Thinking about running a marathon, a half, or your first 5K? No matter your starting point, to safely ramp up and get more miles requires a long-term plan. While “run more and more often” may seem like a place to start, you need a more practical and tactical plan than that. We picked the brains of three people who train themselves and others for distance events to find out how to properly add the extra miles to your routine. They know how to start small, and go big. Here are 6 pieces of advice they shared:
“Very incrementally,” advises Richard Sexton, an experienced ultra-marathoner, about how to add distance. “Step by step.” We know that the first step is often the hardest, and Richard has experienced it after a serious bout with COVID last summer that hit him hard. But in January, he started training for his ultimate ultra: 30 straight days of marathons to raise money and awareness for Autism services.
Sexton trained with a coach because he wouldn’t be running alone — he would do all 30 days of marathons carrying “Slappy,” a 25-pound weight ball, in a backpack.
“I built up my distance with the slam ball, then compressed them together,” says Sexton. He learned to carry Slappy — who he had already run one marathon carrying — a little further each week. When he got comfortable, he compressed his days to go two days back-to-back, and so on.
The 10% Rule
Most runners have heard about this — only increase your mileage 10% at a time. No, not per day, or per run — but per week.
“So if you are running about 20 miles a week, add no more than 2 miles,” says Lisa Landrum, running coach and owner of Forward Motion XC. But, she adds, “There are a lot of variables that come into play, like the level of training you’ve been doing and the amount of miles that 10% actually means. The key with this, like most things, is to make sure that makes sense for YOU.”
An experienced runner who is used to running 60 miles a week can feel out that 10% better than a beginner who is still happy doing a mile or two in a row.
Ah, consistency is key. The best way to train more miles is to hit the trails regularly. If you miss a run, hold your distance. If you miss a week, you may need to back off.
“The most important thing is consistency in your running,” says Landrum. “Adding in miles the smart way, even if it means taking some extra time to do it, will pay off in the long….run.” Pun intended? Consistency, she adds, also lessens the chance of injury.
What’s the Frequency?
If you want to add a few miles to your weekly total but feel maxed out at your daily distance, look at your calendar, says Jamey Yon of TRiYON Performance.
“Incorporate more frequency instead of more miles each day,” says Yon. Adding another run during the week can help you reach your goals, especially if staying out too long can be a health hazard. “Depending on the time of year, it could be dangerous to run more miles because of dehydration and weakness,” he says. “Split up into two runs so you can increase your fluids properly.”
Yon believes adding a day to your weekly schedule will get you a lot closer to your marathon goals than adding miles on fewer days.
Shuffle Your Distances
Even if you add days to get some extra miles, you need some experience with a long run if you want to be ready for a marathon. Shuffle your daily distance, says Yon, and add your miles to one of them.
“Do one long run a week,” says Yon, “and increase that by a mile a week.”
Take a Break!
Holding your mileage as your body gets stronger will allow you to add the endurance you need with less chance for injury.
“For new runners, it’s important not to add too much, too soon. This is a recipe for burnout, injury, and discouragement,” says Landrum. “Adding mileage slowly usually won’t backfire, but adding it too quickly may sideline you.” Landrum says it’s important to really listen to your body as you add miles, to make sure little twinges and poor sleep aren’t trying to tell you something.
Yon suggests adding miles for 3 weeks, then maintaining for one, as a way to help your body adapt to the extra workload. Don’t forget to take a ‘rest day’ if you need it. Sexton says his training includes the same advice: “Spike it up, and back off — then do it again a little higher,” he advises. “So many people overtrain and then try to race.” Rest and Recharge are an important part of Running.
And don’t forget to fuel, hydrate, and get enough sleep! If you got to sleep in a little longer this past year, you know how great it feels to be rested. Self-care is not selfish, it’s imperative if you want to run further!