Tried and true tips for training to run those longer distances

There is so much preparation that goes into tackling a longer distance event. From half marathons, to marathons to ultras, it can be exciting to sign up for the challenge. That’s the easy part. Training however, may seem daunting. If you are a seasoned runner or new to running longer distances, these tips from experienced distance runners and coaches will help you prepare for your training journey and get you to the physical and mental finish line of your long distance event. 

Get some rest

Muscles repair and get stronger on rest days and during sleep. Giving yourself appropriate time to rest and recover is essential to long distance running. It prevents injuries, training fatigue and builds muscle. In the last 2-3 weeks of a training cycle, it becomes really important to take rest and recovery very seriously. During your taper you won’t gain any fitness, but you do shed fatigue to allow for a better performance come race day. 

Fuel your run

Proper fuelling is a game changer. General recommendations are to take in nutrition every hour when running longer than 45-90 minutes. The grams of carbs in your nutrition (gel, block, food,  etc) should equal out to 1/4-1/3 of your body weight (in lbs) for each hour of training or racing beyond 45-90 minutes. Take small sips of water regularly (taking big sips can cause some stomach discomfort with it sloshing around), plus electrolytes if needed. (gel, block, food, etc).

Practice with new fuel early in your training cycle to give yourself time to find what works for you and your stomach. The last thing you want to do is try new fuel a few weeks out from race day (or ON race day) and be left not knowing how your stomach will react. 

Replenish fluids

Fueling and hydrating in cold winter months can be challenging. Using warm water in a handheld bottle or hydration pack can delay it from freezing. However, the water will often freeze in the tube of a hydration pack. Wearing it under your jacket helps tremendously, this also applies to your nutrition. You can purchase insulated tubes for many hydration pack models. Keep that close to your body as well. Even though you may not feel like you’re sweating as much in the cold,it’s really important to hydrate and fuel your body nonetheless.  

Ditch the scale

Eat according to your hunger when you aren’t running. It’s normal for your hunger to increase as your mileage increases and you need to fuel your body for work AND for recovery. Your body needs food to be able to recover for optimal performance. Unless there’s a medical necessity to check your weight, don’t do it while you are training. Many runners will gain weight while training for longer distances. Oftentimes, this is a result of increased muscle mass, water retention and increased meal size. This is completely normal and under-fueling yourself at meals and snacks will negatively impact your running and recovery and make you more prone to injury. The number on the scale does not correspond to your speed or if you are meeting your running goals. Nourish your body with healthy food choices and treat it kindly, listen to it and give your body what it needs.

What is your ‘why’?

Stepping up your distance can feel like a natural progression as you become a more experienced runner. However, something to consider before taking that leap, is, what’s your “why“? What is motivating you to sign up for that longer distance? It’s so important to find that motivation for any goal or athletic pursuit. Having a strong internal “why” will give you a guidepost to help you through those tough training moments (and you will have tough moments). 

Have a training plan

If you are running consistently, a 16-20 week training program that incorporates speed work, distance, hills, strength training and rest was recommended by all of the coaches. Knowing what the terrain looks like for your race is an important way to know what to focus on. Run a hard effort once or twice a week, the rest of your weekly runs should be at a conversational pace. If your race is hilly, having a good training cycle that incorporates the demands of hills will be important for your legs to adapt before race day. Race elevation can be found on most race websites, however not all elevation charts are created equal. 

Working your way up to the point where you can safely get into longer distance training can take time to do safely, don’t rush it. Every fourth week, reduce your total weekly mileage by 20% to reduce the risk of injury. Adding mileage slowly will allow your body and mind to adapt to the physical and mental demands of distance running. Consistency is key when it comes to training. It’s not about any one workout or long run, but rather the cumulative effect of putting in solid and consistent training that will prepare you for race day. 

Your running experience and knowing what type of runner you are is key if you’re building your own plan, buying a plan or working with a coach. Do you do best with a lower mileage plan, or higher mileage? Are you a new runner, intermediate, etc? Be realistic about where your fitness is. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what others are doing, but it doesn’t mean you should be doing that as well. Know your limits, and if something hurts, stop running and get it checked out by a professional.

Find your pace

There are online calculators where you can plug in a race time or time trial and get an idea of training paces and predicted finishing times. Another good rule of thumb is that your longest ‘long run’ should be roughly the same amount of time as your goal race time but, at a slower more comfortable pace (ie. if your goal is to run 2 hours in the half-marathon on race day, your longest long run should be close to 2 hours).

Running is always better with friends

Find some friends to train with and find ways to make the process of training fun! Sharing miles with friends makes them pass faster and making memories along the way will ensure that the process of training is enjoyable. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth slogging through the work required to get you to a start line. The start line should be the icing on the cake, and you want to arrive there healthy, happy, and excited to race because you enjoyed the process of training. 

Get a shoe that fits

Getting properly fitted for a pair of running shoes is one of the best decisions a runner can make. Most coaches recommended going to get fitted at least yearly, after pregnancy, surgery or any other life event. All of those events can affect the width, gait and size of your foot. Switching out your running shoes every 500-700 km can help reduce the stress and impact on your lower body. Go to your local running store and have them give you an assessment, oftentimes these are free and they will provide shoe recommendations for your gait. If you’re an experienced runner, bring in your current shoes as the wear pattern can indicate if you need something specific when it comes to your running shoes. 

Dress for the weather 

In the summer, synthetic sports clothing and socks, a hat or visor, sunglasses, sunscreen and anti-chafing cream will be staples. In the winter, look for thicker clothing, layers, windproof pants and mitts, a toque, Vaseline to put on your face on cold windy days, spikes for your shoes, thicker socks (merino wool is advised) and if they are in your budget, waterproof shoes. You will still need sunscreen. On extreme hot or cold days, take your run indoors if you can or reschedule your run to a different day. When the weather conditions are tough, you can often risk more than you gain. In the summer, early mornings and evenings are best, winter running is often best being done mid-day. 

Bring a good attitude

Not all runs will be great and that’s ok! A bad run is just as important in your training as a great run is. Bad runs work your mental muscles and you get to work on overcoming obstacles, which could be very useful on race day. The goal for your first long distance event should be to finish and come out with a positive result, whatever that might be to you. 

Are you ready to experience running a longer distance event at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend? Sign-up for  the Ottawa Marathon or Ottawa Half Marathon on May 28, 2023.