We asked Steph Provan, a previous Illuminator winner and current Scottish Hill Racing champion, to provide some advice for tackling the Illuminator:
As the nights lengthen it becomes pretty difficult to fit all your running into daylight hours but with a little extra planning and some good kit choices you can stick to your training schedule and enjoy the buzz of running in the dark.
Running after nightfall doesn’t have to be a chore. The novelty of running in the dark can invigorate your runs, and familiar routes you have run a hundred times will seem totally new at night. Night-time events such as the Illuminator are fantastic fun, and if you can get in some night running practice you will feel confident and ready to race come event day.
Urban Night Running
If you’re running in a town or city with decent street lights you can plan routes that are well lit. You could even do laps of a set distance so you’re never too far from home. When running near traffic, reflective gear is really important as it will make you visible to people in vehicles and on bikes. There is loads of cool hi vis and reflective running gear available including vests, blinking shoes, arm bands and jackets with built-in lights. Reflective material on your arms and legs is particularly effective as the movement makes you even more noticeable. I would ditch the headphones when running near traffic as it is much safer to have all your senses alert.
Night Trail Running
If you head away from built-up areas into the countryside, night running can be totally amazing: it really feels like a completely different experience. The trails have a special feel to them in the dark and with the beam of your headtorch illuminating only your immediate surroundings it will feel like you’re going super fast. Take a minute to stop, turn off your headtorch, let your eyes adjust to the light and you will be amazed at how much you can actually see. On a clear night the view of the moon and stars will be well worth having braved the dark and cold!
One of the benefits of the longer nights is you don’t have to get up crazy early to be out at sunrise. This is an awesome way to start the day and will energize you for the day ahead.
Night Running Equipment
It’s important you have suitable kit for night running. Make sure to wear plenty of layers and take a rucksack or bum bag with some extra clothes. I often start wearing gloves and a hat, then put them into my bum bag once I have warmed up. A good headtorch is vital and will make all the difference to your night-time running. There are a huge range of head torches available so if you’re unsure go and have a chat with the staff in your local running shop.
Friends in the dark
If you’re nervous about running on your own at night meet up with friends or join you local running club, you’ll be surprised how many people are up for running in the dark. So, as the nights draw in don’t worry about missing out on training, put on an extra layer, grab your head torch and enjoy the thrill of running under the stars!
Steph Provan - October 2018
I love running uphill but I think I’m in the minority … many runners are intimidated by hills and so tend to avoid them. I seriously love hills, so for those of you who are less enthusiastic about slogging up a vicious incline I’m going to try and persuade you of the benefits and the fun – remember if you go up, you have to come down! Here are some great reasons to get running up (and down) hills.
For me variety is definitely the spice of running, and hills are great for adding this variety. Running on flat even surfaces all the time can be pretty dull with little to think about other than your pace. But once you head for the hills you stop worrying about your pace and concentrate on getting to the top! The variation prevents physical and mental boredom, and the miles will fly by.
Improve Strength and Speed
Running uphill is great strength training for your legs and uses the same muscles you use when sprinting, so doing hill reps will increase your flat speed. Your running economy will also improve as you mix up your training. Running uphill is hard work, so it’s easy to add intensity into a run if hills are involved.
Hill sessions place less stress on the body than flat speed work, so they are a fantastic way to add intensity without risk of injury. They are particularly good to include when you are building mileage but also want to maintain your strength and speed.
Having made it to the top you have the bonus of some downhill, and with gravity on your side you can enjoy a bit of speed for less effort. Although running downhill feels easy, aerobically it is hard work for your leg muscles. Gentle descents are great for practising fast leg turnover without the aerobic stress.
Nothing beats the buzz of running to the top of a hill, especially one you used to avoid or walk up. Having trained in the hills will give you the confidence to tackle them when you encounter hills in a race, and you will probably find yourself powering past people.
Here are 3 simple sessions to try incorporating into your training plan:
• Hill sprints
After an easy run, do between 8-10x 10sec sprints uphill with a couple minutes rest between efforts.
• Hill reps
There are many different hill rep sessions to try but all follow the basic principle of running fast uphill for a short time, followed by a rest. These can be incorporated into a steady run or done as a session on their own. After a good warm-up, do 8-10x 1min hard runs uphill, followed by 1min rest or an easy jog back to the start. As you progress you can increase the number of reps or the duration of the efforts.
• Hilly long and tempo runs
Including hills in your long and tempo runs will provide all the physiological benefits mentioned such as improved strength, speed and running economy while also providing variety and reducing your risk of injury. Remember, if you’re heading into the hills for a long run be prepared for changes in the weather with warm clothes, wind- and waterproof body cover and spare food. There are some fantastic running backpacks available, so no need to skimp on the kit – and just think of the extra weight as additional strength training!
With the Illuminator race at the end of October it’s not too late to start incorporating hills into your weekly training plan, and by race day you will have the confidence to power up those nasty hills.
Steph Provan - September 2018
If, like me, you’ve had your training schedule disrupted by school holidays, summer trips, social events or anything else over the summer months, now is a great time to get back into it and put in some solid training. The Illuminator race in the last weekend of October is the perfect target to keep you motivated and fit as summer fades into autumn.
A lot of people find it hard to keep up the same level of training during the school holidays with family commitments taking priority. If that’s the case for you, why not start today building your base mileage back up with regular runs. Consistency is the key, so set yourself a target of running or walking at least three times a week and enjoy the improvements in your fitness.
Make sure you have a comfy pair of trail running shoes so as your mileage increases your feet don’t suffer. There is a lot of variation in fit between different brands, and even different styles of the same brand, so it’s a good idea to get your shoes fitted in your local running shop with knowledgeable staff who can make sure you get the right shoe.
Cross training is a great way to increase the amount of exercise you’re doing without overuse of a particular muscle group. Cycling, swimming and rowing are all great low impact ways to improve your base fitness while reducing your risk of injury.
Strength and conditioning is another important element of any good training plan. Most runners love to run but aren’t necessarily keen to spend time in the gym. A simple 10 to 20 min routine done at home 3 times a week will make a big difference and will be way more beneficial than additional ‘junk’ miles. If you’d prefer something more structured and sociable, check out the classes available in your area.
Rest and nutrition are also vital for your fitness. Try to eat healthy wholesome food whenever possible and keep your intake of processed food and treats to a minimum. Drink plenty of water and try to limit alcohol and sugary drinks. Busy lives mean lots of us are prone to staying up late and rising early, relying on caffeine to keep us going throughout the day. Without adequate rest your body will not fully recover and adapt from your training, meaning slower gains in fitness – so early to bed is best!
It’s a lovely time of year to be out on the trails, so make time for yourself and get out there and enjoy the scenery!
Steph Provan - August 2018