Seven ways to improve your distance running
Get the right kit, don’t overdo it, and remember your head is as crucial as your legs
Distance running’s golden rule: never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 per cent and never increase your longest run by more than 10 per cent. Photograph: iStock/Getty
The golden rule
If you are training to run further, always obey the 10 per cent rule. That is: never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 per cent and never increase your longest run by more than 10 per cent. The vast majority of running injuries are the result of overuse. Your body is capable of astonishing adaptations, but only if they are incremental – so always give it time to adjust and recover.
Get the right kit
While top price does not always mean top quality, it is important to get the right pair of running shoes – have your gait analysed at a running shop. Find good-quality moisture-wicking clothing that won’t rub or cause issues when you start running in it for longer.
Distance is relative
Tell someone you run regularly and the chances are they will ask if you have done a marathon. Other distances are available! Training hard to improve your 10k or 5k time (or, indeed, your time for a shorter distance) is just as rewarding – and has the benefit of eating up less of your leisure time. Shorter distances also put less pressure on you – if a 5k goes wrong you can do another one a week later. The reason the pros only do a couple of marathons a year, at most, is that recovering from a hard run of 42.2km can take weeks, if not months.
Use your head
Studies have shown repeatedly that the limits of our endurance are dictated by our heads as well as our bodies. For example, research by Prof Samuele Marcora found that cyclists in an endurance exercise presented with positive subliminal cues, such as action words (“go” or “energy”) or happy-face pictures, were able to exercise significantly longer than those who received sad faces or “inaction” words. You can practise this positive reinforcement yourself by finding a mantra to repeat in your head. Also, always break a long run into manageable chunks so that it seems less daunting.
Want to get faster? Alas, there is no short cut. You need to practise by sustaining faster speeds over shorter distances – this is the principle of interval training. The simplest way to do it is by time; for example, run faster for one minute, jog for one minute, repeat 10 times.
Before you commit to a big race, particularly a marathon, or even an ultramarathon, talk to your friends, family and support network. These intense periods of training can take a lot out of you, physically and in terms of time, and you need backup and to know it is not causing you, or anyone else, too much stress.
Sleep and nutrition
It may seem like something only “proper” athletes need to worry about, but sleep – or lack of it – and poor nutrition can seriously hinder your recovery. If I had a training motto it would be: “It’s not what you can run, it’s what you can recover from.” You don’t need to go overboard on protein shakes. Just make sure you get enough shut-eye and eat healthily. – Guardian