This time of year, many people are looking to longer distance spring and autumn goals, and wanting to improve their running endurance, whether that be completing your first 10k distance, marathon or even an ultra marathon, so I share my tips for getting to that start line.
- Plan your training
Whatever distance you’re targeting this year, planning in your training sessions can be important for a number of reasons.
Planning running into our week, rather than crossing our fingers and hoping we can fit it in, can help motivate us to get out there, and help us fit it in around the things life generally throws at us. If you plan in a run, and book in time with yourself, you’re more likely to do it, even if it’s raining! Don’t be hard on yourself if some weeks you don’t stick to the training plan, due to life or health. It’s far better to train when you’re feeling mentally and physically able. As long as you are training consistently, it all counts. A small run is also better than no run, especially when you feel overwhelmed by the task ahead. If the thought of going out for 10 miles feels too much, try committing to 30 minutes, then make a decision based on how your body and mind is feeling.
Planning ahead can also help us to avoid overtraining through running too far too soon, and through factoring in rest days and easier weeks (see the point about rest days below). With a suitable plan, you can see progression and build fitness week on week. There are plenty of ready made training programmes out there. Be careful to choose the right one for your current ability rather than your goal, and do please get in touch if you need something more bespoke.
- Factor in rest days and run easy most of the time
When you’re increasing your distance beyond anything you’ve covered before, it’s important to ease off the gas and pace yourself. Endurance running is about building your aerobic fitness and getting your body used to running for a longer period of time, and the safest way to do this is to run at an easy intensity. Sure, include sessions like hills to help build power and strength. Incorporate some faster intervals if you like, which will help improve your running economy. But don’t try to add in too many things at once. Your goal is to run further than you have before, so focus on those long runs, and keep them easy.
Remember to factor in rest days as part of your training too. Your rest days ARE training, and are as important as your runs, when your body has chance to repair all those tiny muscle tears that happen when we train, to make them stronger. Sleep is also important in this process, so make sure you’re getting enough. Don’t just add on extra miles every week either – factor in easier weeks to give your body a rest, and don’t think you need to include a long run each week either – you might find a long run every ten days or once a fortnight works better for you.
If you experience any niggles, deal with these straight away by seeing a specialist, before they become injuries.
Make sure you plan in time to taper into your event too – this is an opportunity to reduce mileage so that you can run your race with fresh legs, so your longest run would be 2-4 weeks before your event. Taper is again a very individual thing, and only you know how much rest and recovery your body needs, so learn to tune into it during your training.
- Build your strength
While long runs and all those easy miles build running fitness and get your legs used to moving for longer than you’re used to, don’t neglect the rest of your body. Factoring in some regular strength training into your schedule will help protect your body against injury. Be careful if you’re lifting weights to ensure your technique is correct, but strength training doesn’t have to be complicated; it can comprise simple exercises requiring no equipment, such as squats, lunges and core exercises.
The further you run, the more you will need to pay attention to how you are fuelling your body. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated; the simpler the better. Make sure you’re eating a wide variety of food at regular intervals during the day. Make sure your body is adequately fuelled before running, and give yourself time to digest your food a little after a meal, before you run. If it’s been a while since your last meal, and you’re going for a run, have a snack just to help top up your energy stores before you run. Make sure you eat something after running too, it doesn’t have to be a big meal, but do refuel within an hour after running. Hydration is crucial too – ensure you are well hydrated all of the time, not just before a run.
What about fuelling during long runs? Everyone is different, so experiment. Use your training to see what works for you. If you’re running for longer than about 90 minutes, experiment with fuelling on your run – this might be in the form of gels, a carbohydrate bar or drink, or a sandwich if you’re training for an ultra. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for you, so begin to experiment with food early in your training programme so you have time to get it right. Try to get used to running at the same time of day as your target race so that you know how your body reacts to your pre-run meal times.
Whilst kit isn’t a physiological aspect of endurance training, it becomes important when you’re running longer distances because poorly fitting or poor-quality kit can have a negative impact on our running if it causes chafing or blisters, so use your training time to experiment with kit too. Well fitting socks are a must to prevent blisters, as are running shoes that fit well, yet give enough room for our feet to expand, which can happen the further we run. Visit a specialist running shop to get fitted in shoes that are right for you. Running and hydration packs are also popular with those running longer distances – some running shops will enable you to trial packs before you buy to test if they’re suitable, because a secure fit on these is also important if you’re wearing it for hours at a time.
Plan in at least one ‘dress rehearsal’ where you wear all your race day kit and run a few miles at target pace. Do this earlier rather than later in your training so you have time to make any changes.
Whilst much of endurance training is about getting the body used to running for longer periods of time, our mindset can make or break a race for us, so make sure you spend some time training your mind to get through those dark moments that often occur in the latter part of a long distance event, when we think we can’t go further. Those tough sessions on your plan, and the runs that perhaps don’t go as well as you hoped, can be great training for building the mental resilience you’ll need in the final miles of a marathon or an ultra for example.
Think about strategies to deal with negative mental chatter during a race too:
- this might be a positive mantra you repeat to yourself, or have written on your hand;
- it might be a visualisation of yourself crossing the finish line feeling strong;
- writing your name on your running vest to encourage the crowd to cheer your name may give you a boost;
- it might be something as simple as eating a jelly baby every mile (I can personally vouch for this strategy!).
Remember, a failure during a practice session is exactly what practice is for. Don’t let it get you down, use it as an opportunity to learn from what went wrong so that you get it right when it matters. Knowing what doesn’t work is as, if not more, important than knowing what does work. Practice different mental techniques during your training too, and find what works for you.
Last of all, it helps to know exactly why you are doing it. Marathon training is gruelling, and on those tough days, you will question why you are putting yourself through it. Know what it motivating you, be able to convince yourself that you can do it.
I summarise these points in a video I made with Proviz Sports here.
Do feel free to get in touch if you need any advice.