I recently had someone write to me, asking if I could offer some advice to her as a runner who wants to train for a longer distance than 5k who has a history similar to mine: weight, age and experience wise. Once again, I must reiterate that I’m not an expert in anything except my personal experience. What I did worked well for me but should never replace your own common sense or advice from trainers, coaches and/or doctors who know you and your unique situation. With that said…
I realized that running was getting easier and easier. My run that was supposed to take up a specific amount of time going x distance around my block was getting done faster and faster, and my workouts were getting shorter and shorter. At first I was perplexed as to what I should do, but then I realized the answer was right in front of me: add more distance. More distance will lead to a longer workout, and that is how I became a distance runner.
My initial goal was simply to run a 5K. At that time, running for a whole minute was impressive to me. A 5K was beyond phenomenal. After I was able to run for 20 minutes straight, I focused on the distance of 3 miles. I did this by running as much as I could, then finished the 3 miles with walking. My thought was that if I could at least finish the distance, eventually everything else would speed up. It does. Slowly, for sure, but it does happen. That said, here are my basics for gearing up for a long race:
- Plan on spending a lot of time running. This may seem obvious but it’s also not. You think that you’re being generous with yourself when you plan to run 9 miles on a Saturday, but your family has to live without you for three hours on that Saturday as well. Add to that all of the Saturday chores you have and suddenly that 9 mile run doesn’t seem like you’re giving yourself a break as much as you’re giving yourself a job. Running longer distances takes a ton of time and energy. It should go without saying, but for some reason we think that it’s going to be easier to accommodate. When I disappear, my family howls. LOL
- Realize that not all of your runs need to be long, distance, training runs. I thought that once I reached a new distance, that had to be my go-to training distance… but I didn’t have time to run six to ten miles a day! Now I know that I need to train around a distance, not always run the same every time. Diversity is good. These days, my ideal is what I call a 3-6-9 week. Basically, that means I work up to running one of each distance per week. It keeps me in condition but also allows me to have a life with other hobbies than running.
- Run where you feel safe: People talk about running as though is gives them a ticket to the world. They savor new runs and new views… but some of us don’t. When I am trying out a brand-new distance (beyond 13 miles, at this point) I like to try it out as close to home as possible. I liked the security of knowing the exact distances I was adding as well as the security of having a clean bathroom nearby and the ability to quit the second things got too hard for me. I remember when I was training up to six miles I made Bradley run the smallest loop near our house a bajillion times with me because it was where I felt safest. Later I found out it’s always his least favorite part of our entire run because it has the most traffic, but he never complained. LOL!
- Diversify your running routes: this is after you feel safe running that new distance, of course. I have several different loops near my house and a few trail runs that allow me to add hills of varying inclines and declines so races don’t kill me with their hills. I also live on top of a hill; like, there’s a water tower less than two blocks from me kind of hill. If I run, there are always hills involved!
- Train up to your miles slowly. Yes. Most likely you could go out and run a whole half-marathon today, but how would you feel during mile 11 of that run? How would you feel the following week? My general rule of thumb is to start out with a three mile run then add one mile per week to it as my long run. Over time, I work up my miles to that 3-6-9 and throw in another workout or two for diversity (lifting, spinning, hiking, Zumba). If you add too much mileage too fast, you’re also probably adding an injury to your plate.
- Adding miles can mean slower miles: When I add distance I get tired. My muscles wear out. There’s a growing and strengthening process that needs to happen. Just allow yourself grace. These days my miles are slow because I’ve gained some pounds, so running is harder. That’s changing. 😉
- I like to complete the race distance before the race: Many training programs advocate getting within two miles of your goal distance then tapering until the race day. I like to train to the distance then run it at least two or three times before the actual race. If I don’t, I start my races jittery and full of anxiety, lacking confidence and just not in the best headspace. Running it a few times beforehand allows me to relax and just enjoy the race rather than worrying I won’t make it.
- Consistency is key: I believe in keeping my muscles warm. What this means to me is that I need to run often. It doesn’t have to be far, but it needs to be a few times per week. The second I step away from that I get lethargic, slower, tire easier, injure easily and don’t love running as much. The other positive side effect for me is that when I run regularly I don’t deal with depression or anxiety as much. I love that!
Have fun training! I just signed Gigi and me up for another race: The Snohomish Women’s Run. We are running the 10k and the race was ‘only’ 45, but with a hoodie and medal, I don’t think that’s too bad. The theme: Nevertheless, She Persisted. Oh, yes! We will!
Thanks for the advice.