I tend to overdo it on the New Year’s Resolutions, and this year was no exception. I decided that during 2012 I would run at least four half marathons. As if this wasn’t enough, I scheduled the first one for March, just after the bitterly cold winter months. The first race is on March 31 when, together with my husband and approximately 11,000, others, I am participating in this year’s Hervis Prague Half Marathon.
Running in the Czech Republic has continued to grow ever more popular, and the people at Prague International Marathon are “delighted that the number of participants still grows”. PIM organises running events in a number of cities, including Prague, Olomouc, and České Budejovice, so check the website for more details. The PIM Women’s Challenge supports female runners and aims to encourage a greater female presence at these events, which has historically been lower in the Czech Republic than elsewhere in Europe and the US. It also offers mentoring support, diet advice, running camps, and regular training sessions (for ‘competitive level’ entrants).
At first sight, Prague can be a difficult city for a runner. Smooth jogging is interrupted by an unwelcome combination of sub-zero temperatures, cobblestones, and a surprising number of hills. I initially thought that only the truly hardy or downright foolish exercise outside in Prague after November. With a sub-two hour goal in mind, however, this year I have persevered and have some suggestions for running in Prague and preparing for race day, whatever the season.
Preparing for the distance (13.2 miles)
I’ve run a few ‘halves’ before, and with a bit of planning and dedication even a beginner should be able to get round without too much difficulty. If you are already reasonably fit (for example, able to jog 5 km in less than 35 minutes), then a three-month training programme is ample. I have loosely followed the BUPA training plan, available on-line for free. This suggests training four times per week – one long run, two speed/interval sessions, and one ‘recovery’ jog. If you have a specific time goal in mind, you will need to monitor your pace quite closely.
What you need
Popular wisdom has it that running is an ideal way to keep fit, as all you need is a pair of trainers. I am of a different school of thought, however, and firmly believe the more gadgets the better. Some of my favourites include:
• a Garmin runners’ watch to monitor pace and distance
• an i-pod shuffle for some vintage Britney Spears to keep me going – keep the volume low when running outside to stay aware of traffic hazards
• a fleece headband to protect your ears from the Prague cold (try Hudy or one of the other numerous outdoors shops in Prague)
• running gloves with a secret pocket for a key/opencard. I bought mine from TriExpert in Anděl
• access to a treadmill if possible – sometimes it really is too icy!
You will, obviously, also need trainers, and if you are running regularly you should try not to scrimp. TriExpert is a particularly good running shop, stocking a wide range of running shoes. Staff monitor your posture and gait and offer very helpful advice based on the results. After a 20-minute appointment, they ‘prescribed’ my current pair of Brooks, which give added support under my arches.
Running is running. No matter which gender you are, the basics are the same. However, there are a couple of things to which women should pay attention.
One: the Sports Bra. BUY ONE! If left unsupported, all that jiggling could cause damage to your chest ligaments, which is uncomfortable and (worse) could cause premature sagging, which no one wants. I am rather well-endowed up top and have been incredibly impressed with my Shock Absorber B5044 sports bra, which I purchased online from Amazon.
Two: Although Prague is generally a safe city, don’t take unnecessary risks. I don’t run after dark or through more remote areas such as Divoká Šárka by myself. Try to run with a friend, partner, or an organised group (see below).
Where to Run
There are a number of excellent running routes in Prague. I regularly run through the Letná and Stromovka parks. In Letná, you are rewarded by an unrivalled view along the Vltava from Hanavsky Pavilion. Stromovka has a number of paths to follow and is blissfully peaceful. Similar to Central Park in New York or Richmond Park in London, once inside it is hard to believe that you are in the middle of a city.
I also like to run along the river, which is brilliantly flat, largely car-free, and well-surfaced. Heading south from Karlovo náměstí, a river path takes you past Vyšehrad, towards Braník and beyond.
For more adventurous runners, or those looking for company, consider joining the Prague Hash House Harriers. This very social running/hashing group organise runs most weekends, from 8-10 km long through woodland and more remote areas including “the parts of Prague your mother might have warned you about if she knew they existed”, usually with a break in the middle and a meal at the end.
‘Ladies Fit Club’ in Smíchov also operates a regular running club, speaking English and Czech, training outdoor around Prague three times per week. It comes well-recommended for those looking for running companions, and I am told men will not be turned away, despite the group’s name.
What to eat
Be sensible. A diet of chocolate cake and beer is not going to be very helpful. In the final month of training you should be running some fairly serious distances each week – help your body by eating properly.
The type of diet that is good for recreational runners is the same healthy diet as that generally recommended for everyone: high in complex (i.e., low GI) carbohydrates, low in fat, and sufficient but not excessive in protein. Carbs are unfashionable amongst faddy dieters, but a very important energy source for long-distance running – you will need portions of pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes. Fat should come from unsaturated fats (think unsalted nuts and avocados, rather than butter and cheese). For protein, avoid red meat and stick to leaner protein such as turkey. For vegetarians, lentils and beans will also play an important part. Runners’ World provides useful online information and example recipes.
Don’t go crazy. Although you might boost your pasta intake, unless you are an elite runner you really don’t need to indulge in lots of carbo-loading or consume truckloads of energy bars or gels.
Finally – my top tip – a pre-run bowl of hot porridge is the breakfast of champions.
All entries for the Hervis Prague Half Marathon are sold out but don’t let that stop you hitting the pavement and getting fit for spring and summer. If you’re feeling extra brave, the Volkswagen Prague Marathon is still open for new entrants.
Helen Ford is a creator of CzechingIn, a blog about an English lady in Prague. She writes for Expats.cz on topics such as theatre, art, and recently also tea houses and cafés.