the race. You can have spare kit in a bag that can be left at the Baggage Point on the race concourse.
Wear sunscreen if there is a hint of sunshine, and take shades too. There is nothing worse than getting sunburn combined with windburn with a blinding headache from overpowering sun. But, make sure you are wearing shades you have practiced with and are suitable for racing in. Sportswear sunglasses are very different to fashion accessories!
Pre race day hydration and nutrition
Whatever you eat or drink, practice weeks before! It takes time for your digestive system to adapt to anything new. Your system will also under go its own little work out with your inners being jiggled around. Anticipate different behaviour with how your body is able to digest and absorb food when under race conditions. You may suffer with loose bowels, for example. Compound that with excitement, nerves, adrenalin, and you may need a little help such as Imodium, if you are able to take that or something similar. Again, practice in advance!
Hydration is key to your success. It’s not about necking a bottle of water minutes before the race starts It is about flooding every cell in your body with liquid which must be done over a period of time. Avoid anything that will dehydrate you such as alcohol, coffee, salt, hot weather, hot baths, saunas, etc. Instead, good ol water, herbal drinks, hydrating sports drinks or tablets, wet foods such as melon, oranges, etc, will all help. You should build up to take on aboard about 2 1/2 – 3 litres a day. It is possible to over hydrate which can have some dreadful consequences.
Foods should include a variety of carbohydrates and proteins and there is a whole heap of reading about the right time for each. The tip really is to not get sucked into the marketing hype and spend ridiculous amounts of money on promises. If you are eating a balanced diet of fresh foods, avoiding processed and sugars, then you will be fine. Some prefer hight protein, some prefer to carb up a few days before. You know your body and what works for you. Janine avoids grains as she can’t digest that easily in the few days before the race and aggravates IBS type symptoms. Always consult a qualified nutritionist who specialises in sporting events and athletes. Check out Kate Percy and her recipes and suggestions.
A few of Janine’s favourite night-before-recipes include vegetable cheesy omelette, cauliflower cheese, smoked salmon with lots of steamed green vegetables or even a roast chicken. She chooses to avoid grains as they are harder to digest. Potatoes, pasta and rice are lighter.
Race day hydration and nutrition
This will be very much a personal choice and how you are feeling on the day. Nerves will kick in and you will experience a dry mouth and prefer to suck on a boiled sweet rather than glue back more water. Fluids now will be flooding the bladder! You may prefer a slice of dried toast because of the pre race nausea. If you have followed the suggestions above and you have been eating sensibly and hydrating then today is pretty much about what you need to stay happy. The trick is to eat little and often. Make sure it is something that can digest easily, and can be chewed and swallowed easily too, A few suggestions will be have a banana, a boiled egg, a slice of cheese, a small yoghurt. Just remember, it will be jiggled around shortly! Eat anything substantial at least 3 hours before the race. Adrenalin and nerves will wreak havoc with your bladder so keep fluids to a minimum. Just sip little and often. Janine uses the SIS hydration tablets in her water and that helps keep electrolytes balanced and flowing through the race. You lose those as your sweat. They also help you stay hydrated with happy muscles. Again, whatever you choose, practice it weeks before hand!
For on the hoof snacks just enjoy some favourites. Do not get sucked into the marketing hype. Jelly babies, minstrels, chocolate Brazil nuts, babybel cheese, fun size snicker bars, pepperoni sticks; there are so many choices. Just keep it small, simple and minimal wrapping. There will be water stations and some cheeky delights around the course. The front runners will probably finish off the banana and orange slices before we get there but the crowds always have sweets to hand out.
It is inevitable the bladder will start singing. Adrenalin and nerves will do things to your body. It won’t matter if you have one less cuppa or go several times before you get to the line. Your bladder will suddenly have a solo life of its own. This should be a team strategy discussion. Do we all stop and wait if someone is desperate? Usually when one person says they need a pitstop, the brain will plant a subliminal wail for others to need to go too. Whatever the choice, just know that there are a few toilets on the course. A top tip is to use a tiny Tena pad if you think there may be issues. Just relieve the pressure of worry.
Nordic walking is all about the pole! Members of 3JFitness have had the fun of using not just regular Leki poles but also the resistance poles known as BungyPumps. There are several schools of thought about which would be the best on race day. This will be a personal choice. It has been noted the BungyPumps do absorb some of the vibration from the very hard ground. It can reduce the fatigue through the arms and shoulders with the softening pump through action. By setting the pole to a lower height than we use for our workouts it also reduces the effort reread to pump through the resistance. Food for thought but again, try before the day! Several times. We have included it in our training sessions.
There is a place to leave your bags safely. It is worth having a few items for after the race –
Blister kit (top up!), a comfy pair of shoes (ideal for walking in if you have blisters), a jumper, a pair of warm rousers, a waterproof jacket, hat, something to drink, protein shake, something to eat such as salted nuts and a banana (we shan’t judge!), bus ticket or money to get home, phone charger, toilet paper, face wipes, moisturiser, lipstick.
If you haven’t done so make sure you have completed the emergency contact details on the back of your acing bib. Bring some spare safety pins – you will be the hero if you help someone out, or yourself!
Your body will go in to shock after so do make sure you have got some warm clothing to wear after. Make sure you know how you are getting home!
Just a word of warning;
You have now finished the race! You can have that glass of wine or beer (Guinness please!) and victory meal. Wear that medal with pride. Make sure everyone knows that you have completed your first ever half marathon. You would have worked as hard or harder than a runner as your were nordic walking the event! You will be hungrier after the race. Just be mindful to eat a balanced healthy choice of foods. It does not mean you can eat a whole cake! Your body needs to refuel and repair on essential vitamins and minerals – cake has not got many! A handful of nuts, a glass of milk and a few pieces of dark chocolate will be a fabulous way to celebrate straight after. Pamper the toots with a peppermint foot lotion massage. Enjoy a warm bath with epsom salts and get a good night’s sleep. Pre race days are often minus a few Zzzs!
When is the next race?
Hungry for another race? You know can do it! Before you entered the Reading Half marathon as a Nordic walking race challenger, you had doubts. Now believe in yourself and have the confidence to know you can do whatever you want when you put your mind to it. You just need a plan, the commitment, the focus and a very good instructor!