Whether you’ve been inspired by Marathon record holders like Paula Radcliffe, Ironman competitor John Joseph or Ultraman athletes such as Rich Roll, long distance enduring events can seem a million miles away for the average gym goer. However, they don’t always need to be, as all athletes, no matter their current success or fitness level, had humble beginnings.
Although staying upright and consistent for upwards of two hours may seem like an uphill struggle (no pun intended), the smaller steps will actually be more beneficial. In his book “Finding Ultra”, athlete Rich Roll mentions that despite being a weekend warrior and going all out for two hour runs at a time, his coach forced him to slow down way below what he felt was his threshold, and to throw away the idea of speed in his training. Quite simply, if the most you can run is 30 seconds, then focus on getting to 60 seconds before you worry about anything else. 5 minutes to 10 minutes, 1 hour to 2 hours etc. Once you know you can cross distances without burning out, then you can start to focus on improving your time. But these small jumps can take months, even years to come to fruition, so the key is not to get disheartened if you can’t run from Lands’ End to John o’ Groats within a week.
As with all endurance events, whether it’s running, cycling or swimming, the key is longevity. The training takes time, and so does the event, so you need to make sure you’re at full health, and not injured. Although hitting the pavement every single day for 6 months to prep you for your big event may seem fool proof, it’s only going to guarantee injury, holding back your training and in turn, your performance. Be sure to take strategic rest days and listen out for your body’s signals. An achy ankle or a slight twinge in the knee are likely to be your bodies way of sounding alarm bells, so be sure to take notice and give yourself adequate rest. Even though it may seem counter intuitive, you’ll make more progress with your feet up on the sofa for an afternoon than you will forcing yourself to run on an injury.
Speaking on recovery, as any athlete, hobby or pro knows, nutrition is absolutely paramount for getting the best out of your body. Although you’re likely to see plenty of gym goers and weekend warriors guzzling pints of Gatorade, energy bars and protein shakes, you’d be considerably better off getting as much of your nutrition through whole, natural foods rather than artificial or processed items. Although these are almost essential for events, and can be a life saver on long treks, they should only be used to bridge the gap when you’re desperate. Of course, if things like glucose drinks and gels are all you have, there’s no question, you quite simply have to use them, but like any food filled with sugar, artificial flavors and colors, they’re simply not great for the body. During your training, be sure to fuel correctly pre-workout with vitamin rich foods, and bring as much as fuel as possible with you. Although it’s difficult for runners to bring additional nutrition with them without being weighed down, consider maybe using a bum bag or investing in a pair of shorts/trousers with additional pockets. Bananas, homemade granola bars, dried fruit, salted peanuts and whole meal peanut butter sandwiches can provide fantastic long burning, natural fuel for your body to use.
When it comes to stamina and endurance, don’t just focus on your desired sport or event. On your recovery days from running, try going for a swim or a cycle. This is what’s known as “active recovery”, a workout that is less intense and has considerably less volume.