When starting a new sport, it’s wise to build it up slowly, and this is especially important with a sport like running. If you do it too soon, you are likely to burn or injure yourself. So if you’re looking for ways to increase your running time, you need to start with a plan.
For tips on how to improve your running, Trainer spoke with Olympian and Runna coach Steph Kessel.
How do you run longer safely?
“There are two things I would emphasize here. If you look online or talk to many trainers, they will tell you the rule of thumb is “10% every week”. Add 10% of your previous week’s mileage to the next week.
“But I would always take this with a pinch of salt. Adding 10% in the early stages of your training is probably okay. It’s pretty safe. However, as your mileage increases, it becomes too much. If you run 60km a week and 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 structure. At Runna, for example, we have two running plans for beginners or re-runs. These focus on starting with a series of walking/running intervals, which people often find quite painful, although it’s actually the best way to build up your running. It allows your body to adapt to the load.
“You can use the 10% rule, but I’d probably only believe it if you’re running three or four times a week max.”
What are good distance targets for people just starting out?
“I would start with time rather than distance, the reason being that it takes different people different times to run the distance. If you’re a new runner and it takes you 20 minutes to run 3 km, that’s a long time for your first run. If you change the time and add walking intervals, you can be there for about 20 minutes, but you can only run for six to 10 minutes. Then the goal would be to gradually increase the running time intervals and decrease the walking intervals.”
Should you build distance and intensity at the same time?
“It’s addictive when you train on apps like Strava. You look at your schedules and want to gradually increase your weekly mileage. That’s not really the healthiest way to do it. You must aim for consistency.
“If you can run 20km for a few weeks, stepping it up to 24km for a few weeks is a much better way to do it if you want to run longer. It reduces the risk of injury and you can increase the intensity at the same time. Whereas if you are trying to increase the distance and: intensity, it will increase your chance of injury.”
Can everyone benefit from a learning plan to get started?
“It’s useful for many reasons. It keeps you in check and prevents you from doing too much too soon. Plus, by having structure within your training, it helps motivate you and keep you accountable for getting it done. Otherwise, you might stick to something for a few days, a few weeks, and then it tapers off. Meanwhile, if you have something that tells 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 every day. It was also something I did when I first got into proper running training. I only ran three or four times a week, but in addition I would go to the gym or do circuit weight training, or non-impact activities like swimming and cycling.
“These types of movements and exercises can be done as you build up your run because they take that load off and you have less stress going through the body. It’s a good way to increase your aerobic fitness and endurance, as well as build muscle and joint strength.
“If you’re doing a lot of cross training, make sure you’re also getting good sleep and good recovery, because these things will help your body adapt to the training you’re doing.”
How do you make fuel last longer?
“If you’re going out for a workout longer than an hour, make sure you’re thinking about your fuel during that time. I usually use isotonic gels. I take them every 30-35 minutes during long runs.
“Don’t do any training with a pass. I know it’s a big deal because people talk about training their bodies to run fat, but when you wake up, your cortisol levels, which are your stress levels, are at their highest. So if you go out without food to exercise, which is fundamentally stressful on the body, you’re putting stress on your body. Using fuel takes some of that away and helps with energy levels and recovery.
“Where it might be different is someone who doesn’t train a lot and they’re limited on time and they go out for a short, easy run, then you can do it to fast. However, I think if you’re following a workout plan and are an active person, plus you have a busy job, a lot on your plate, and your sleep isn’t optimal, then definitely avoid those fasted workouts.
“Then refueling takes concentration. It is even more important for people who exercise a lot. Be aware of that charge as it helps your recovery which will then have an effect on the next session.
“Try to have a balanced diet. If you’re someone who perhaps struggles to maintain a certain weight, it’s all about being balanced with what you eat. We’re usually aware of what makes us lose weight, but when you’re exercising, be aware that you need fuel. Do not starve yourselves.’
What are your tips for getting out of a long run?
“Plan your route. You have to know where you’re going because if you’re going out aimlessly, you don’t always know how far it’s going to be. You can complete block circuits and it’s not fun. If you can get someone to join you, it keeps you accountable, and it also makes the time go by faster. Have something nice to do after your run, whether it’s breakfast or a stop at your favorite coffee shop; this gives you something to look forward to during the run.
“Work on not being afraid of paces, splits, times and distances. Focus on the effort and start within yourself. I believe that most people who run think that every run has to be hard. In fact, most of your training is easy running. Running may seem easy to begin with, but the more you do it, the more you’ll learn about pace and zones. As a result, you will be able to better measure your efforts.
“Easy running is the best way to judge, can you chat? This is a simple way to ensure your smooth running. Also every run has to start because we have to warm up in them. It should never start too quickly. Don’t pressure yourself to do certain paces or splits at first. Fit into it. If you’re not running with other people, putting together a good playlist is great, and so is a podcast. It distracts you, 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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