In this article we’re going to look at how to prepare for long distance races.
In recent years, we’re seeing an increase in endurance tests and long distance races. More and more popular athletes are launching themselves into the adventure of ultra endurance tests.
- 1. What are long distance races
- 2. How do you prepare for your first long distance run?
- 3. How long does it take to prepare for a long distance race?
- 4. What type of training plan should I follow for a long distance race?
- 5. Useful tips for preparing for a long distance race
- 6. Dieting to run longer distances
- 7. Conclusions
What are long distance races
We’ll start by defining what long distance races are generally considered to be, focusing only on running races.
We’ll leave aside long distance events such as the Ironman, Triathlon, Ultra-Man or other ultra-endurance events of modalities other than running.
In the running modality, the long distance event par excellence is the Marathon, which consists of running a distance of 42,125 meters.
However, there are many other events that last longer that the olympic marathon distance: trail running events, for example, are usually much longer in terms of kilometres; with runs of 30, 60 or even 110 km.
How do you prepare for your first long distance run?
A hugely important aspect, which is often forgotten about by popular runners entering long distance races, is the level of commitment to yourself and to the training plan of the long distance race.
I’ll tell you now, it’s going to be extremely hard.
Preparation, that is, training for a long distance race, will involve spending a great deal of time on training, rest and personal care (visiting the physiotherapist, for example).
Above all, in the preparation period.
The process, although you have to learn to enjoy it, will be extremely hard a lot of the time.
You should also bear in mind that the length of the training session will usually be long.
When preparing for a long distance race correctly, and to organise and plan the training program on the calendar, there are various aspects you need to consider:
- Previous experience in similar events.
- Level of physical condition and current state of health.
- Minimum time required for adaption + preparation for the event.
- Training Plan commitment.
- Mental strength and training: the solitude of the events is a big part of them.
- Type of event: kilometres, terrain, date, time of year, weather, necessary equipment etc…
How long does it take to prepare for a long distance race?
The minimum time needed for a long distance race training plan, for already trained athletes with previous experience of events of this type, is between 12- 16 weeks of specific training.
In the case of athletes who do not have previous experience in long distance races, in addition to that specific period of 16 weeks, a previous period of adaptation and general training would also be necessary.
The physical condition of the runner is also an element to be taken into account, and several tests and evaluations will be necessary at the beginning of the training programme in order to establish the necessary parameters for improvement and development.
How do I know if I’m ready?
If the plan has been followed in its entirety, you’ll be all set, although in reality you’ll always have fears and doubts before the unknown.
If you’ve trained hard and been consistent with each and every one of your weekly training plans, you’ll know if you’re ready.
- Take the studious route;
- Have a supplementation plan; and
- Leave nothing to chance (although unforeseen events can always occur), all the material is ready…
All of this will give you the confidence in yourself you’ll need to tackle a Long Distance race.
Points to consider in advance
Time available to be able to carry out good planning and training for this type of event.
An athlete doing a long distance race must take into account that the preparation phase not only implies more tedious and longer periods of training, but they need to consider that there will be other type of activities that, during that specific peak period, they will have to leave aside.
- Environment plays an important role, as it will help the athlete feel more supported and able to better combine training sessions with other hobbies, family life etc.
- Rest and self care are other fundamental aspects, alongside nutrition and supplementation (as we look at below).
- Other aspects to be considered include attending to the expenses and logistics of the race: the journey to the place of the race, sign-up expenses for the long distance race, logistics of the trip etc.
Why is this? Many popular runners sign up for events impulsively and don’t take into account these kinds of logistical aspects that will affect the whole plan.
Patience and consistency are two key aspects when preparing for long distance events: ideally, before embarking on a long distance race, the athlete should have experienced other events of the same characteristics but over shorter distances.
Long distance running, and its preparation, sometimes takes years of physical and psychological preparation, so patience is be a virtue to be developed..
On the other hand, and very importantly, you should seek the help of a trainer who specialises in the type of event you’re going to do, one who can not only plan properly and adjust the plan, when necessary, but with whom you can have good and honest communication throughout the process.
What type of training plan should I follow for a long distance race?
It depends on your experience, (longer period of adaption and general preparation) and the type of event.
40 kilometres are not the same as a 100 kilometre race with big slopes
Generally, the plan should be completely adapted to the individuals circumstances and characteristics and the event in question, which we can divid into the Training Cycle in different phases or mesocycles.
General Preparation Mesocycle
For 6-10 weeks.
In this period we’ll lay the foundations of the training plan and focus on training the basics related to:
- General physical conditioning;
- Aerobic training with occasional high-intensity sessions; as well as
- Testing and evaluating different parameters of the athlete.
Specific Preparation Period
Between 12-16 weeks before the event.
During this period, which will be divided into mesocycle and weekly training cycles, the qualities required by the athlete for long-distance running will be worked on more specifically.
It depends on the Periodisation model chosen, but you’ll generally start with relatively high volumes and low intensities:
- We have to bear in mind that long distance races are done inlow training zones, close to the ventilatory threshold,and it is this part that must be developed, improved and trained from the point of view of energy systems..
- Also included will be Specific Strength sessions on a weekly basis, and even other types of sessions that improve cardiovascular training but minimise the risk of injury and joint impact.
This is usually followed by a period of increasing session intensity, attempting to simulate as close as possible the conditions of a Long Distance race day.
Normally, mesocycles are divided into 4-week microcycles, in which 3 weeks are for loading and one week for unloading (in general terms).
We have a first week (3 weeks before the event) of recovering from the test run and specific work at competition rates.
Then we enter the period known as “Tapering”, two weeks before the long distance race.
The training volume usually reduces by around 40%, even more than the previous week, but maintains the intensity.
Useful tips for preparing for a long distance race
Work with an aerobic base, at low intensities
Start with the knowledge that long distance races take place in training areas close to the ventilatory threshold 1, more or less close to the lactate threshold, and it is in these ranges that we have to get the athlete to be really efficient.
Improve fat metabolism
Through food and training strategies in areas whose main metabolic pathway is the oxidation of fats.
This is radically different to more explosive and short distance races.
This type of race involves a great deal of muscular demand and resistance, so general and specific strength work should be present throughout the long distance race preparation programme.
Work on running technique
As efficiency must be paramount, alongside metabolic flexibility, strength must also be coupled with running technique.
The better the technique, the better efficiency and more energy saved.
Energy intake and hydration play a crucial role in long term tests and should be trained before: both in preparatory races (trial competitions) and in key training sessions.
An athlete should be self-sufficient and have the necessary material for the execution of the race.
Training capacity and tolerance
It’s hugely important that the athlete progressively tolerates the training loads so that adaptations at metabolic, cardio respiratory and muscular levels can take place.
You can’t sacrifice hours of sleep or moments of simply zoning out for wanting to put in more training.
Along with nutritional planing, recover and rest will be your best allies to guarantee your body and mind take on the tough training.
Dieting to run longer distances
A while ago I wrote an article where I detailed the general characteristics of Nutrition in Endurance sports.
Understanding which metabolic pathways are predominant in the event – competition rhythm goals – and the duration of the event, will define the nutritional strategy: type of food, supplements and amounts of hydrates, proteins, mineral salts etc, to be consumed by the athlete.
In the case of runners facing a long distance race for the first time, it’s advisable to have a Sports Nutritionist who can work together with the trainer to adjust the daily food intake and supplementation required throughout the season.
From my experience, I can only say that you have to be very cautious and slow down when faced with the impulsiveness of signing up for a Long Distance race without first taking into account everything I have mentioned here.
All this will be rewarded when we cross the coveted finish line with dignity!
- Do you know the best supplements for marathons? Visit this link.
- The Tapering phase is when you’re in peak shape… continue reading.