There are quite a few things I have done differently in 2018. I believe that if you want to improve as an athlete, you have to do more than just run. You have to go the extra mile! These are just my top 7 and hopefully by sharing this information I can help someone else reach another level in 2019.

1. Speed and Rhythm Drills
Since I started doing speed and rhythm drills (which was about 2 years ago) I have seen vast improvements in my running. Drills are a great way to improve your running form, efficiency, speed and improve proper mechanics. It teaches your body to become comfortable with that movement as well as keeping good form while fatigued.

The great thing about these drills are that you can do them almost anywhere, all you need is 50 meters of unobstructed space like a road or grass surface. I usually do the drills 2 times a week once with my training group on the grass fields after an easy run, the other day I do it on my own. We usually take about 25 minutes to complete around 8-10 drills and repeat each drill 4 times. The aim is to do each drill slowly, while keeping your form and looking ahead of you.

I would definitely recommend it for all runners from beginners to advanced.

Cape Times-180410 Two Oceans half marathon winner Nolene Conrad training at stellenbosch,she grew up having problem with Asthma and most people thought she would never be an athelete.Now she is an inspiration to many children with Asthman.photograph;Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

2. Meticulous Planning
At the end of each year I sit down with my mentor and Coach to 1. analyze my training plan , 2. reflect on the year to see where my strengths and weakenesses where and 3. Sit with the schedule and plan for the following year. This is a very exciting time for me as I always get optimistic about my goals . So I communicate my biggest goals for the year, eg in 2018 it was World Half Marathon and Cape Town Marathon and we plan around that. This means that I select races wisely; the races that I select must complement and get me ready for the big goals and I have to ensure that I don’t do too many races, as to risk over racing. In SA it is easy to over race as there are so many races to choose from, so it is important to be smart about it and to not be greedy.

This was a real challenge for me, as I loved racing and the feeling I got from winning. I soon realized with the assistance of my mentor that meticulous planning is the key to success. I was in comfort zone, just happy to take the win, not really too concerned about times- I did not give myself a chance to prepare properly for big competitions because my mind was not really fixed on excellence to be honest.

3. Strength Training
I wish I had been introduced to strength training earlier on in my career, as I have come to realize it’s importance. Not only do I feel stronger helping me to run faster, improved my running economy through co-ordination and stride efficiency and it also helped me be less prone to injuries.

I have started working with my bio Ruan Rust at Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, since June 2017. I would see him at the beginning of each new cycle, which was after every 3-4 weeks. We have had to work on many things to improve my overall strength, including strengthening my hips and hamstrings, glute activation, flexibility, mobility and core stability. I do about 4 sessions a week, which include 2 leg sessions, 1 upper body and core session and 1 prehab session. I usually do my leg strength workouts on my easy days, before lunch time or sometimes after an easy run in the afternoon.

4. Sports Psychologist
Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation especially for the marathon event. I started working with a sports psychologist to help me mentally prepare for Valencia Marathon. Prior to Valencia, I had two bad marathon experiences which had caused a mental barrier. After a few sessions with the sports psychologist I approached my races with more confidence, focus , composure and trust in my ability. I also gained some valuable tools to help me obtain a state of flow “in the zone” during races, develop mental toughness and visualization skills.

5. Training Partners
I have learnt that no matter how good you are you can be better in a ‘pack’. I have gathered a group of mostly female runners to train together in the morning, which helps not only with accountability but also running together helps push each other further and faster as apposed to doing it on your own. Most of the time my hard sessions (tempo runs, longruns, long interval sessions) are done with either group of guys or with one training partner that helps me with the session. This makes the hard sessions easier in a way and helps reduce mentally fatigue.

6. Listening to my body
The key to improving is looking after your body and ensuring you don’t get injured. My Coach always stressed that the training program is just a guideline; you need to assess how your body is feeling and then make a judgement call. When you feeling tired and rundown, it does not help to add more stresses to the body- that is when you need to be smart and opt to rest. The same goes for niggles – when it persists you know that this is a problem and then make the smart choice back off! Normally athletes would just train through the pain, only to find the niggle turn into something really serious which requires lengthy rest period. I learnt to be more tuned in to my body’s needs, that meant getting enough rest – 9-10 hours a day,
Having regular massages and Chiro treatments and knowing when to back off. Also taking measures to ensure I don’t get ill and monitoring my iron levels every 3 months.

7. Training
My Coach always says that an athlete improves through consistency. I was able to
improved my overall conditioning through consistent training over the last few years. There were a few things we changed in my program like the Introduction of tempo long runs and short hills runs. I found the tempo long runs to be quite intense and daunting at first but the more I did them the more I adapted to this type of training. What makes this workout so challenging is that you are running close to your race pace. However it is effective as it builds the speed, power and efficiency you need to get across the finish line.