The truth is, anyone who wants to become a distance runner can. I am going to share with you some of my own tips and tricks, what I do to increase the mileage. Things that anyone can do to help themselves build the mileage too.
(Disclaimer: I am not a sports doctor or certified coach. All thoughts below are my opinion and should not be taken as advice. No exercise program should be started without speaking to your doctor first to make sure you are ready for it.)
First I want to say, increasing your mileage correctly most of the time will NOT bring on injury. A lot of people thing it will, but that is a myth!
Generally speed work, when not ready for it is what causes injuries. Or working on speed at the same time you are working on increasing your distance is what causes injury. So let thoughts of injuries drift out of your mind!
You should follow this rule of thumb when increasing distance. Each week, only add 10% more to your longest run each week.
If you are in the middle of increasing mileage and you are following some type of training program and you have a bad week, or you get sick. The biggest mistake runners make is think, they need to make up for that week. That is a BIG mistake.
If your long run was 13, and you skipped it, and the next week your plan says to do 16. Don't, just do the 13 and in the future weeks you can bump it up gradually to be back on track.
I personally disagree with these (X amount of week) training plans for newer runners for this reason. Runners think they have to follow them exactly and they don't allow for "when life happens." Which any one who's been running distance for a while will tell you, life happens often!
If you do decide you can't increase your mileage without following one of these "training plan methods" just be careful and take precaution and don't try to "make up, for missed runs!" In other words, be smart!
For those who'd like a few tips and tricks, here are mine!
2. Decide before you go out and run, how far you are going to go! Many make the mistake and tell themselves, I will start and see how I feel after a few miles and decide how far I will go today from there. That is kinda dumb, because if you think you might not be up for it ahead of time, chances are you probably won't. But if you tell yourself I am going out for X amount of miles, you will!
3. Go further. If your feeling great, and you have hit your goal for the day. If time allows, go ahead and go a little further. If you're goal was say 10 miles and you hit it, and your feeling pretty good. Chances are if you do 11-13 you'll be fine.
Just make sure you're keeping it within reason. If you have only been working up to 10, and you're feeling so awesome you think you can do 18. Don't! Your body isn't ready for it. Keep it within the 10% rule, or within 1-3 additional miles once you hit the double digits.
4. Push through the tired that's what distance runners do! If it's your "long run" day, and you are tired or not feeling it. Even if that first mile feels absolutely sluggish. Assuming your not sick. Keep going, push through the tired,even if the entire long run feels this way.
I have learned that these "bad" run day's are actually some of the most beneficial to me. It not only teaches your mind to tough it out. But you're pushing on tired.
When your in your race, and you get tired, those bad tired training runs that you pushed through are going to be the absolute best thing to help you get through any tough times in a race.
So many people think that if they are too tired, or sluggish that they may injure themselves. Assuming you're running consistently and smartly increasing your mileage, these days aren't going to injure you. In my experience these are the days that do nothing but help me in more ways than one, they are also the days that teach the "mental game of distance running" and that is as important if not more to learn as it is to get in the mileage!
5. Peppermint. Sounds funny, but it's been proven if you suck on a little peppermint when you first start your run, you'll end up working out harder and longer than you would have without it. So if you're having one of those day's or mornings and you're having a hard time pushing yourself out the door. Stick some of this in your mouth first. I promise it really works!
6. Pick an out and back course! I hate loop courses, or courses that run past the same section to many times. It messes with your mind, especially if you see your home, or car and know you still have so much further to go.
If you're working on building your mileage the BEST thing you can do to insure you'll do it, is pick an out and back course.
Most runners feel great for the first half of their long run, which is why if you are on an out and back course you can't really cheat and cut it short. Because you have to turn around to get home.
Additionally, they are also great for another reason. If you are feeling great, running an extra mile out is so much easier to do before you turn around, than on a loop.
Seriously, it's the best way to add a few "sneaked in extra miles" when your building mileage.
If you think you will cheat and call for a ride, don't take your cell phone with you!
Even if you end up having to walk a little, it will still help some! Cutting it short, won't help at all!
After all, the point of the longs runs are mainly to teach your body, feet and legs what it is like to be on them for long periods of time. You can't do that, if you keep cutting your runs short!
7. To run alone or with a group and how to handle group long runs. I prefer to run alone, because I am accountable for myself. That way no running partner who is having a bad day can stop me from my goal.
But if you do run with a group, make sure you agree beforehand. If someone is having a bad day, they can turn around on their own instead of their bad day forcing the entire group back. I see this often on trails, groups and one runner is having a bad day stopping to walk or turn around. The rest feel obligated to do so. But if you all agree ahead of time that their is a goal in mind, and you won't let each other stop you from it, no feelings are hurt and you can insure you get your mileage in.
8. I disagree with the "run less" training plans for distance runners. I know this is a hot topic for some. I also know some runners do quite well with them. For me personally and if I am ever going to recommend a tip for someone who wants to become a distance runner and build up their mileage, I will always stand by my opinion on this. I have tried them, and don't agree with them! I don't feel they allow the body to correctly build and get used to the repeated mileage needed to get your muscles and joints used to distance running. I believe in 5 or 6 day training. Like I said, others may have different opinions, but since it's my blog I can put my opinion out there:) I actually believe the run less plans are when runners get injured the most, I see it all the time:).
On this note, I also disagree with run streaking, the body needs rest and I believe in at least 1 day rest, and even 1 day cross training!
I personally like my rest day to be the day right after the long run, lets the small muscle (soreness) heal better, faster and can reduce injury.
Here is My Take on Run Less Plans.
9. NEVER work on speed and distance at the same time!!! I mentioned this above, but let me elaborate. If you want to get injured, or increase your chances of injury then doing speed and distance together may get you that injury.
I personally find working on distance first is the best. If my goal is to train for a marathon, I work up to my 18 milers, and after I have done 3-4 of them and my body is used to them. After that I may incorporate speed work into my weekly routines if I have the time.
DON'T work a week on distance then a week on speed and back and forth.
Also, DON'T do speed work and building to new distances during the same week!!!
If you want to work up to a specific distance, get their first and get your body used to it for a few weeks. After you are, then if you want to work on speed for a few weeks, before going back to building distance again, that is fine. Just remember to NEVER do them at the same time! (I can't say that enough:)
When I talk to someone who gets injured in training, I can't tell you how many times if I listen to how they trained, I hear them say they were doing speed work while they were still building mileage. So of course they got injured, they weren't training smart!
11. It's okay to push it, it's supposed to hurt! There is a point (and this will happen time and time again) where you are going to have to push through some pain, push through some miles. When this happens, your mind will tell you, you can't or you need to walk. But the reality is, if you push through it, keep on running through it even if you have to slow the pace a little. You're eventually going to start feeling better (most the time:).
You've heard of the term "catching a 2nd wind?" Well the truth is, it is not only a real thing, but for distance runners you'll find you can catch a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and maybe even more in a long run or race. But you can't catch it if you don't push through and learn to push through it to get to it.
In fact in training if you stop and walk, or cut it short you'll just miss out on learning what your body can be pushed to do, and how it can actually feel good again a short time later.
This is something that can't really be put into words, but do it and experience it and you'll see what I mean!
10. Have fun and enjoy it, pain and all or give it up for now. If you're not enjoying running distance, then don't do it! Or back off for a while until you want to do it again. If you force it, you're just going to grow to hate it. Distance running isn't for everyone, and can be for people at different times in their life. If you need to stick to 5k's or 10k's then do it, they are awesome distances too and can be a lot of fun!!!
Distance running takes a lot of time away from your family and life. If now is not the right time. Then wait a few years and try it when you have more time for yourself or when your family life gets a little less demanding.
After all, when you train for it right and have the right amount of time to put into it. There is nothing greater than being out on that 16 miler and feeling great like you could run another 16!
Those are my tips and what I do. I am not a sports coach or doctor, but I can tell you this. In 39 marathons, and training for them. I have never been injured while training and building distance, nor have I ever been injured while running distance.
Personally, I attribute it to training smart, and building distance correctly!
I too have had to start from scratch this past year. So I am well aware of how it feels to build the mileage slowly, it hurts and at times it can be daunting. But trust me, if you want to do it eventually those higher miles are going to get easier and easier. A little pain in training is worth it when you've crossed that 13.1, 26.2 or more finish line!