If you’re training for a marathon or even an ultramarathon, you may have noticed that adding miles to your normal weekly running log can be exhausting. Adding mileage adds serious stress to your body, making it harder to recover since you have less free time for self care. But there are a few ways to handle big miles without sacrificing your health and happiness.
EAT A LOT
Many long-distance runners have trouble eating enough. “On a basic, physiological level, high-mileage weeks mean my nutrition is that much more important,” says ultrarunner Eimanne Zein. “On a long week, I don’t pay attention to restricting calories at all, anything I want to eat, I do. Plus, making sure that I drink a protein shake immediately after long runs made an incredible difference for me over the years. It instantly rebuilds your muscles compared to before when I wouldn’t do that and would be so sore the rest of the day and for the next days long run. Food is also one of the things that gets me through those long runs. It’s helpful to plan out some snacks that you’re really looking forward to eating on your run, then it almost feels like going on that long run is like taking yourself out to eat!”
The more miles you do, the more stress you’re adding — and it can be hard to find more time to sleep, but you’re going to need it, because a lack of sleep negatively impacts athletic performance. “Peak weeks mean I can’t stay up as late because I have to get up so early to do the runs before work. And when I can balance both work and running, it probably means there won’t be much time or energy left for my social life,” says Zein. “But none of these things have to wear you down. Find things you like to do to wind down an evening in peace so you don’t miss the late nights when you’ve got an early run.” Try to get to bed a bit earlier or sneak in a nap at lunch.
Nutrition may also play a role in sleep: Sometimes, intense training can actually make it harder to sleep, but a recent study found that adding more carbohydrates to your diet, in this case, may help you snooze better.
GRAB THAT ESPRESSO
In 2008, one study showed a post-workout carb and caffeine combination helped athletes restore their blood glycogen levels faster than carbs alone, so if you’re someone who looks at coffee as the ultimate treat, keep sipping. It’s also packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help reduce inflammation and speed recovery. (The caveat: Don’t drink coffee late in the day, since you obviously want to prioritize good sleep for max recovery, not a slightly optimized glycogen restoration!)
GET ENOUGH RECOVERY TIME
You might actually need more days off as you log more miles, which sounds paradoxical but can be done with a bit of pre-planning. There are two great ways to add more recovery time when running big miles: First, you can opt to do one day as a double, with a longer run in the morning and a short/mid-distance run later in the afternoon, followed by a day off. If that’s not an option, consider skewing your workout times so you get the most time off of running, even if you don’t have a full rest day anywhere in the week. You can do this by running your long Sunday run as early in the day as possible, and leaving your shorter recovery run on Monday until the evening, giving yourself more than 24 hours away from running to let your body recover.
DON’T STRESS A MISSED RUN
If you missed your 10-miler on Saturday, but have a 15-miler on Sunday, don’t even think about making Sunday a 25-miler to make up for it — at most, add an extra mile or two, but only if you’re feeling great. “If you can’t get enough miles because of work, be easy on yourself,” says Zein. “There’ll always be a way to make those miles up, and the truth is ultra-running is so much of a mental game, so a few missed runs here and there will not break your race. Look at work like mental training, and then even days at the office can be a part of the training!”
Mindfulness has never been more important. With more mileage, you’re likely to be a bit more stressed, possibly a bit more emotional and definitely in need of some bonus quiet time. Studies have shown that meditation can not only lower stress, but it can also improve self-control, which you’re definitely going to need as your mileage creeps up, whether you need that self-control to get out and get your long run completed or the willpower to have a healthy recovery meal instead of a beer and a bag of chips.