With the wealth of big distance running events crowding the back end of the racing calendar – from Comrades to Maxi Race, Skyrun and RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town – you may very well be inspired to step out of your comfort zone in 2023. Whether on the road or trails, if you’re planning on pushing your distance capacity – perhaps from 10 to a half-marathon, a half to a full 42 or perhaps even up to an ultra – here are a few broad tips to help you focus on what needs to be done.
First, choose the right distance
This might sound obvious, but you need to carefully consider your current fitness condition and capabilities and then set a clear goal toward which to aim. As mentioned above, that might be as simple as progressing from a 5km to running a full 10 without walking once, or going from 10 to a half-marathon, and beyond… As a simple rule, if you’re comfortably running slightly longer distances already, you can afford to push for a much bigger jump in distance than if you’re running only 3 or 5kms at the moment.
Now, work the build-up
To go long, you need to train long. It is that simple and that complicated all at the same time, incrementally build up your mileage without putting too much strain on your cardio fitness or muscles. Here you should not just be shooting in the dark, there is a magnitude of programmes and apps available online to assist with this, ideally, though you want a coach through which you get one-on-one attention and a programme designed to reach your goals while fitting into your work schedule and lifestyle.
As you push the training intensity on your body you’re going to have to be far more mindful of how you fuel it, both for training and proper recovery. Again there is so much information available online (too much, actually, in that it becomes difficult to wade through the fads). Again a coach (with nutrition experience) is invaluable here, but the hard truth is that you need to research all options (or at least those you see and feel might be feasible) and then experiment to find what works for you. Everybody’s body is different and reacts differently to different neutron plans.
Cross-train to protect yourself from injuries
It’s a commonly held myth (especially among new runners) that gym (and in particular weight training) will make you ‘big’ and detract from your running. Many very successful runners (including the likes of Ryan Sandes) spend time in the gym and lift (heavier than you might expect) weights. Any type of cross-training and weight work (if done correctly in the right form and in accordance with your programme) will support your body in dealing with the stresses of the strains of longer distances.
The tortoise wins the race
Okay, not always. But the idea holds true here. If you’re used to shorter distances then you might possibly also be used to a slightly higher pace. The trick here is to slow down until your body adjusts to the demands of the ‘new’ distance, then you can work on pushing the pace. Going long requires aerobic endurance fitness, rather than the anaerobic fitness required for fast-paced shorter distances.
Celebrate small victories.
A six or eight-week training block with slow runs and slow incremental progress in distance step-ups might seem frustrating when viewed on paper, but you’re not going to get marathon fit overnight. Celebrate those smaller goals and milestones when you reach them.
Enter an event
This should perhaps be point #1… But, we’ve put it down here for a reason. Now that you have a bigger understanding of what it is going to take to step it up, there are few things that are going to keep you as motivated as having a goal to train for. Sure, pulling the trigger on a marathon entry may be intimidating, but the sooner you do it, the sooner that goal is on the calendar.
Amped to step it up, read about how our man Josh “Goggins” Stevens put in the time to train for the UTCT 100 miler.