Top 10 Tips to Smash your First Parkrun

Top 10 Tips to Smash your First Parkrun

Since founding Run JB five years ago, by far the most rewarding part of the journey has been watching hundreds of our beginner runners finish their first ever Parkrun. We are fortunate to live close to what must be one of the most scenic Parkrun routes in the country. Lydiard Park in Swindon has played host to the unforgettable culmination to our Couch to 5K beginners course since 2012. It is always an emotional experience, with tears of joy and relief not uncommon afterwards, amid a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie and an overwhelming sense of achievement for those who doubted whether they would ever be capable of completing the course just a few months prior.

However, they always do themselves proud and often surprise themselves in the process. It is largely because the hard work has already been done in training, and they follow our advice in how to prepare for the big day. Here are my top 10 tips for anyone approaching their first Parkrun.

Before the Run

1) Eat a decent breakfast - e.g. porridge or another wholegrain cereal ideally at least an hour beforehand. Avoid protein (e.g. traditional cooked breakfast) as this takes longer to digest and may leave your belly feeling heavy and unsettled whilst running

2) Make sure you bring your barcode! You've worked so hard to get here, you want your name on that results list!

3) Get there early to avoid stress, to give yourself plenty of time to go to toilet and familiarise yourself with the course set-up and of course, warm up properly!

4) Warm-up properly with gentle dynamic exercises which mobilise the whole body with added emphasis on the lower body. At Run JB we do this as a group so there is one less thing to worry about.

5) Position yourself at the right place in the starting group - there are time pacers - don't go to far forward or you will spend the first few minutes being overtaken which can be intimidating and annoying. If your main aim is simply to finish, then to play it safe position your self towards the back, which will also help with your pacing at the start.

During the Run

5) Don't go off to fast. Repeat - don't go off too fast! It is very easy to get carried away with the atmosphere, the crowd and those running around you.  It is very important to stick to your normal steady pace (at which you can maintain a conversation). Go off too fast and you will regret it as the lactic build up in your legs will return to haunt you later in the race

6) Relax - aim to keep the EFFORT steady throughout. This means you should expect to go slower on the uphill sections and faster on the downhill sections - but that your breathing should remain as constant as possible throughout.

7) Enjoy it! you have done the hard work over the last couple of months in training, and have every reason to be confident.  Relax and enjoy the atmosphere and your big moment!

After the Run

8) At the finish, don't forget to collect your place token and take it with your barcode to get them scanned. This ensures your time will correctly appear in the official results.

9) Go for a coffee with your fellow runners and share stories of your amazing achievement!

10) Make sure you take a photo with your fellow runners after crossing the finish line and share it on social media. Some of our ladies have never had as many likes for a photo as the ones they took after their first Parkrun. Remember it's not about showing off - it's all about inspiring friends and family to follow in your footsteps. You can become a positive role model and your influence can be very powerful on those around you.


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Smashing that PB could be simpler than you think

PB Beat Your Personal Best

Have you been running for over a year and reached the point where your race times have plateaued? Are you frustrated with not being able to break through a personal best and not sure what to do about it? Well, open any running magazine and you will find an article advising you to add resistance training to your weekly schedule to improve your running.  Typically, there may be photos of half a dozen exercises and bullet point instructions on how to perform them.  Whilst this advice is usually perfectly valid (resistance training will definitely improve your running), it may not be straightforward to complete in practice.

If you are new to resistance exercise, it takes quite a lot of mental effort to organise.  First of all, where to complete it?  Working out at home can be far from ideal, with lots of distractions and often not enough room.  Gyms are not everyone's cup of tea, and an expensive option if you don't plan to use them more than once a week.  Secondly, as you may not be familiar with the exercises themselves, you may find yourself struggling to refer to written instructions whilst performing the exercises.  Looking in a mirror can help to see if your form is correct, but even then you may not be confident that you are performing them correctly.  This can be of particular concern for an exercise such as a lunge, which has a relatively high risk of injury if performed with bad technique.

Even if you persevere with these obstacles, traditional resistance sessions with multiple sets take around an hour to complete, which can be an issue to many with increasingly busy lives.  Moreover, many women are social creatures and may not be attracted to the idea of working out on their own, finding it harder to stay motivated to complete the session. However, many people don't realise that resistance training does not necessarily mean just training with weights.  In fact, runners can get the huge benefits of weight training without using any equipment at all.

The group fitness class Metafit is the hassle free alternative to traditional resistance training for running.  It uses exclusively bodyweight exercises and takes only 30 mins, with the added bonuses of expert instruction to ensure your technique is correct and a whole room full of like-minded women to support and motivate you.  The emphasis is on lower body and core exercises that will improve your muscular endurance (and tone your legs, bum and tum in the process). This helps you maintain good running form for longer, enabling you to run further and more efficiently, whilst also reducing the risk of injury.  

The Metafit format includes a 5 minutes warm-up to get the blood flowing and loosen the joints, followed by the main workout section which is typically around 22 mins. This is followed by a series of stretching exercises to improve your flexibility.  As a form of high intensity interval training, Metafit offers the same benefits of anaerobic training that you get from tempo and fartlek runs. Your lung capacity will increase as will your "lactic tolerance", a measure of how much exercise you can complete before your legs feel very heavy and you struggle to continue. So if you struggle to motivate yourself to do fartlek or tempo runs every week, Metafit classes are a great alternative.

After a couple of months, you'll feel fitter than ever and it could well be the key to unlocking that PB! JB Personal Training run Metafit classes on Tuesday evenings at 6:15pm and Friday mornings at 7am in Lydiard Millicent near Swindon. For full details and online booking, visit our group class listings page.

P.S. If you aren't able to make a group class, but still love the idea of using bodyweight exercises to improve your running, then as an alternative I would highly recommend You Are Your Own Gym: The bible of bodyweight exercises which explains all the key bodyweight exercises with variations for different fitness levels.  

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The Art of Running Recovery


With exactly seven weeks to go until the Reading Half Marathon, those of you who have been following the Run JB training plan are looking forward to a recovery week. The concept may not be familiar to anyone new to endurance training, so here is our guide to the art of recovery.

Why is Recovery Important?

Recovery has both a physical and a psychological dimension. Physically, the reason we train is to stimulate a response in the body to adapt to the demands of the training regime. Our skeletal system needs to become stronger to cope with the frequency of impact on the joints. Training runs stimulate the creation of osteoblasts in the bones to form new bone tissue and increase bone density. This means that next time, we are able to run a little bit further. But this repair and strengthening process cannot happen whilst we run. It must occur afterwards whilst we are resting. A similar effect is in play with our muscles. Broken-down muscle tissue needs time to rebuild. Our body has a way of telling us that this needs to happen. Ever felt like you wanted to go straight to bed after a long run? Make sure you get an early night.

The mind needs time to recharge as much as the body does. Psychologically, we need recovery days to prevent boredom and to prepare ourselves mentally for harder sessions. Motivating yourself for a hard tempo run or particularly long continuous run can be a lot easier if you know you have the next day off.

Active Recovery

Recovery is therefore crucial in order to achieve optimum performance. Without adequate recovery, the quality of your training runs will inevitably suffer. In practice, for most of us who work Monday to Friday, the weekend is the ideal time to do a long run. In this case, the following day (Sunday or Monday) is the ideal day to completely rest. If you really struggle with the thought of taking the day off completely, then you can use “active recovery”. Choose an activity with a focus on mobility, such as a short and easy swimming, Pilates or Yoga session. This will give the body a chance to recover whilst easing any sense of restlessness.

During the working week, cross training is a great way to achieve an appropriate balance between training volume and intensity. The principle of specificity very simply dictates that your training needs to be specific to the demands of your goal. In other words, to get better at running you need to run regularly. However, by limiting the number of runs to three per week, you can use other forms of aerobic training to develop your cardiovascular fitness. One of the hugely beneficial aspects of triathlon training is that running, swimming and cycling make different demands on the muscular and skeletal systems. Alternating training sessions between the three disciplines therefore enables adequate recovery whilst maximising overall sustainable cardiovascular training volume.

What is a Recovery Week?

A recovery week is NOT a case of simply sitting on the couch for seven days! It simply involves reducing the overall volume of training for a week. This is relative to the volume to which the body has already become accustomed, so will vary significantly depending on the goal event. During the last recovery week of my ironman training, I swam 3 miles, biked 85 miles and run a total of 24 miles! This may not sound like an easy week, but it this still achieved the desired recovery objective at the time, because the body was already capable of meeting these demands without further adaptation. In general terms, a reduction in the overall volume of training of around a third is recommended to achieve the desired effect. The taper at the end of a training plan is an extension of the recovery week principle. It typically lasts two to three weeks, depending on the nature of the goal event. In the case of a half marathon, a two week taper is recommended

Less is Sometimes More

The main point I want you to take away from this article is that if you try to ignore the need for recovery, it will eventually be forced upon you through either illness or injury. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to recovery, as a particular individual’s capacity for training varies tremendously depending on their exercise background, experience level, work and home demands and lifestyle. However, remember that less is sometimes more. It is not always about training harder, but about training smarter.  

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I've run my first 5K - what next?

I've run my first 5K - what next?

Running your first 5K gives an enormous sense of satisfaction.  Many of those who have completed our Couch to 5K beginners’ running course find it hard to believe that only a couple of months previously they were daunted by the prospect of even a couple of minutes continuous running!  So knowing you have completed over 3 miles running non-stop is a tremendously tangible achievement.  However, the period following the race can be crucial in determining whether or not running becomes a lifelong habit.


After any big event, there is a risk of anti-climax once the initial euphoria has worn-off.  At this point it is vital to start planning how to maintain your running going forwards.  Consider the factors behind your success so far, which may include

  • A realistic goal with a fixed timescale
  • The camaraderie and support of running in a group
  • An achievable but progressive training plan
  • Having a safe environment in which to run
  • Being organised e.g. having your kit ready the night before

According to the latest research, it actually takes longer than previously thought to form a habit.  On average, you have to keep a behaviour up for 66 days (nearly 10 weeks) for it to become automatic.  So make sure you keep as many of the contributing factors in place as possible to ensure ongoing success.

Changing the Variables

So what would be a suitable next running goal?  It doesn’t have to an increase in distance, although that is often what springs to mind.  There are several other ways to continue to challenge yourself, which involve changing at least one of the following variables: distance, speed, frequency, type.  Targeting a 10K as the most obvious example of an increase in distance, as such events are increasingly popular (see our Facebook page events for inspiration).  However, just as valid a target would be to stick to the 5K distance and simply aim to get faster.  With the Parkrun movement expanding throughout the country, there will always be the opportunity to test your progress over this distance.  For added motivation, use the level playing field of the Age Grade percentile results if you enjoy a competitive edge.

You could also aim to run more frequently – three days a week rather than two, for example.  If you are planning to exercise more than three times per week, I would always recommend additional cross-training (e.g. resistance training, swimming, Pilates or cycling) in preference to further running sessions.  In my experience this gives superior results in terms of both overall performance and injury prevention.

Lastly, there is tremendous scope to vary the type of running you do.  This is a relatively overlooked element to progressing as a runner.  Shorter, sharper sessions such as tempo runs and hill intervals require you to work at greater intensity and push the limits of your lactate threshold.  Over time this will improve your lung capacity and the ability to maintain a faster pace for longer.

So what are you waiting for?  Get planning your next challenge!  In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”

JB Fitness & Wellbeing membership offers structure, support and guidance to those who have recently started running (for example via our Couch to 5K course) to continue and develop their running. Our women-only training sessions are fun, safe and non-intimidating. For further information on how to join visit our Membership Options  page 

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Do YOU Fartlek?

fartlek Fartlek training will make you faster

I was originally introduced to Fartlek training by highly-respected Swindon Supermarine rugby coach, Steve Bartlett.  It was very much in keeping with his no-nonsense approach to fitness training.  The beauty of Fartlek training lies in its simplicity and intensity. If you are looking for a straightforward but highly effective way of improving your running speed, then look no further. The name "Fartlek" literally translates from the Swedish as "speed play".  It is deliberately less structured than sprint interval training.  You can Fartlek anywhere, with no equipment - you don't even need a stopwatch. 

In Fartlek training, the key is intensity variation and interval randomisation.  Sessions use different paces - e.g. sprint, jog and walk, to complete a series of relatively short and varying distances. For example, you could jog 20m, then sprint 50m, then walk 30m etc.  But you don't need a tape measure - you can use any objects to segment the intervals.  Lamp posts make excellent markers as they are a suitable distance apart.  For example, you could jog from the first to the third lamp post, sprint to the forth and then walk to the fifth - turn around and repeat the pattern in the opposite direction.  Alternatively, on a rugby pitch, you might start at one try line, jog to the 22, walk to halfway line, sprint to the next 22 and then jog the remaining distance to the opposite try line.

Fartlek training is popular amongst sports coaches as it mimics the demands of many sports in which short sharp bursts of activity are separated by periods of slower running.  However, it also has huge fitness benefits for anyone wanting to improve their running speed of simply looking to lose weight. To run faster in a race you have to train faster - and Fartlek training is a great way of improving speed endurance - the ability to maintain a faster pace for longer. By taking you to the limits of your anaerobic threshold, it develops superior lung capacity. This positively impacts our health in a myriad of ways, including- enhanced metabolic function- decreased risk of heart attack and stroke- greater energy and reduced fatigue- improvements in general focus, concentration and memory- decreased inflammation Indeed, lung capacity is considered to an extremely important general indicator of health and longevity. 

Like other forms of high-intensity interval training, such as our Metafit™ bodyweight training group fitness classes, Fartlek forces the body to use not just the aerobic system (where muscles are supplied energy by burning glucose with oxygen) but also the anaerobic system, a faster but less efficient way of producing ATP (the form of energy used by muscles).  This inefficiency is a great thing as far as weight loss is concerned, as triggers a state known as "oxygen debt", forcing the body to complete additional internal processes to replenish its energy stores for several hours after exercise has finished.  This raises the metabolism and means that you will be burning additional fat long after your workout is complete. JB Personal Training's running group, Run JB, offer incorporate Fartlek training into their club sessions throughout the year.  For details, please see our website.

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7 Reasons I Love Parkrun


1) Everyone is welcome.

You can run with your children, push toddlers in their buggies, even run with your dog if you want to. It is a very inclusive event.

2) Being surrounded by nature.

The great outdoors is one of life’s simple pleasures.  No traffic, no worries.

3) Getting a run in first thing on Saturday morning makes you feel virtuous and sets you up for the rest of the weekend.

The weekend goes so quickly, so why waste a chunk of it in bed?

4) There’s zero hassle.

Register once, then just turn up with your barcode whenever you want.

5) You can excel whatever your age.

The Parkrun age grading system is a real motivator for improvement. For example, Run JB’s oldest runner (in her 60s) is second highest in our age grading rankings!

6) It’s everywhere.

Away visiting friends or relatives for the weekend?  No problem – just look up their local event.  With 153 locations all over the UK, chances are it won’t be far away.

7) It’s a great social event.

You meet loads of like-minded people and can stick around for a good natter over coffee after the run. Remember, you were Born to Run! Inspired to join in? Register online at the ParkRun website and reinvent your Saturday mornings! For a fascinating behind the scenes account of how parkrun grew from its humble beginnings to become such a phenomenal success, check out Debra Bourne's book: parkrun: much more than just a run in the park  

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Born to Run

Born to Run

Running used to be a necessity, the only way early humans could survive and thrive and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten. You ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else."

- Christopher McDougall, Author of

  Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't or shouldn't run.  There is a lot of scaremongering over the supposed dangers of running. That's why I love the quote above.  Running is the most natural thing in the world. 

Of course you may encounter problems if you try to do too much, too soon. That's why it is important to follow a structured progressive training plan, such as the one we use at Run JB in our Couch to 5K beginners running course in Swindon.  But don't for a moment think that you are a) too old (I regularly and unashamedly get beaten by more experienced runners a decade or more my senior) or b) too heavy (beginners programmes involve running initially for no more than 60 seconds at a time between walking intervals).  Still need convincing? Watch this clip of the 2012 UK Biggest Loser contestants (including 32 stones Kevin) finishing their 5K race in the very first episode!

As a general rule, you should aim to increase total mileage by no more than 10% per week. Use cross-training to complement your running programme and lessen the risk of injury.  I am a great advocate of a "quality not quantity" approach to endurance running, having successfully completed my first marathon by running no more than three days a week.  Cardio-respiratory fitness can be further improved by incorporating other forms of exercise such as rowing, cycling or swimming into your training plan.   Lastly, remember not to neglect resistance training. Muscular endurance is crucial in order to maintain proper running form when you get tired towards the end of a run.  Make sure you complete at least one weekly resistance exercise session. This doesn't necessarily mean lifting weights in the gym - bodyweight exercises such as those used in Metafit classes are extremely effective if tailored appropriately.

I'll be examining several of these running training topics in more detail in future blogs.  In the meantime, rediscover your natural instinct and get out running!

If you need to discover or regain your running "mojo", then look no further than the truly inspirational

Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

I owe a debt of gratitude to my brother for buying me this book as a Christmas present seven years ago. Reading it reignited a dormant passion for running which at the time had been overtaken by my international rugby commitments. It inspired me to begin a running journey which would lead to me eventually running several marathons, completing an ironman, and ultimately founding Run JB, Swindon's only women's running club.


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