I was reading a paper today from 2018 about a study called “ProjectRun21” which focused on what factors contributed to people getting injured after running a half marathon, based on their training regime. This particular study attributed it to lack of weekly training mileage (<15km/week) and/or lack of speed (<6min/km).
I definitely agree with the lack of mileage as a reason for getting injured, but at risk of pretending to know something better than scientists, I don’t necessarily agree with lack of speed leading to getting injured. For me, if you’re training for a long distance race, these are the main things you need to consider with regards to preparing your body:
- Time on feet – for me, this is perhaps the most important aspect to training for a long distance race. With maybe only the marathon as the exception, if you’re intending to run a long distance race, you should have run for at least the amount of time you’re expecting to take to complete the race. Intending to take 2 hours to complete a half marathon? You should have done a long run that has lasted 2 hours. It doesn’t even need to be the right distance – your body just needs to know how it feels to be on your feet that long.
- Sufficient weekly mileage – you don’t necessarily need to have completed a run of the distance you’re aiming for, but the accumulated distance you run every week should at least be in the ballpark – running a half marathon? You should be running round about 21km, preferably more every week. This is very similar to point #1 in that you’re training your body to know what running a lot feels like, and running more every week will allow you to eventually run for that longer distance in one sitting (or running!)
- Don’t worry about your speed – it bugs me that a finding from the mentioned study found that speed was a contributing factor to injuries. Not because I think they’re wrong (although I want to say they are) – but more because I’ve been running slower than 6min/km for over a year now and I haven’t had any major injuries brought on by races. Very related to points #1 and #2, my thoughts on speed are that you should be running as slow as you need to in order to hit your distance or time target, not at all worrying about speed. If you want to get faster, there are plenty of ways to do that, but even if you just run “slow” for weeks on end, your body will get used to this pace and you’ll end up getting faster eventually anyway (and in my opinion stronger too).
- Leave yourself enough time to train – this should probably be point #1 as this is the first thing you should be considering, but we’re here now. All too often, I hear that people are about to start their training for a long distance race, but only have a few months, even weeks, to train for it. If you’re an experienced runner, this might not matter as much, but if you are less experienced, you shouldn’t be putting yourself in this situation in the first place. A training block will usually include time to increase your aerobic capacity, allow for sufficient time to adjust for increasing mileage, and also give you time to recover between all your training sessions. All of this requires time, and if you compress this into only a few weeks, you may be more likely to pick up an injury during your peak effort at your long distance race.
- Bonus: cross training – I’m personally only discovering the benefits of cross training myself after one year of running, so I don’t feel 100% qualified to recommend this, but based on popular advice and my limited experience, cross training (which is loosely any exercise activity that isn’t running) can help strengthen your body so you can make those longer distances a little easier.
So those are my thoughts on training for a long distance race and how not to get injured.
If you agree or disagree with any of the above, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.