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Marathon training: Tips for long distance runners

January 14, 2010 11:15 IST
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If you've been running a long time and are prepping for the Mumbai Marathon on January 17, here are a few additional tips to keep you going all the way through.

Long distance events are great for those athletes who enjoy running and have a desire to maintain dedicated training throughout the week on a long-term basis. Success in the distance events comes from planning. Training must be consistent and progressive. The training sessions are designed to physiologically and psychologically enhance an athlete's potential to maximise his/ her competition experiences.

However, there is a risk involved when demanding too much from the body too soon. If a runner wants to reach the point where long distances become very manageable and less physically stressful, then it's essential to build up running distances very slowly over time. Running is considered a 'high impact' exercise because of the jarring effect it has on the body with every single foot-fall. Although the knees bear much of the burden, the impact that results when each foot meets the ground affects the entire skeletal frame. Over time, the body will adapt to the constant demands as muscles, ligaments and tendons eventually strengthen and the runner's conditioning improves.

The physical and mental challenges which face the long distance runner are huge. The long distance run is the ultimate test of stamina and mental concentration combined. There are no quick fixes to making long runs easy; it is often down to hard work, grit and determination, but there are a few tips which can maybe make the task just a little easier.

Pacing: There is no such thing as too slow when you set out on a long distance run. If you are aiming for a specific time then for the first 10 percent of the distance, consider going at 85-90 percent of the pace needed. Do not go over 100 percent -- any time gained in the early stages is normally exponentially lost in the latter stages.

Stay loose: Some runners tense their shoulders and arms when they start to get fatigued, leading to neck and back pain. You can prevent tensing-up and slouching by shaking out your arms and shoulders regularly. Also, make sure you don't ball your hands up in a tight fist as that tightness will radiate up your arms, shoulders and neck.

Rethink the mileage: Mentally break your course into smaller sections. Your 20 km run will feel much more doable if you break it into four five-kilometre segments. Once you get to the 15 kilometre mark of a 20 kilometre run, think to yourself, "Okay, just under 5K from here".

Stride: This is another technique that will help your legs feel less tired. When running, you have a stride length. That is how far you go with each step. Sprinters have large strides to go fast (you will notice your stride automatically gets larger as you increase speed) while long distance runners should have a smaller step. Smaller steps will conserve energy. So the next time you run, you should decrease your stride to a little lower than your normal jog stride.

Choose your ideal path: The best place to run is a smooth dirt path. Concrete sidewalks can jar your joints as you run. Indoor and outdoor tracks offer a great surface but can get pretty boring pretty fast. If you choose to run on grass, make sure you stay aware throughout your run for obstacles or uneven patches.

Breathing: Here is a technique that will help your cardiovascular system to conserve energy. When you breathe, you probably breathe mostly from the chest. Then, when you finish, you have a heaving chest. Instead of breathing entirely from your chest, you should breathe from your stomach too (belly breathing). That way, you will take in more oxygen because it fills up the whole lung. It also splits the work that the muscles have to do to get you the right amount of air. Your chest will still be heaving after a long run, but it should be much better than before.

Take a walking break: Don't feel guilty if you stop or walk to get the fluids down during your long run. Many people walk through water stops in marathons. And taking a short walking break gives your running muscles a quick rest, so you'll feel more energised and refreshed when you start running again.

Hydrate: Dehydration can make you weak and dizzy and can leave you with chills even on the warmest day. Drinking plenty of fluids during your long run is probably the most important thing you can do to keep healthy throughout.

Proper fuel: Running out of energy at the end of a long run is known as 'hitting the wall'. Properly fueling during your long run can help you avoid becoming overly tired (which is when you become prone to injury). Sports gels, bagels, bananas, raisins, and candy are all good choices for food to eat on the run. Sports drinks are a good energy alternative if eating while running causes nausea. If training for a marathon, long runs are a good opportunity to learn what type of fuel works best for you before the big race.

Listen to music: Adding tunes to your next long run can help pass the time by taking your mind off of the seemingly endless journey ahead. A well-timed beat can help to get the blood going or start it up again midway through the run. Also, consider multiple playlists for different runs to keep the music fresh. Either way, music can really make a difference during a long distance trek, so don't leave home without it.

Know your goals: This is probably the most important tip of all. Though the previous ones can help you, you are the one who decides if you really want to finish the run or not. If you have the motivation, you can do it. Assess why you started running and work out why it is important to you. And that is the biggest motivation booster you can get. As people say, where there's a will, there's a way.

Find some buddies to run with: Running with other people can be a great way to keep your mind off the distance you are trying to cover. If you don't have any friends that enjoy running, there are usually a lot of running groups around any city that are welcoming to new comers. Make sure you run with people who are at about your pace so you don't have to push yourself beyond what you can do.

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