“People often make the mistake of immediately increasing distance and just focusing on that,” says running coach Keith Anderson from Full Potential (fullpotential. co.uk). “Quite often that results in injury, even in really good runners. Going up in distance needs careful thought and respect to make sure you don’t end up with an overuse injury.” Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% and increase distance slowly.
This means you can look back at your sessions and find a pattern between good or bad runs and other lifestyle factors, such as sleep, rest and nutrition. Nike Running Coach Omar Mansour from online gym Aflete (aflete.com) says: “Keep a training log to see how much you’re doing because consistency is the biggest key for results. The more detail the better. You can look back at your runs and say: ‘Were there any other variables that affected my run? Was it just to do with my fitness or otherthings that came into it like hydration, food or sleep?’”
How you run can affect whether or not you get injured, especially when distance goes up. “Everything stems from the feet but we don’t pay enough attention to this, which can have harsh consequences in the long term,” says Pilates instructor and personal trainer Kate McTaggart from the Transformation Coach (thetransformationcoach.co.uk). “If you’re pressing more weight through one foot than the other, you’re going to get all sorts of imbalances. Or if you have tight glutes and your inner thighs are too weak to keep your feet straight when you run, with every step you take you are accentuating that imbalance every time. This can cause knee and hip issues.” If you are worried about your running style then visit a physiotherapist or running coach and seek advice on your technique.
Increasing speed and duration during a training session is asking for trouble. “Never do the two variables at once,” says Mansour. “It’s much easier to add mileage rather than regress. If you get injured, you go backwards and it can take a lot of time to get back to where you were before. It’s much easier to take progressive baby steps.”
A typical week can include one long run and a threshold session (intervals of working at controlled discomfort interspersed with recovery periods) and another slightly more challenging run on an undulating surface at a higher intensity. You don’t need to do more than one long run per week, so long as you are consistent. “If you run for three miles twice and then 10 miles and then you’re off for two weeks, you’re not getting much consistency with training and you’re going to stay at around the same fitness level,” says Mansour. “You want to be running at least three times a week at first and have a gradual increase in frequency.”
Be patient. Becoming a good distance runner can take time, even if you are fit. “People say: ‘I’m fit, I play football or netball three times a week’, but they are fit for their sport, not for the repetition of endurance running,” says Anderson. “People get it wrong because they are so enthusiastic about running and think that running is like everything else these days; they think: ‘I can have it instantly’. But you have got to give it time to get your tendons and ligaments conditioned. Endurance is borne out of many, many consistent weeks, months, if not years of solid training where your body has had time to become attuned to the workload.”
“10K to half marathon is not such a bad jump,” says Anderson. “If you allow three to four months of training you should be ready as long as you are sensible. Half-marathon to marathon gets more interesting. I would give yourself a good six months to gradually layer on the long runs and make the body better conditioned and stronger.”
Around six months is also a realistic timeframe for anyone going from a marathon to an ultra. “Start adding conditioning work to make sure that the muscles involved in the repetition of the foot hitting the ground repeatedly are well conditioned,” adds Anderson. “This is what lets people down – not cardiovascular fitness but body conditioning – which means muscles stiffen up and can’t function properly.”
Rotate two pairs of running shoes – they can be the same shoes, but an older and a newer pair will mean you can use the newer shoes for harder sessions and the older pair for recovery runs or sessions on more forgiving surfaces like grass. Anderson recommends avoiding thin, lightweight shoes and spikes. “Some people go to a running track and pound around on spikes that are five years old and the inside lane is like concrete as so many people have run over it,” he says. “Shoes must be in good condition.”
“I try to lift fairly heavy weights so I will do eight to 10 reps of squats, deadlifts, lunges and also upper body like chest press,” says marathon runner Tracy McCartney, a Merrell ambassador (merrell.com). “I also do lots of core work like the plank and Russian twists. I do three sessions of strength training per week.”
If you haven’t done any strength work before, then Mansour recommends starting with circuit-training-style strength work. “You don’t need to go to a gym,” he says. “Body weight stuff like squatting, a plank hold, single leg work, lunges and step-ups are ideal.”
Have an easier fourth or fifth week to allow your body to recover from the increase in mileage, where you can temporarily cut back on mileage and perhaps have an extra rest day. “If you just keep adding miles the body doesn’t get a chance to adapt,” says Anderson. “It’s like working under pressure – you get it done but when you lie on the beach you realise how shattered you are – similarly, when you get to the end of the taper or end of the training cycle, you realise that the niggle you’ve had is getting worse. Your body has to be able to cope and adapt to the workload.”
The less fat you carry, the easier you will find running. When you run, approximately three-and-a-half times your body weight is absorbed through the joints, so even losing 3lbs could reduce the impact by around 9lbs and make running easier. But don’t confuse body fat with muscle – you may stay at the same weight if you have gained muscle but your body composition will have improved, as you’ll have more muscle and less body fat.
Avoid strict dieting – focus on the quality of your food and you will probably lose a few pounds anyway. “You need to make sure you are feeding the engine and not trying to do anything faddy,” says Anderson. “You are really trying to look after your energy reserves and allow for growth and repair (after a training session).”
“Ultra marathons are about the mind,” says McCartney. “Positive mental tactics will override anything. During training, practise mental tactics, visualise feeling good. When you start feeling rubbish, tell yourself you are feeling good. I override my pain by telling myself I’m doing well. Some people break races down and take it in chunks of five miles or ten miles.”
High quality carbohydrates and protein immediately after a long run will give your body the ability to recover. If you don’t feel like eating straight away, a recovery drink may be the answer. “It helps you replenish,”
says Anderson. “You don’t want to end up in a state where you don’t replenish after harder sessions – depletion is a runner’s enemy. You need to be tip- top going into the next session. If you ignore that principle, you end up running on 75% fuel and the next time it’s 50% and that’s just going to drag you down.”
When you are putting yourself under pressure to go out and complete a long run, it can become a chore. Remember you’ve chosen to do it because you want to and not because you have to. Tracy McCartney attributes her success as a distance runner to her enjoyment of it. “I’m very relaxed,” she says. “I don’t get anxious about my running. I try to enjoy it and I also try to run in places that I love. I go on holiday to Cornwall and Devon and get as many runs as I possibly can across the coastline. I do races that I enjoy.