Endurance running is the name of just about any long race, depending on who you are. To the beginning runner, a 5K seems to be beyond their wildest imagination. To a marathoner, a 5k is a warm-up jog. Now there is a new breed of marathon—ultra-running or the ultramarathon, where teams of runners run for 6 days straight and log over one hundred miles. So as a runner who runs 10-12 miles/week for fitness, how can I begin to train for endurance running? How would anyone train for the next level of endurance? What if a marathoner wants to do an ultra-marathon? You don’t have to be crazy, just prepared. The same basic principles work for every level.
First, we will cover a few basic principles for any person desiring to increase their endurance and race at the next level, and then we will discuss a few training methods that may work for you.
Principle #1—Start every endurance training session with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. Just like a finely tuned engine, your body responds better if it warms up before top energy is required and if it cools down, allowing the waste products to leave the muscles more efficiently than at complete rest.
Principle #2—Every endurance running expert will advise increasing mileage gradually, only 10% of your longest training run every week. This allows the body to adjust. The large numbers of people running marathons today as opposed to 20 years ago is because more people are following this method of increasing their endurance. The racetrack wisdom is that anyone can run marathons—and even ultra-marathons. Men and women in their 60s and beyond can run marathons as long this principle is followed as part of their training program.
Principle #3—Work days and Rest days—Rest days are important for the muscles to have time to rebuild, repair, and strengthen the long muscle fibers—where endurance is built. Most training methods start endurance programs running 3 days, alternating with 4 days resting or cross-training with no-impact exercise, and 1 longer run on your last day of the week.
Principle #4 Believe it or not, walking when you are running can help push you to the next level. If you plateau in your workouts and can’t go any farther, then stop running and walk the next 10% increase. Alternate running and short walks and you will push past that ceiling. Your muscles will respond to the distance and increased time. There is no rule that says “runners can only run”. If your muscles fatigue, you may be saving yourself an injury and building more endurance with a short walk. (runningadvisor.com 3/17/12)
Now let’s examine some training procedures marathoners and ultra-marathoners use to go the distance. People are different and not every method works for everyone. Try a few and find the one or two that work best for you.
Build a Base—Use the training tips above—warm-up/cool-down, work/rest days, run/walk/run and gradual mileage increase of 10%. Every two weeks in your training program, add a longer run, of up to 150% of your usual midweek runs. For example, if you normally run 5 miles, at the end of the second week go 12 miles at the same intensity as your regular workout. Rest the day after the longer run; the muscles need to rebuild. Also, on the third week, reduce your mileage 5% and then resume the following week with your regular workout. This is your training base. To this basic workout, runners can add other training methods to increase speed and strength as well as endurance. It’s like putting a really tasty sauce on top of your pasta. Sure, pasta can be eaten plain, but pasta with sauce spices up your life. Here are some running spices—
Sprints or Striders—Do you love that feeling of wind rushing through your hair? Sprints or striders can teach the muscles how to respond quicker, and improve your running form so you can run smoothly at your fastest pace and at any speed. They can be done on a “rest” day before one of your endurance running days as they do not really qualify as a hard workout. Run at your fastest pace for 20-30 seconds on a flat smooth surface. Do 2-3, then a slow jog. Repeat several times.
Yasso 800s—These striders are named after Running World’s race and event promoter, Burt Yasso. The idea is to run each 800 in 10% of the time you have set for your marathon. For example if you want tofinish in 4:15:00, Four hours, fifteen minutes, your goal for the Yasso 800 would be 4 minutes and 15 seconds. Repeat several times.
Long Runs—the goal of long runs is to increase endurance, not speed. Run long 2 of every 3 weeks, up to 150% of your regular training mileage. The regular week allows you to mentally and physically recover. The long runs give you a mental edge, making your regular training seem easier.
After you’ve mastered the basics of using correct running principles every time you run, and increased your mileage through base-building and striders, try some intermediate and advanced training skills such as intervals, farleks, hill repeats or tempo runs to spice up that weekly routine, prepare for marathons and more. These skills will add speed, strength and agility to your endurance goal.
Lastly, if marathons are beginning to feel passé, explore the ultramarathon. You should have been running for at least 3 years and finished several marathons before you challenge the ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is usually 30, 50, or 100+ mile races. Similar to marathon training, ultramarathon training will take 6-9 months for an experienced marathoner. Others will need a year or more to prepare their bodies and especially their minds for this extreme challenge. Testing ultimate mental and physical toughness proves to be the bait for ultramarathoners. Endurance running lends a sense of adventure to life—what will you conquer this year?