This week we have a guest post from Claire S. I'll let her take it from here...
As a serious rugby player for many years with Saracens Women I had to keep fit for matches. This required a variety of training to develop strength, power and endurance which are all required to perform in a match at this level. I generally did around 8 training sessions of some kind each week (including matches) with one rest day. I included running in my training because it was simple and easy to do and experiment showed that it did improve my general fitness and rugby performance. This was noted by my coaches.
To start with, although I could play a full 80 minutes of rugby I could not comfortably run 5k so I made this a goal to work towards to improve general fitness. I entered races such as the Flora 5k in Hyde Park and the [Race for Life] and used their published training plans and others I found on the internet to build up to running the distance in a reasonable time of around 25 minutes.
These short distances are technically enough to build the endurance needed for a sport like rugby where short sharp bursts of speed over the period of a match are what are really needed but I enjoyed the atmosphere of running races and so decided to continue to train for longer distances and fit this in around my rugby training. Again I followed training plans I found on the internet which included speed training and hill training as well as the distance training. I believe that it was this hill and speed work which also helped contribute towards my match fitness for rugby. After a summer spent training for 10k and 10 mile races this improvement in fitness really showed in the first rugby match of the season in autumn where I was visibly fitter than some of my teammates and definitely fitter than I had been at the end of the previous season. So while it may not have been ideal training for rugby, doing something than I could stick to because I was motivated to reach a goal really worked for me.
I worked up through the distances and did several 10k races and then the Great South Run in Portsmouth. This was a incredibly wet day and the last kilometre but one along the sea front where there were no spectators, driving rain and wind and the bleak view of the English Channel was pretty miserable. However, having followed a good training plan for this distance I was able to pace myself correctly and finish just inside my 90 minute target with a time of 89 minutes and 30 seconds.
My next goal was a half marathon. I chose the Potter's Arf in Stoke-on-Trent because as a child this race used to be a marathon and the route passed by our house and I remember the fun we had clapping the runners and handing out water and biscuits. We even used to get the hosepipe out to cool them down with a shower - the race is run in July! Again I followed a training plan to prepare for the race and it was a hot 30 degrees day in July when the day dawned for it. Fortunately, it was slightly overcast to begin with so wasn't unbearably hot. I met an old school friend just before the race who now does a lot of running. He expressed surprise at my choice of this race for my first half as it is so hilly as to be one of the most difficult road half marathons in the country! And it was hilly - the slope at 11 miles was probably 1 in 10. I had a target time of 2 hours but unfortunately I got pain on the outside of my right knee at around 4 miles - I had previously felt a twinge in training at around 12 miles so I think this was due to the atmosphere of racing and the slight increase in pace that this caused. I persevered onwards through the discomfort after stopping for a stretch and finished in 2 hours 11 minutes. Outside the time to get a medal for the race but a time I was satisfied with given my knees.
Unfortunately, the knee problem still persists some years later. It is Illioltibial Band Syndrome. This is a problem that affects a lot of runners. I have since quit rugby for other reasons and taken up other hobbies that mean I don't have so much time for running any more but would like to run again and build up to a full marathon. I find that if I build up very slowly I can run about 5k without pain. I have had physio and sports massage on my knees but so far haven't found a solution - anybody who has found a good solution to this condition is welcome to post a comment.
In conclusion, I found running and working towards the goals of races a excellent way to improve general fitness for other sports such as rugby.