So maybe you’re running for fitness or weight loss and logging 5 km or so 2-4 times per week. Then you wake up one day and decide, ‘Maybe I should run longer. I’ve always wanted to take on a 10 km run, or maybe even a half marathon.’ But there’s one problem: you don’t know how to safely increase your distance.
The first thing you should know is that it’s relatively easy to run longer distance, but you do need to know a few things. Increasing distance is a common cause of running injury but there are things you can do to reduce the risk of coming up hurt. I’ll cover some of those below.
If you’re currently running exclusively indoors on a treadmill or indoor track, plan to take your runs outside. For one thing, long duration treadmill runs are boring. The only time the scenery changes is when gym club members walk by or someone changes the channel on the TV.
I run outside in all seasons. You can dress for the conditions and enjoy the changing seasons, scenery and weather. The other benefit of running outdoors is that it has better health benefits that treadmill running. The changing grade, wind conditions and other elements all conspire to place added stress on the body, and it is stress that causes our bodies to grow stronger.
Schedule Your Long Low Run
Make one day a week the day when you run long distance. Many people like Saturday or Sunday morning and it becomes a ritual to head out with a group of like-minded runners aiming toward a common goal. For now, don’t try to increase the distance you run on your other runs. If you haven’t increased distance before, you will place yourself at increased risk of injury if you try increasing the distance of all your runs at the same time.
Stick to one long slow run which you can increase each week. A good rule of thumb for increasing distance is that it’s safe to increase your distance by 10-20% each week. That increase is for the total weekly mileage and/or the longest distance run. So get out your calculator and doing some figuring. Here’s an example:
You run 5 km 3 times per week for a total of 15 km. You can safely increase the distance of your long run to 6 km, which is 1 km or 20% longer than your longest run of 5 km. 1 km is only 6.7% of the weekly mileage of 15 km.
If you were thinking of running 20% longer than the weekly distance of 15, that would be 3 km added on to 5 km (for an 8 km run). That would be a 60% increase in distance. Bad idea!
You should not try to increase distance every week for a long period of time. As you increase distance your body will adapt to the longer distances and for a while you’ll be excited as you cover new distances you’ve never run. However you will soon find that the distances become tougher and tougher. This resistance to training is a normal response by the body to continually increasing stress.
Periodization is a training method used by many athletes to overcome this resistance. The way it is done is to back off the training intensity – in this case running distance – every 4-5 weeks. So you would increase the distance of your long run every week for 3 or 4 weeks, then in the 4th or 5th week, you reduce the long run to a distance shorter than the previous week. The week after periodization, you continue increasing distance in line with the 10-20% rule. This will prevent the body from resisting training.
Consider a Goal-Specific Running Program
If you want to run farther, you might have a specific distance or perhaps a specific race in mind. There are running programs available that can take you from wherever you are to achieve your goal. A good program will be tailored for a certain starting point such as ‘able to run 10K.’ A good program will include a number of different training elements such as the long slow run, interval training, tempo runs and hill training. Each of these training elements conditions the body and its muscles a little differently. I liken it to baking a cake. You can’t make a cake (at least not one you’d like to eat) with flour alone. It takes a number of different ingredients assembled together to get the right results. Similarly, training for a specific distance or event should incorporate different elements in order to produce the right results.
Add Cross-Training to Your Program
Cross-training is training in any activity that is not specific to your sport – in this case running. Running can be very stressful to the body and can result in injury. Other activities such as swimming, cross-country skiing, bicycling, weight training or aerobics can be inserted into your training schedule instead of running. One benefit of this is that you may be able to increase the distance you run in other runs because you are dropping mileage. Another benefit is that you will actually strengthen muscles and tissues that will enhance your running performance. Cross-training can greatly enhance your running performance.
Check Out Your Running Shoes
Those shoes that have so faithfully served you for your short distance runs might not be up to the task of running longer distances. Sadly, you may need to buy some new or different shoes that will help you be successful as you crank up the mileage. You see, those shoes that work well for short distances might not provide adequate support because longer duration runs will tire out the muscles that support and protect you from injury. And avoiding injury is the name of the game.
So make your way to your local specialty running store and tell them what you’re up to. How much mileage you’re currently running each week, how far you intend to go. Take your old shoes so they can look at the wear patterns. You may be fine but you may wind up in a different shoe to support your new running goals. Besides, shouldn’t you reward yourself with a new pair of shoes to celebrate taking on this new challenge of running longer distance?
Increasing distance is a great way for runners to achieve more from their training. By approaching it with the right knowledge and skills, you can achieve great goals without injury.