So many runners hit a plateau fairly early on in training — we get stuck around the four- or five-mile mark for our longer runs and just never seem to get into volume. Sure, we can finish a 10K if we have to, but our normal runs seem to fall in that 30- to 40-minute range.
Think about how fun it would be to hit the trails for two hours — just you, your heartbeat and nature — on the weekend. Or maybe you dream of running a marathon. If you have a goal in mind, a training plan is highly advisable when it comes to adding mileage to your week, but if you’re just looking to add a few more miles to your weekly total for fun or to see how long you can go, there are a few simple tricks to going long when you’ve never gone long before. Here we present six of them. The keyword to keep in mind? Slowly.
1. BUILD SLOWLY
If five miles is the longest you’ve ever run, you’re not going to be running 10 in the first week of marathon training. To avoid injury, slowly increase your volume, and add only a mile or two per week. That sounds like a minimal addition, but it’ll add up quickly enough.
2. BE THE TORTOISE, NOT THE HARE
You know when people tell you that life is a marathon, not a 5K? Turns out they’re on to something. When you’re adding mileage, you have to drop your pace. If you’re used to heading out and pounding the pavement for 30 minutes every morning at a pace that’s comfortable for the entire time, you’ll quickly find that the same pace won’t be quite as comfortable as you extend to an hour, 90 minutes and beyond.
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When you first start adding volume, try leaving your watch at home (or turning it around on your wrist so you can’t see it constantly, if you still want the data). Run at a pace that feels comfortable for you — most distance running should be at a pace where, if someone were running next to you, you could have a conversation but be breathing through your mouth.
3. KEEP YOUR HEART RATE AEROBIC
If you’re not sure about what heart rate you should be aiming for as you add volume, Phil Maffetone’s formula is a great spot to start. The heart rate you should be using to run is 180 beats per minute minus your age. Then, add five if you’re a well-trained, fit athlete who’s been making great progress in his or her goals, or subtract five if you haven’t been training regularly.
If you’re a fairly regular exerciser, stick with the 180-minus-age formula. This puts you in your aerobic zone, where you’ll want to be for most of your runs, especially as you introduce volume. (Note: This is a great starting point, but it’s not for everyone — even Maffetone, who coached racers like Ironman legend Mark Allen, says that individual testing is the best way to find the perfect aerobic heart rate.)
4. BUT DON’T FORGET (SOME) INTENSITY
Training often boils down to a formula of intensity and hours: The more intensity you do, the fewer hours you can/should train. Conversely, the less intensity you do, the more hours you can train at that steady state. But once you’ve done the buildup and you’ve maxed out your free time with distance at a low intensity, it’s time to consider adding some intensity back in — slowly. Remember: Make sure that your body has totally adapted to that time spent at low intensity and you’re feeling fantastic before you add back in any speed work — otherwise, you’re risking overtraining and injury.
5. REALLY NEW? WALK
The best way to add miles to your run in a way that almost guarantees your injury risk won’t go up is to simply start by adding walking ahead of and after your runs. Start with a mile walk for a warmup, and end with a mile cooldown. Not only will your muscles thank you, you’ll get used to the added time on your feet in a gentler way. Gradually, run a bit more — maybe just a couple of extra blocks — before you start the mile walk. Add time running as slowly as you need to, and — if you really hate the walking part — you can slowly phase that out as you start getting used to the volume.
6. DON’T NEGLECT POST-RUN CARE
It’s easy to forget a cooldown when your pace is lower than you’re used to, but it’s still important to take a few minutes at the end of your run to slow way down, maybe even walking an extra few blocks. And beyond that, make sure you’re adding some dynamic post-workout stretching and doing things like foam rolling or self-massage to help inflammation.
Especially as you start growing your volume, keep careful track of how you’re feeling at all times. If you’re super sore, back off and consider replacing your run with a hike instead. Your calves and arches will thank you. Going long isn’t about getting there fast, it’s about enjoying the process.