Growing up, I had a hate/hate relationship with running. Running was something that I had to do to be competitive at team sports. This is an area that I think schools and parents can improve: teach your kids how to run. I spent most of high school having poor form, nutrition, and training habits. I spent most of college not caring about being fit at all. Once I graduated I felt a need to have a "thing". I was too broke for a nice bicycle and had too much student loan debt to take up long distance hiking. The cheapest and most accessible alternative was running.
I ran in my first short race in early 2016, it was a 4k. I didn't even know that 4k's existed until I ran in the Bentonville Valentines Day run and it took me nearly 21 minutes(8:35/M)! It was extremely slow, but it was a lot of fun. I was there at the invitation of some close friends and it was one of those "type-2" kinds of fun where you are unprepared and you feel like you might freeze to death.
I continued to use running as my primary form of exercise and set a goal to run a little farther and try my first half marathon. I signed up for the Red Fern Half Marathon in the spring of 2016 and began training. I ran Red Fern-2016 in 1:54:59 (8:49/M). At this point I officially had the "bug" and I signed up for the Pumpkin Holler Hundred 25k trail run in October of 2016. I finished the 25k in 02:29:15 (09:37/M). I took the winter off (by training for a 100-mile bike ride) and started running in the spring at NSU Founders Day 5k (22:37) and Red Fern Half (01:57:40) in preparation for running in the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd 50K in October of 2017.
This training includes weekly short runs and long weekend runs. The race in October takes place on the road the circumnavigates the JT Nickel Preserve outside of Tahlequah, OK.
My most recent training run (VLOG HERE) took place from "Them Idiots" to "Mad Dog" and back then to "Waffle Stop" and back to "Them Idiots". If you haven't watched that episode of the VLOG yet, you really should. It is entertaining to say the least. I ran out of water and was almost stranded in the boonies after dark.
By running these different races and training schedules I have learned a few things and I wanted to pass on some of that (limited) knowledge to anyone that wants to try to make running their "thing" or simply just try something new. Below are a few pointers to help you train more efficiently for long runs.
1. Take Your Time
It can be very disappointing to follow your favorite runners on Strava or social and see that they are knocking out huge distances at paces that you can't even imagine. Let this go. If you are running to compete with the best in the sport, stop reading this because you clearly don't need this advice. If you are just a normal human, keep reading. There is no normal running pace or time and if you are running just to have a faster time, you are missing out on a lot of joy that can be had on the road/trail.
Start your training slow. Some experts suggest running at 50-75% of your goal race-day pace during your long training runs. This is especially important if you run in the boondocks like we do. Running slower helps keep your chance of injury down and gives you an opportunity to take in the scenery or enjoy the company of a running partner. If you can't have a conversation with your running partner due to heavy breathing, slow down.
2. Practice Good Form Over Speed
Foot strike- Pay attention to which part of your foot makes impact with the ground. The ideal strike for most is the "mid foot". Often new runners will strike their heal and feel all sorts of pain associated with the foot, ankle, and shins. Practice running slower with a proper strike to avoid some beginner growing pains.
Arm/Hand Position- For the average runner the forearm should be held at a 45º angle with the upper arm with a relaxed grip. Imagine running with a sleeve of crackers in your hands. You need to grip hard enough to hold on the them, but not hard enough to crush them. Practice with actual saltine crackers, they are cheap and you can always make soup after you hulk out on a couple of sleeves.
Leg Kick- Your legs should make a push-off motion with every stride. Try to avoid the "ultra-shuffle" where your feet barely come off of the ground. Sometimes this is unavoidable due to fatigue, but try to practice pushing off with your foot once it hits the ground. If you are at close to 100% effort, you should be almost kicking yourself in the rear.
3. Nutrition if HUGE
This is the area that I struggle with the most. Nutrition. Eating and drinking properly is arguably the biggest indicator of success on race-day. It is important to cut out sugary drinks like gatorade, soda, and sweet tea. Instead try to drink plenty of water, unsweet tea, and sugar free sports drinks like G2 or Powerade ZERO.
Eating properly during training can have a huge impact on your results. A healthy diet of lean meats, vegetables, and high-fiber grains is vital. We have a standing menu that includes at least 2-3 days of grilled chicken breast, whole grain brown rice, and some kind of vegetable that is often grilled as well. The other meals we alternate between pasta, nacho boats (recipe on the blog soon), and other moderately healthy meals. A good meal the night before and the morning before a race are important too. I try to eat some kind of gluten free pasta the night before and oatmeal and fruit the morning of a race.
Before you head out for a long run, remember to pack enough calories to replenish any energy that you are losing. I try to shoot for 200-400 calories/hour of running. It is important to practice eating in your practice runs so that you can be ready to eat on the run when race day gets here. My running snacks include KIND bars, CLIF bars, trail mix, PB&J sandwiches and an assortment of Honey Stinger waffles and GU's. Try different snacks to find out what works for you, everyone is different.
4. Plan Ahead
If I am running more than 5 miles, I carry water on my person. I use the Nathan Trail Mix 1 to carry 18 oz. of water and a few snacks/GU's. I normally only run with water for a few reasons. Sports drinks are often sticky if they are left in the car after a run and are not fun to clean after a long weekend. I try to cache a sports drink with no sugar like Powerade Zero or Gatorade G2 along a run to replenish any electrolytes that are worked off. Take time before your run to map out where you are going and make a goal for hydration. Plan to sip water at least every 1/2 mile to 1 mile and listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, you are already behind. If your planned route has you away from safe water sources, drive the route before hand and drop hydration. I like to reuse sports drink bottles that way if I forget about them or stop short of a cache, I am not out a bottle. I make every effort to keep the road/trail clean however, and have gone back occasions to retrieve dropped water bottles.
Safety is an extremely important part of planning long runs. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going and when to start looking for you if you don't contact them by a certain time. It is also vital to know the environment you will be running in. If you are running in a mountainous region that is known to have afternoon storms and bears, it'd be a good idea to pack a jacket and some bear spray. You will thank me later!
5. Baby Steps
If you have never ran a mile in your life, start small. If you train 6 weeks for a half marathon, you are asking for trouble. Start by working your way up to a 5k and go from there. There are many "Couch to 5k" training programs that will outline how to get there. There are very few people who can decide to run a 50k, train for 12 weeks and not injure themselves. Set a 1, 2, and 5 year goal on what you would like to accomplish with your running, then develop a plan to get there and accomplish your goals. My 1 year goal was to win a race ✓. My 2 year goal is to run an ultra, which I plan to accomplish in October. And my 5 year goal is to place in an ultra. Once you have established your goals, share them with us on Instagram or in the blog comments. We love hearing about others being successful and accomplishing their dreams.
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