Are you running long distances unnecessarily? Are you training for an event and unsure about how far you should be able to run to be race-ready?
With the fun run season well and truly upon us, it’s something Sydney-based triathlon and running coach Sarah Anne Evans gets asked a lot. “People are always worried about doing too little and often end up doing too much,” she says.
Overtraining is certainly an easy trap to fall into, especially when tackling a distance for the first time. You don’t want to be underdone, but that - ironically - can be your undoing. I got a stress fracture in my ankle from overtraining leading up to the New York marathon and would seriously reconsider my training mix next time round. (Hmm, must get around to that!)
Evans says the amount you run in training depends on a couple of things: are you a complete beginner or a seasoned runner; and do you just want to tick off and complete your first 5km or 10km race, or are you aiming for a PB or podium?
If your aim is to get around your first event and have fun, then she recommends you get used to running the distance of your race and not worry about running more than a couple of kilometres longer in training.
“Aim for two to three sessions a week, one of which should be your long steady run (done at 'talking' pace and increased by five minutes maximum per week), while the other two can be shorter, sharper sessions such as interval, tempo or strength sessions of 20-40 minutes (depending on your race distance),” she says.
Experienced runners looking for a PB can afford to run a little further than their race distance, “but again, you don't need to be pushing big miles in these longer training sessions”.
“Aim for three to four (maximum of five for very experienced athletes) sessions per week and follow the rules above regarding shorter runs by mixing up intervals.”
This year’s City2Surf adidas coach Rupert van Dongen agrees there’s no value in over-cranking the mileage; rather, what matters most is the quality of the mileage.
“With more competent runners, at least a portion of the long run should be done at race pace,” van Dongen says, “particularly at the end just so you can get used to running at that speed when you are slightly fatigued.
“So you could do 20 or 30 minutes at the end of a long run at half marathon pace if that’s the race distance you’re preparing for. Similarly, if you’re training for a 10km race you might do 20 minutes at your target race pace towards the end so you get used to running at that speed.”
As for how far to run, van Dongen says first-time half-marathoners could build up their long runs to close to the race distance, say 18 or 19km. “Then when they get to the event if they have tapered a bit and are fresh they will be mentally turned on and the stimulation of crowds will get them through the last little bit.
“If they have done the race distance before without too much stress then you’d introduce runs at or slightly longer than the race distance in training. For 5km to half-marathon they could do at least one run slightly longer than the event. For City2Surf I’d recommend 15-16km, just so they know they can push the pace and comfortably get through it.”
Van Dongen says the long run is important but if it’s only going to be 15-16km, in the case of training for the City2Surf, you should be able to recover from that and still be able to do some quality work through the week as well.
“I’d even advise beginnner runners to do one more intensive session through the week and two sessions for more experienced runners.”
Evans warns that running too long in training opens you up to the risk of injury and the need for additional recovery time between sessions.
“Hence why you don't need to run a marathon to run a marathon,” she says. “We work on a cumulative effect run technique with our marathon and ultra runners and this works really well when you are training people who have a full-time life with work and family outside of their love of sport.”
And isn’t that all of us?
Do you have any long run tips for nervous newbies?
- Download Rupert’s specially prepared City2Surf 10-week online training programs for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners here.
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