Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Going the Distance: Improve Your Running.

Distance running is becoming very popular with men and women of all ages. Now I run a lot, but until recently I hadn't given distance running much thought. Sure, I'd popped out a 10k or two, but I've never contemplated a marathon, or even a half marathon. However, I was out running with my brother in law, a very keen marathon runner, and I started to think about how tough it'd be to run 26 miles in one go. I found my will power starting to flag about six miles in, and with four to go my brother in law was still going strong. So I asked him how he built up, not only his stamina, but his determination to keep going when your enthusiasm started to flag. His answer was variety, rest, and then, on the day, putting your head down and getting it done. For your average Joe, 26 miles seems like a lot, and well, it is a lot, but its not unachievable, people of all ages have completed marathons, even some men and women of 70 and over! Not all of us will be aiming at marathons, however, so whatever distance you are shooting for, 2 miles, 8 miles, or 26, there are a few key concepts that will help you build up your distance.

So lets take a look at some of those key training features. First off, variety. Variety in any training program keeps it fresh, but its especially important in distance running. If you think of the range of training options open to most athletes - weight training, sparring, conditioning, circuits - and then those which improve running - more running - you'll see how important it is to work some variety into your plan. This means, for one, varying the distance, the speed, and the gradients at which you run. Try a simple variety of distances, one short range run - maybe 30% of what you are training for - i.e. 5 miles for a 15 mile event, or 1 mile for a 3 mile goal. one medium distance at a good pace, so say 60% of your aim, and then another at around 90%. Don't just go out and attempt to train the full distance three times a week. The best way to build up to a distance/speed goal is to progressively build up the time that you can run for, then you can worrying about upping your speed. This is a good simple program to build up to any distance of running. Also you can throw in a couple of short 10-20 minute interval sessions - a mixture of hill sprints and flats - to help you conquer any hills in your course.

If you find your enthusiasm for running flagging, you can think about cross training. Cycling is a fantastic way to improve your cardio, but without the impact of running. Taking a week or two off running in favour of cycling will help you to keep up your training, without punishing your joints or your zeal. Swimming is another great cardio exercise that couples well with running. Find what you like to do best, and stick at it, if you find that you are forcing yourself out more often than not, its maybe time to change discipline for a little while. Don't see this as a defeat, its just another part of your training plan. If every exercise starts to leave you weary and uninspired don't be afraid to take a week or so off entirely. Rest is a very important part of a training program, it gives your muscles time to recover, but also. crucially, it keep your energy levels up. I think the importance of keeping your love for exercise strong is more important than any short term goal. If you want to be that person keeping active and fit right into old age, you've got to keep the fun alive in your training. If you don't like it, ultimately, you won't keep doing it. Yes theres an element of punishment involved in any exercise, but being able to enjoy it is what keeps runners going into their 60s and even 70s. Go for runs in the countryside, vary your scenery, vary your training partners, run with a club, take up cross country, whatever you need to keep the fun and the excitement in it. That way you are bound not only to improve your goals, but also to keep yourself happy and fit.


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