1) Have a plan, but plan to adapt
Before starting your distance running training you must have a well thought out training plan that allows for appropriate incremental mileage progressions and, ideally, strength training progressions. The specifics of the plan will depend on factors including current level of fitness, the length of the race, how much time you have available to train and your experience in running. Plenty of resources are available but you should look around to find a plan that best suits you, your lifestyle and goals.
But as Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” So you should be ready to adjust your plan when obstacles come up. This could be an injury, not getting time to train, finding the plan doesn’t suit you or feeling under the weather you’re likely to encounter an obstacle to the original plan, and so being flexible to adapt as necessary is required. For example, you may find that running four times a week is too much impact exercise, so you might adapt the plan to running just twice a week and add a swimming or a cycling session in. Conversely you might feel that starting off with two runs a week isn’t challenging enough so you add a third run in. The ability to listen to your body and adapt accordingly will help you to evolve your training plan and facilitate your best performance.
Before starting training you must have an idea of where you are in terms of your physical fitness. In the strength and conditioning world we refer to peoples “training age” to help formulate a training programme. If you have been training regularly for less than a year you are considered a “beginner” and if you’ve been training regularly for greater than three years you classed as “experienced”. Therefore, if you have been largely sedentary over the last three months or more prior to starting your training you should consider yourself a “beginner” even if you used to do lots of sports prior to this. If you haven’t trained regularly for greater than three months then your body in respect to training isn’t ready for big spikes in training. You may well adapt and move through the gears quicker if you have a history of being more active but initially you need to allow a period of adaptation back into regular exercise to occur.
3) Include strength training
Just because the event you are training for is a running event doesn’t mean that this is the only type of training you should be doing. Strength and conditioning work is equally as important. The stronger you are the more efficiently you run and the better able your body is to handle the repetitive and prolonged demands of running. Key muscle groups to strengthen include claves, hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteals. Adding in two to three dedicated strength training sessions a week will assist your running training and may help to reduce your chances of picking up injuries as you head towards the longer distances of your training.
4) Recover well
The better you recover the better you will perform. As you get to the longer training distances recovery becomes even more important. Methods such as foam rolling, mobility and stretching sessions and going for soft tissue massages can help to reduce post exercise soreness and keep you feeling mobile and energised. Build in at least one rest day a week to let muscles, tendons and bones regenerate and repair. Don’t neglect the recovery work.
5) Hydration, nutrition and sleep
These factors are often overlooked but become vitally important, particularly when you are getting towards the longer distances of your training. Maintaining good hydration and nutrition is essential to maintaining performance. A loss of 5% body weight through sweat leads to a 30% reduction in physical performance! Normal daily water intake is 2.5L for men and 2.0L for women, so on training days you need to make sure you are adjusting this accordingly to maintain hydration levels.
Long distance running uses up large amounts of the bodies energy levels which can make you more susceptible to common colds and injuries. Make sure you’re filling your diet with fruit and veg in order to keep your vitamin and mineral count high. Keep your protein levels up and don’t be afraid of carbohydrates either. Its worth considering alcohol intake too. Alcohol limits protein synthesis in recovery and adaptation as well as the quality and quantity of your sleep, and so massively affects your performance during running and your ability to recover from a hard training session.
General sleep guidelines suggest we should be getting 7-9 hours a night with less than 8 hours per night being linked to a 1.7 times greater chance of you sustaining an injury than those investing in enough time in slumber. Remember that with increased activity comes the need for increased rest and recovery, so adjust accordingly.
6) Get niggles seen early on
Pain is our inbuilt warning system. If you can feel pain, it might mean that part of the body is being overloaded and is struggling to keep up with the demand being placed on it. It may also just be a normal adaptation to training as you go through the process. However, getting niggles seen to early can pre-empt more disruptive injuries closer to race day. The more time you give yourself to get better the greater the chance of you being in peak physical fitness come race day.
7) Don’t try and make up for lost mileage
If you are unfortunate enough to pick up an injury during your training the best thing you can do is accept it and adapt to it as soon as possible. No one wants to get injured, and no one wants to deviate away from their training plan having gone to the effort of writing or researching one. An injury is likely going to disrupt it and because race day isn’t going to move to accommodate a break in training you need to re-think your plan.
Ideally you shouldn’t have to completely stop running whilst you’re injured for more than a few days, but more than likely you will miss out on some mileage as you might have to stick at a certain level for longer than intended. But DON’T PANIC! Yes it will be annoying. And yes its frustrating. And yes you may not feel fully prepared for the race, but a common mistake is to try and make up for lost time. Sadly things don’t really translate that way. If you go from a position of being injured to over training chances are you will undo all the hard work you did to get past the injury in the first place.
8) Consider footwear
There’s a lot written about different types of shoes and footwear in runners and so I boil it down to what each individual prefers in addition to how they are performing. If you are in a minimalist shoe but getting injured every three months then you might want to review this choice. However, if you are in a more cushioned shoe and have been running well then I wouldn’t suggest changing. A general guideline is that you should replace running shoes after completing 500 miles in them. And if you have a pair that suit you, try to keep the characteristics of the shoe in your next purchase. Its also important to run the race in shoes you are familiar with. So its inadvisable to purchase a brand new pair to run the race in.
9) Go easy on yourself
Long distance running participation is hard. No two ways about it, and you need to remember that and not compare your journey to anyone else’s. It takes time out of your busy schedule, effort when you’re feeling tired and discipline to train in all weathers and conditions when you are training for a distance running event. You will come up against obstacles and issues and even self-doubt will likely creep in at times. At these moments be kind to yourself and remember why you signed up to do this. Keep in mind that it’s normal to feel pressured and tired, but remain assured that you can do it and focus on crossing that finish line.
10) Stick to the process
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and long-distance running fitness isn’t achieved in the short term either. Follow your plan, and even if you feel like you aren’t progressing eventually your fitness will increase and your confidence will improve. Do the one percenters, get the early nights, invest in a foam roller, find a soft tissue therapist, increase your protein intake, and visualise yourself completing the run and how good the feeling is. All of these seemingly small acts combined will lead you to success. The value of having a good plan from the outset means you don’t have to waste energy formulating one as you go. Stick to the process.