When starting a new sport, it’s smart to build it up slowly, and this is especially important with a high-impact sport like running. If you do too much too soon, you will likely burn or injure yourself. So if you’re looking to increase your running time, you need to start with a plan.
For the tips you need to boost your running, Trainer spoke with Olympian and Runna coach Steph Kessel.
How to run longer safely?
“There are two things I would like to point out here. If you look online or talk to many trainers, they will say the general rule of thumb is “10% every week”. Add 10% of the previous week’s mileage to the next week.
“But I’ve always taken this with a grain of salt. It’s probably okay to add 10% in the early stages of your training. It is completely safe. However, as your mileage increases, it ends up being a lot. If you run 60km a week and then add 6km the following week, progressing from there is a big deal.
“It’s best to follow a running training plan that guides you through a slow, progressive build. At Runna, for example, we have two running plans for beginners or returning to running. These focus on starting with a series of walking/running intervals, which people often find quite painful, even though it’s actually the best way to strengthen your running. It allows your body to adapt to the load.
“You can use the 10% rule, but I’d probably only stick to it if you’re running three or four times a week max.”
What are good distance goals for people just starting out?
“I would start with time rather than distance, the reason being that different people take different times to run a distance. If you’re a new runner and it takes you 20 minutes to run 3 kilometers, that’s a long time for your first run. If you change the time and add walking intervals, you might be there for about 20 minutes, but you might only run for six to 10 minutes of that. Then the goal would be to gradually build up those running time intervals and decrease the walking intervals.”
Need to build distance and intensity at the same time?
“It depends when you’re training apps like Strava. You look at your charts and want that weekly mileage to gradually increase. That’s actually not the healthiest way to do it. You should strive for consistency.
“If you can run 20km for a few weeks and then build up to 24km in a few weeks, that’s a much better way to do it if you want to run long-term.” It reduces the risk of injury and then you can add intensity at the same time. Whereas if you are trying to add distance and intensity, it will increase the chances of injury.”
Can Everyone Benefit From A Starter Training Plan?
“It’s useful for many reasons. It controls you and prevents you from doing too much too soon. Also, having structure within your training helps keep you motivated and accountable for doing it. Otherwise, you might stick with something for a few days, a few weeks, and then it tapers off. Whereas if you have something telling you what to do, then you don’t have to think about it.”
Can Cross Training Help You Run Longer?
“I’m a fan of cross-training runners. When I went to the Olympics, cross training was a feature of my training plan. It was something I did daily. It was also something I did when I first started training properly for running. I only ran three or four times a week, but in addition I went to the gym for either circuit training with weights or non-impact training like swimming and cycling.
“These types of movements and exercises can be done as you build your run because they take that load off and you have less stress going through the body. It is a good way to increase aerobic fitness and your endurance, but also to develop strength in muscles and joints.
“If you’re doing a lot of cross training, make sure you sleep and recover well in between, as these things will help your body adapt to the training you’re doing.”
How do you fuel longer runs?
“If you’re out for a workout that lasts more than an hour, make sure you’re thinking about your fuel during it. I usually use isotonic gels. I take them every 30 to 35 minutes during long runs.
“Don’t train fasting. I know it’s a big deal because people talk about training their body to run on fat, but when you wake up, your cortisol level, which is your stress level, is at an all-time high. So if you’re going without food to exercise, which is an essential stress on the body, you’re putting stress on your body. Refueling takes some of that away and helps with energy levels and recovery.
“Where it can vary is for someone who doesn’t train a lot and has limited time and goes out for a short, easy run – then you can do it fasted. However, I think if you’re following a training plan and you’re an active person, plus you have a busy job, a lot on your plate, and your sleep isn’t optimal, then definitely avoid that fasted workout.
“Refueling later requires focus. It is more important for people who exercise a lot. Be aware of that refueling as it helps you recover, which will then impact your next session.
“Try for a balanced diet. If you’re someone who may be struggling to maintain a certain weight, then it’s all about being balanced with what you eat. We’re usually aware of what makes us gain weight, but when you’re training, be aware that you need fuel. Don’t starve yourself.”
What are your tips for hitting the long haul?
“Plan your route. You need to know where you are going because if you go out aimlessly you don’t always know what the distance will be. You might end up doing circles on the block and that’s not fun. If you can get someone to join you, it keeps you accountable and also makes the time go faster. Organize something nice for after the run, whether it’s breakfast or a stop at your favorite cafe; this gives you something to look forward to during your run.
“Try not to be afraid of pace, splits, times and distances. Focus your efforts and start within yourself. I believe that many people when they go out running think that every run should be hard. In fact, most of your training is easy running. Running may not be easy to begin with, but the more you do it, the more you’ll learn about pacing and zones. As a result, you will be able to measure your effort better.
“The best way to judge easy running is, can you talk?” It’s a simple way to make sure your easy runs are easy. That’s how every run should start because we need to warm up in them. It should never start too soon. Don’t pressure yourself to hit certain paces or splits at first. Settle into it. If you’re not running with other people, getting a good playlist together is great, as is a podcast. It keeps you distracted—or it can inspire you!”
For help deciding on the right gel for you, visit our guide to the best running gels.
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