When should I start running longer distances?
The question above is one of the most frequently asked questions from runners of all abilities.
I have been asked to try and put a few words together to answer it ….
Unfortunately for me, and anyone asking the question, there is no definitive answer. So, I will write what I consider to be my own personal answer to the question and how I would try to explain to someone if we were having a one-to-one chat. If anyone disagrees, then no offence will be taken. As I said, there is no exact answer to this and even Googling the question throws up many different views from many experts who are far more qualified than me.
The subject easily slots in alongside “what trainers?”, “what to wear?”, “what to eat?”, “what to drink?”, “running styles”, etc and, as in all these things, it is best to find out what suits you as an individual. But this isn’t helping with an answer so here goes ….
My own view, in relation to us as the Walney Wind Cheetahs Running Group, is as follows:
From the moment you first join us you are always stepping up in distance. As in all things running, there are no set rules to follow. If that were the case, then every runner and every running club in the country would be doing exactly the same. However, from studying literally dozens of running programmes, there is one common factor – they all start off very easy and progress very gradually. This is the running equivalent of building your house on solid ground. You will establish a good base from which to progress, you will allow your muscles, joints and respiratory system to adjust to each step of the way, and hopefully it will enable you to avoid lots of injuries, enjoy your running and subsequently achieve your goals.
Our beginners programme was put together using what we considered to be the “best bits” from many other programmes. All of you will know that the time and distance you run increases from the very first session. This policy continues throughout until you reach a point where you can run a 5km without stopping. This is the point when it all gets a bit messy and people get nervous and scared of running any further.
There are the “mythical milestones” of 10km, half marathon and full marathon and even Keswick to Barrow.
You do not have to jump straight up from 5km to 10km. The principles followed in beginners’ training programmes should still apply to extreme distances. Take it easy and increase your distance slowly.
Another common factor, in most of the articles I have read, is not to increase your distance by more than 10% per week. This 10% is only a very general guide but it is one which crops up time and time again.
So back to the WWC
When is someone ready to move up from running on Mondays and Wednesdays to Sundays and Tuesdays?
This can vary massively from person to person. On a Monday and Wednesday our runners tend to run somewhere between 4km and 7km, depending on whereabouts you are in the group and how much looping back you do.
On Sundays and Tuesdays we generally tend to cover anywhere between 8km and 12km, again dependent on your position within the group. The big difference between Mon/Wed and Sun/Tues is the fact that there are no designated “walking periods”. However, if you need to stop and walk, as many people do, this is not a problem. The big problem people appear to have, and this also applies to many Run Leaders, is they think that if they are at the back of the group they will be “holding people up” and that the faster people at the front of the group will be annoyed or irritated by having to keep “looping back”.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I will try to explain as simply as I can, using two examples. In both examples imagine we are setting off on a Sunday morning, to run a circular route which measures exactly 8 km:
Example 1 : Only 4 people turn up to run who all run at approximately the same pace.
These 4 people will all run together and, therefore, no looping back will be required. At the end of the session they will have covered exactly 8km and using my own average running pace of 12kph this would have taken us approximately 40 minutes.
Example 2 : 35 people turn up to run and the range of fitness levels and abilities is quite varied.
The 4 people quoted in Example 1 will be running at a faster pace than the people at the back, with everyone else running somewhere in between. The guys at the front will be looping back every 4 or 5 minutes to keep the group intact and everyone will be encouraging and motivating each other throughout the session.
At the end of the session the people at the back, who have done no looping at all, will have covered the exact route distance of 8km. At an average pace of 8kph this will have taken approximately 64 minutes (8km x 8 minutes) which is how long our Sun/Tues sessions usually last.
The faster guys at the front, who run 5 mins per km, will have covered approximately 13km (64 divided by 5)
Everyone else will have covered somewhere between 8km and 13km.
So you can see, that by looping back, the same group of front runners have covered more ground over the exact same course. This is has never been a problem for anyone, that is exactly what they want to be doing, and there are always two alternatives if you don’t want to loop back.
What will make Sundays and Tuesdays feel more comfortable for people stepping up in distance is the number of runners taking part. The more runners, the fewer gaps there are and the group will feel much tighter:
When the group are looping you can always stop and walk back in the direction of the backmarker. This will enable you to have a “recovery break”.
Another alternative is to actually stop altogether, take a recovery break, then join in when the backmarkers catch up to you.
So back to the initial question of when to step up from the Monday/ Wednesday groups to the Sunday/ Tuesday sessions?
The WWC do not have any set rules for this, it is left to each person’s own judgement but if anyone has ever asked me confidentially, for my opinion, I would use the following guide.
If you can complete the 5km parkrun course, without stopping to walk, in under 40 minutes, then I reckon you would be capable of joining in on Sundays and Tuesdays. If you cannot run a 5km without stopping then, personally, I feel you would not be ready to step up to a longer run and would potentially be putting yourself at risk of injury. Even worse, you may find it a real struggle which would then put you off ever trying it again!!
Increasing from 10km to further?
This is another, totally different, and equally confusing subject. At this stage your running has obviously developed quite well and you have really got the bug. Whatever your goals now become I would offer the following bits of advice:
- Firstly make sure you are physically and medically OK for a big step up in distance.
- It’s always worth having an M.O.T. with your G.P. beforehand.
- Research a few recommended training programmes (there are literally hundreds online) and then decide on one which suits your needs and fits in with your lifestyle.
- After you have picked your programme, stick to it religiously and remember that a “rest day” is for “resting” which means no running.
- Follow the increases in distances strictly on a week-to-week basis, they are designed to prevent injuries and make sure you build up on a solid base.
Hope all this is of use to you and explains a few things. As I said at the start, these are only my views on the subject and the final decision ultimately comes down to you. My final point on this is to remember that the WWC is a running group aimed at getting people active and hopefully a bit fitter and healthier. We are not an athletics club and neither are we qualified athletic coaches. If you are quite happy running 4km or 5km once or twice per week, with your friends, in a relaxed, happy atmosphere, then that is what we are primarily here for. There is no pressure to take things any further. We all have our own individual goals and targets we would like to achieve. The one absolute certainty in all of this is that, whatever those targets are for you, the WWC Committee and your fellow runners will be with you all the way.