“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” -T. S. Eliot
COMMIT – PREPARE – EXECUTE
In order to do anything in life you have to commit to it, prepare for it, and execute it. The same goes for running longer distances beyond imagination for many people. Those that run 5ks tend to become anxious about doing a half marathon and those that have completed a half marathon find the full marathon incomprehensible. So how do you know when you’re ready to run longer distances? Especially beyond the marathon! Well, it’s not as scary as it seems, trust me. There are 4 ‘must haves’ to tackling longer distances and the best part about it – if you can check off all 4 on the list, you are not only ready to embark on the long distance racing journey, but you are also ready to succeed at something most consider unimaginable. It’s a beautiful feeling.
Do you have that one friend that gets to work around 9am, leaves work at 6pm, maybe heads to the gym for 30 minutes, and then goes to their softball game and bar until 10pm….on repeat a few times a week? Or some rendition of this lifestyle? Or the other friend that has 6 kids and is taking them to school, practices, clubs, and friends houses every day? Although both of these lifestyles don’t seem at all conducive to long distance running, they can be morphed into the long distance lifestyle. But how?
The first thing to remember about long distance running is that it starts with commitment. That’s the first theme to embrace – COMMIT. If you are committed to this goal, and okay with altering your lifestyle to that of a long distance runner‘s, you will achieve your goal. So what does a long distance runner‘s day potentially look like? For me…I’m up at 345am eating a small breakfast, starting my training by 430am, fueling as needed, recovering when I’m done, quick clean up, and off to work for the day. Possibly another session after work or it’s to the couch for a little rest, make dinner, eat dinner, and then rest a little more before falling asleep. Weekends are spent with the same pattern but for longer periods of training on both Saturday and Sunday. The dedication of training can be 1-4 hours a day pending your distance. Many people ask how I have time for everything – guess what – you make it work when it’s a priority. That is key.
You know you are ready to commit to a longer distance when you have already become accustomed to training at least 1 hour a day and are willing to increase your training volume slowly over time. That may mean giving up bar time or carpooling your kids off to practice. The lifestyle does not need to be exactly like mine, but does play a big role in ensuring a solid finish.
I should probably mention nutrition too! You may see lots of runners or running clubs always drinking after runs/races. And now that you are running, the typical retort is “I can eat whatever I want.” Hold on. If you want to master long distances, it’s vital that you maintain a solid nutrition base, fuel properly before and during your workouts, and recover. If you don’t recover properly training can ultimately fail or injury can occur. So instead of reaching for a beer post run, start your recovery with a solid meal/shake. It’s worth your while. What about the “I’m not a serious runner so I can drink as much as I want.” Every runner that runs long distances is serious, the difference is if they are competing and wanting to be at optimal fitness for their sport. Don’t be confused by this. You have to have some level of seriousness as you alter your lifestyle to get in the training needed 🙂
Once you are committed to your goal, it’s time to PREPARE and in order to do this, patience becomes your best friend. If you are running for the first time, start small and build from there. You can’t go from 0 to 100 in a week. I would recommend before going to the longer distances of a marathon or more, that you have been running at least a year injury free. Oh but that’s so far away and all my friends are running a 50k in 6 months. BAH! Don’t do it. You are risking so much by pushing your body to do something it has not consistently been doing. Lose the all or nothing thinking and focus on: patience, control, tolerance, and forward thinking. For me, those are the 4 key pieces of consistency.
Patience with yourself (maybe coach), your training, your family, and just life. Things happen! It’s okay. We have to be kind to ourselves and others and accept that goals take time and often many tries. Remember that the majority of people will never understand what you are doing and think you are crazy. Just roll your eyes and be patient with them – some day they will be hit with a goal they want to achieve! Patience becomes even more important because distance training does not mean immediate change and transformation. It takes time. Lots of it. To be ready for longer distances, you have to stick with the slow and steady mentality of training….harness it and control it. Start by being patient with your training and then comes control. When you are supposed to run an 8 min/mi, don’t run a 7:45 min/mi. Keep it under control. You are risking injury and burn out by always pushing the pace. Doing extra miles is not going to ensure long distance success either! When I was marathoning, I rarely went over 16 miles for a long run. It’s just not necessary to run 26 miles to complete 26 miles. Promise!
So what is there to be tolerant of when deciding if you are ready to run long distances? Tolerance is key because the alarm buzzing at 4am is never going to go away. Long distance training takes a long time and much of the training is monotonous with super early mornings, rough days, inclement weather, and even an occasional dog chase. You can’t be afraid to run in the dark, through snow, or see wildlife you didn’t know existed. Turn your fears off – they are just illusions. Be tolerant of limits but know you can push them. With tolerance you can become a forward thinker. It’s not always about the next race, or the next training day. Think big picture and take the steps to get there. Long distance running works exactly the same! You are ready when consistency is met and its core pieces are mastered!
#3: Pain Free
Can you count on one hand the number of injuries you have had? Hopefully! Whether you are prone to injury or not, it‘s vital that before starting long distances you have been injury and pain free for at least 6 months to a year. OR…you will likely be injured repeatedly. For example, a runner feels a tweak and keeps running through it to the point it turns into a foot fracture. Comes back a week early “because it feels good” and then 3 months later experiences a hamstring injury. Then it morphs into the hips…and so forth. Don’t let this happen. Take recovery time and let your body heal. If you are good to your body, your body will be good back to you!
Knowing you are ready for long distances means a solid injury free start. No lingering aches and pains. You don’t want a mediocre, typically in pain training and racing. Often times a great way to help avoid injury is to plan in stretching, rolling, and cross training. It might mean an extra 30 minutes a day dedicated to your training, but it will save you in the long run!
Keeping your body injury free also means not going above and beyond your training, pushing the pace too much, and realizing what your sweet spot mileage is. Some long distance runners can settle in at 40 miles a week and others at 100 miles. It all depends on a persons body – know your body.
Running seems to be one of the biggest trends lately, but in order to take the leap to long distances, it’s really important that you actually LOVE running. This encompasses the EXECUTE stage of distance running. Yeah, there are people that start and finish and do it a couple times (maybe it’s a bucket list item or they just want to prove they can do it), but those that actually execute the sport and put all these pieces together, they are the ones truly in love with running. If you can determine for yourself why you want to run long distances and what your internal motivation is, you are one step closer to making the decision to actually pursuing that goal. For example, I used to run with a gal who started running to lose weight after a bad break up and while she stuck with running, her heart wasn’t truly in it and she never accomplished what she was really capable of. Truly loving what you are doing means motivation is always there. Yeah maybe you aren’t super motivated to get up early, but you do it. Maybe you aren’t motivated to do the hill workout, but you do it. Discipline and motivation go hand in hand. Long distance running is not a hobby, its a life commitment and for me, a complete love. Know yourself and love the distance that keeps you smiling – long or short.
Now that you know what I think it takes to decide if you are ready for long distances, are you ready to commit, prepare, and execute one of the greatest sports on the planet? Whatever distance that may be for you, I promise it is worth it and the most fulfilling accomplishment you will feel when you cross the finish line of your goal.
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for AltraRunning, Swiftwick Socks, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.