1. Pace yourself: Build training miles and speed slowly.
If you’re at the point of wanting to build, that should mean that you can run 5K’s with no trouble. Maybe you can run four or five miles. The first step is to build a base of 3 – 4 miles about four days a week. Do that for a few weeks. Then start building 10% at a time. We have a detailed program that you can print out. But the basic idea is to start by …
running your three miles three days a week and add one mile at a time for a longer run one day a week.
So it would look like this:
Week 1 // 3 – 3 – 3 – 4
Week 2 // 3 – 3 – 3 – 5
Week 3 // 3 – 3 – 3 – 6
You’ll eventually start to add a mile or two for the short runs and keep building the longer runs. You’ll also want to cut the miles back every four weeks or so to let your body recover, and you’ll want to run slower for longer runs than short ones. All of this will benefit your fitness, endurance, ability, and health.
Again, check out our half marathon training program here for the details.
2. Build race lengths slowly.
After I ran my first half marathon and was all stoked with myself, I asked Bill what I should do next. As in, “how long does it take to build to a marathon now?” He told me just to stick with half marathons for the next year. That was fine with me anyway, because I enjoyed the distance so much and the training isn’t so time consuming to maintain. But I was surprised. Then soon after I was with some of his ultra runner friends and we were talking about what I’m doing next. They all wholeheartedly echoed what Bill had told me, just stick with the halfs for a year. They said it’s common to get all caught up in the excitement of running accomplishments and want to keep trying longer distances, but they’ve seen time and again that people got hurt who went directly from a 5k to a 10k to a half to a marathon within a year or two.
3. Learn what your specific body needs and responds well to. Then give that to yourself.
Every one of Bill’s ultra friends has his/her own needs and preferences of shoe & clothing types, hydration methods, diet, nutrition, training techniques, stretching, etc. They cannot copy what anyone else does.
I’ve already tried various products and methods and I’m finding very specific things that work for me too. It’s important to experiment with:
- Types of food and/or energy supplements before, during, and after runs (i.e. what upsets your stomach? How soon before or after running do you feel like eating? Do you prefer solid food or running gels?)
- Amount and methods of hydration (i.e. do you need to carry a water bottle for a 10k or half? Or are you fine with water stops and drinking before and after?)
- Areas of weakness and prone to injury; ways of treating them (i.e. chiropractic care, braces, tape, or different shoe-tying)
- Shoe and foot support (i.e. finding the correct shoe for your gait is vital, and some people need arch supports or insoles as well)
- Stretching and methods of caring for muscle (stretching is universally important, from what I’ve learned, but one runner might naturally have stronger leg or glute muscle that helps their running and another runner might have to work harder to cross train and maintain that muscle)
- Clothing preferences (i.e. do you naturally run hot or cold? What do you need to be most comfortable?)
- Time of day and weather preferences (i.e. morning or evening person, preference for warmer or cooler weather)
4. Cross train
Most of Bill’s ultra running friends regularly do a variety of other exercise. Most workout in a gym. Some also swim (not for triathlon training but for cross training). Some do yoga or biking. I noticed an extremely quick improvement in my speed and ability to run hills when I started purposefully doing a weekly “leg day” of strength training. Before that I thought I was building leg strength either just by running in our hilly area or by doing total body workouts. But as soon as I did a leg-only workout – jackpot. Being sure to have strong abs and core has also been noticeably helpful. I had been getting side aches while running for awhile and as soon as I started regularly doing ab exercises, that ended.
Running and building muscle has taken away the aches and creaking in my knees and the pain I was starting to get in my hip. I know there’s a common myth that running is bad for the knees / joints but the opposite has been true for me: a sedentary lifestyle, overeating, and not working out were infinitely worse for mine.
5. Prevent injury, prevent injury, prevent injury
That’s basically the point of numbers 1 – 4. All of these are to take care of yourself to avoid injury. Building speed, training miles and race distances slowly, learning and giving your body what it needs, and cross training for muscle strength will increase your chances of being able to enjoy the sport more often and longer.
What about you? Have you learned any other running musts for yourself?