How to Prepare for Long Distance Races: What You Need to Know to Be Successful

How to Prepare for Long Distance Races: What You Need to Know to Be Successful

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.

What are long distance races

We’ll start by defining what long distance races are generally considered to be, focusing only on running races.

What are long distance 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.

Any event that lasts more than approximately 3-5 hours can be considered as a Long Distance race.

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).

Prepare a long distance run

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.

However, the focus of the athlete must be on going to the event as well prepared as possible. There will also be type B events, preparation events and key training at very specific times within the training plan.

Tips

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.

Medical tests will also be necessary to check that our athlete is in good health, that their analysis is correct and that they don’t suffer from any deficiency that could affect the training programme.

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.

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For this purpose, it’s a good idea to do an event in the preparation period: competition as a trial to verify that everything is going well in terms of training adaptations.

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.

Long distance races

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.

For example, if you want to run a marathon, ideally you should have done a half marathon previously. In our article we explain in full detail what you need to know about this particular event.

Psychological preparation

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.

For this type of long distance race, individualisation is key for proper preparation for the event. There’s no “one size fits all”.

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

This type of characteristic, as well as those mentioned above, will determine the specific training plan and its variables: weekly volume of kilometres, accumulated weekly difference in slopes, duration of sessions, etc.

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.
Workout time, aerobic base, general strength, maximum strength, technique, injury prevention exercise programme.

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.
Swimming and cycling sessions appear to be the perfect way to improve cardiovascular levels, but with an infinitely lesser impact on the joints than you would expect in a race.

Intensification Period

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).

Between 4-5 weeks before the race, a B character competition is usually included, in order to put everything into practice, simulate the day of the long distance race we’re preparing for, and to test both the form and supplementation. This way, we have time to make adjustments if necessary.

Pre-Competition Period

We have a first week (3 weeks before the event) of recovering from the test run and specific work at competition rates.

Tapering

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.

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It’s important to prioritise rest, as on event days we usually don’t sleep too much. So the more we rest, the better.

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.

The greatest energy input will come from the lipid system: training should be carried out in these areas to generate the necessary adaptations and to improve the athlete’s energy efficiency as much as possible.

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.

Strength training

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.

Technique is also worked on in the first phases of a training programme. Here we give you some tips on how to improve your running technique.

Gut Training

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.

As we’ve noted in previous articles, poor nutritional and supplementation planning can ruin a race due to gastrointestinal discomfort and poor management of supplement choice can lead to the athlete having to abandon 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.

Rest will help you assimilate the loads, your body will adapt, and you’ll avoid overtraining and losing motivation.

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.

This way, the digestive system and the supply of necessary nutrients can be optimised according to the volume and intensity of training.

Conclusions

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.

We need to wait for the moment when we know that we’ll be able to commit ourselves for a long period of time, have the focus for preparation and consistency, and know that the process will often be hard.

All this will be rewarded when we cross the coveted finish line with dignity!

Related Entries

  • Do you know the best supplements for marathons? Visit this link.
  • The Tapering phase is when you’re in peak shape… continue reading.
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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Sport runs in the blood of Isabel, which she has proven since she was very little up until now. She wants to share that passion with all those who are passionate about sports.
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