From 5K to a full marathon: The best way to train for a long run

Click to play video: 'The Training Ground: How does an ultra marathoner train for a race?'
The Training Ground: How does an ultra marathoner train for a race?
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Whether you’re lacing up your running shoes for the first time or a seasoned runner looking to up your game, the arrival of marathon season brings a time of excitement and challenge for people of all levels.

Marathon season offers a range of distances to run, from the quick sprint of a 5K to the ultimate endurance challenge of an ultramarathon. And the key to any race is consistency and careful planning, experts say.

“Usually springtime is when people are starting to get outside and start running as it’s nice to be out in the fresh air,” said Lydia Di Francesco, a wellness specialist based in Ottawa. “The biggest thing people need to be aware of when it comes to running is doing their research, especially if they’re beginners.”

The reason for this precaution is to avoid injuries, as a running-related ailment can inflict significant damage to your body, Di Francesco told Global News.

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Click to play video: 'Training for a marathon can help rejuvenate your heart'
Training for a marathon can help rejuvenate your heart

“People don’t realize that with running injuries, they can last a long time,” she said. “It’s not just like bumping into something and getting a bruise.”

Lauren Roberts, a Toronto-based physiotherapist and running coach, said the crux of marathon training is running consistently.

“There’s nothing else to cheat running. So you just have to slowly improve every single tissue in your body’s resiliency towards that actual movement,” she said.

There are strategies to help you stick to your running schedule, prevent injuries and successfully complete your race. Here are some expert tips on the most effective training methods for distances spanning from a 5K to a full marathon.

Set clear goals

Before embarking on a training plan, experts advise that setting a clear goal, whether it’s simply completing the race or improving your time, is the initial step.

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“There are definitely differences in terms of a beginner versus a seasoned runner,” Di Francesco said. “If you have never run before, maybe set a goal to run 10K. Usually, people come up with the distance that works best for them, find a good plan, and then stick with the plan as best as you can.”

Roberts cautioned that running a full marathon requires more effort than people realize, emphasizing that the key to a successful race is to be realistic about your abilities.

For instance, if you’re preparing for a full marathon, she suggested maintaining a weekly running regimen of at least 40 to 50 kilometres, spread across four to five sessions per week.

“But if you’re only going out two to three times a week and running 15 to 20 kilometres a week, we suggest that you pare the goal down to maybe the half marathon first,” she said.

Build a training plan

Marathon training schedules typically span 16 to 20 weeks, tailored to individual goals, Di Francesco said. Throughout this period, runners typically train three to five days a week, gradually increasing their distance in preparation for race day.

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“With any training program, you’re getting your body used to running that distance, and you can’t just go from zero to five or zero to 42. So you have to get your body used to doing that,” she explained. “The training programs typically increase your distance slowly over a period of weeks.”

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She added that the biggest mistake people can make is starting too fast and not allowing their bodies to get used to the distance.

Click to play video: 'How to get ready for race day'
How to get ready for race day

The best way to structure any training plan, regardless of the distance, is to incorporate a full week of active recovery every fourth week, Roberts said.

“A classic training plan will have a three-week build, where each week consecutively adds a little bit more distance. And then the fourth week you’re still running, but it’s maybe half of what you did for those three weeks,” she said. “And what that does is it lets your body absorb all the training that you just did, and allows those ligaments to strengthen up, tendons to strengthen up, muscles to strengthen up.

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For reliable training guidance, both Roberts and Di Francesco suggest turning to reputable running websites or apps that can assist you in customizing a plan. Some marathons also provide their training plans.

Rest days and strength training

Beyond the kilometres logged and the pavement pounded, incorporating rest days and cross-training activities into your routine can be instrumental in achieving peak performance and preventing injury.

Di Francesco recommended incorporating strength training, pilates or yoga sessions into your weekly routine, along with regular rest days.

“A rest day should really be a rest day,” she said. “And that’s another error sometimes people make is that they don’t give themselves enough time for their body to rest. Your body absolutely needs to recover. That’s how your muscles grow stronger.”

For strength training, Di Francesco emphasized focusing on core work, highlighting the importance of having strong abdominals for running. Also, integrating bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and push-ups into your routine can enhance overall strength and stability.

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Warm up and cool down

Preparing your body for a run begins with a proper warm-up, essential for priming muscles, increasing circulation and preventing injury.

Some runners may opt to start their warm-up with a few minutes of walking or a light jog, which is an excellent approach, Roberts said.

“It might be something as simple as gradually increasing walk, just slowly warming up the body a little bit. My personal favourite is using the band loops to do some really simple hip exercises,” she said.

“Hips are very much the anchor of the body. With running, they have to absorb a lot of force and be able to propel both the lower body and the upper body. And so by warming up those muscles, it sets the stage for what you’re about to do for the next 20, 30, 60 minutes.”

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What to eat

Understanding how to properly fuel your body before and after a run can significantly impact your performance and recovery.

Before a run, Di Francesco suggests experimenting to find what best suits your body. Some prefer running on an empty stomach in the morning, while others opt for carbs for extra energy.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Marathon: Sports Nutrition Plans'
Manitoba Marathon: Sports Nutrition Plans

If you do choose carbs, quick options like cereal or pancakes, which provide simple sugars for immediate energy, can be effective. However, Di Francesco advises avoiding eating within 30 minutes of a run to prevent discomfort.

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In terms of post-run, I would say typically you’re probably going to look at having some kind of a meal with all the macronutrients,” she recommended. “So you’re looking at getting some protein back in your body. Getting some carbs, as there’s been a massive carb depletion, then even some of the healthy fats as well.”

Watch for injuries

It’s crucial to prioritize injury prevention when training for a marathon, as overlooking this aspect could result in setbacks, impeding your progress and even jeopardizing your training journey entirely.

Experiencing general muscle soreness is normal, Roberts said, which is often felt as pain evenly distributed on both sides, like in the calves, knees or quads after a run.

Click to play video: 'Running a marathon? Strength training?  Global News Morning finds the perfect pair of kicks for you this spring'
Running a marathon? Strength training? Global News Morning finds the perfect pair of kicks for you this spring

“But any time that you’re running and there’s point tenderness, particularly if it’s along something bony like a shin or a big toe, those are two really common spots where things like stress fractures happen,” she warned.

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“My analogy is always, ‘That’s the engine light in your car going on. So you wouldn’t just drive through that.'”

If you experience point tenderness, she suggested stopping and resting for around 10 to 14 days before attempting to resume. If the pain persists, she advised seeking help from a physiotherapist.

Be realistic

The marathon day has arrived, but alas, you find yourself unprepared due to illness or unforeseen life events. What’s the best course of action?

Di Francesco advised that if you’ve run out of time for additional training before the race, it’s important to consider either walking part of the race or, if necessary, cancelling altogether.

“A lot of times people have this mentality that they have to run the whole thing, or it doesn’t count,” she said.

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“And if they walked for a few minutes that all of a sudden that negates them running the race. And that’s not true. A lot of professional runners actually build in walking moments in their races as a bit of active recovery.”

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