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Increasing Distance, Not Pain

Increasing your long distance runs each week should be done methodically. What to do before, during, and after your runs.

By Alix Shutello

I was at .84 miles on the treadmill when the first bead of sweat started to form on my brow. It was 2:50 PM and I had started my 8 mile run on the treadmill, knowing I’d be on this overused clunker for 80 minutes or so. It was a run I had done many times before on the treadmills in my gym in year’s past, and with a 10-miler on my horizon this was the first in series of 3 weeks that I will run this distance on Saturdays.

I’ve had a very hectic life the past six months – work has been increasingly challenging. Our corporate headquarters have just moved from Virginia to Maryland and my commute will double. I have had a difficult time adjusting to the thought of this drive; thinking of my upcoming race keeps me focused however. I refuse to let the stress of my work life interfere with my running even though it has before, unfortunately.

The mental preparation for my run takes hours. I start by telling myself how exciting it will be to run. I go to bed at 9:30 PM on Friday night and try for a full 9 hours of sleep. I am groggy the next morning and it’s raining outside; a breezy cold rain where one moment it’s a mist and the next, sheets of rain. Unlike last weekend, where the 45 degree weather and sunshine were perfect for a long run,  the rain made my decision to run indoors all the more prudent.  I resolved myself to leaving the house  to run at my gym instead of run at home on my treadmill. There were too many distractions with the kids and their playdates.

Mental Prep: It is preferable to just get out of bed on Saturdays or Sundays and just hop out the door for a run solo or with a partner or running group. This way, you don’t really have time to think about your run because you are just going out to do it.  Truth was I had decided to run on the treadmill the day before because I knew the weather would be bad and between Saturday morning activities and the fact that the weight of my job was on my shoulders, I decided to run in the afternoon indoors. This meant I had to work hard to keep myself mentally excited. It helped that while driving my son to CCD I saw a group of trainers standing in the soaking rain at one of their makeshift water tables as I drove past on the bike path. That only means one thing; one of the team in training groups has a long run of some sort, and at 8:30 this morning it was pouring buckets!

I smiled, knowning I was going to run under the warm lights of my gym using both my Iphone and the many large-screen TVs as a much-needed distraction from my thoughts of the client Web site with an error I have to fix, two magazines I need to read through before press time on Monday, and a nagging book proposal I seem to scared to write.

At precisely 2:30 I left for Bally’s.  At 2:50 I stood on my treadmill, plugged the ear phones into my phone and resolved myself to the fact that the TV with the sports channel was down and I would be watching music videos for the next 80 minutes. By this moment my mind was clear. There was no doubt I was going to complete my training run. Not only were there only a few people at the gym, I got one of the machines that runs for 90 minutes before shutting down. I pressed the machine’s buttons and started off at a 10 minute pace to warm up.

Periodicity: Training for Your Distance Using Specific Periods.
In running, the body acclimates to distance by adding it slowly through time. While training, the body becomes accustomed to a distance about every three weeks. Last weekend I had run my third 7-miler so this week, I added another mile and will run 8-miles for the next two Saturdays after this one.

Three weeks before adding another mile? You ask. Well, if you body is going to adequately adapt to a distance you have to do it a few times before adding more mileage. The body does not adapt merely by tacking on a mile every week, though that’s what most recreational marathoners do. It’s probably not the right way to train, but everyone is in such a rush to achieve huge goals in short periods of time. Everything from losing weight to running distance to even managing a marriage takes years and years and years. People just don’t want to hear that.

During the Run: What’s On Your Mind?
It takes a mental toughness to run long distance. After a while you start to lose it mentally. Doubt, boredom, fear or whatever can creep into your mind, even when you have Madonna blasting and you are watching teenie bopper music videos.  The fact is on the treadmill you can literally watch every second and every one hundredth of a mile go by. It can get maddening, but even outside, as you trudge on to the next mile marker or other predetermined interval the tendency to speed up becomes overwhelming. 

If you are an advanced runner, such as yours truly, speeding up a little is fine. For example I increased my pace 10 seconds per mile at mile three, and then by 20 seconds a mile from miles 3-6. I then finished at a 9:30 mile, hardly a sprint. Training is not done at a pace that will wear you out or worse, injure you.  On the treadmill the ability to speed up is all to easy, however. Just move your finger to those little buttons and all of a sudden you are running up-tempo just to finish the distance and/or keep up with the heavy metal song now playing on your music device. Or, perhaps an attractive person walked past you at the gym, or you want to impress your friends while running through your neighborhood. You want to look good right?


Long, slow runs are long slow runs for a reason. If one were meant to zoom around at race pace all the time you’d last about a month before burning out and injured or vice versa. Training is maximized with patience, perseverance and periodicity (among other things).

Finishing the Run: How Should You Feel When You are Done?
As you near the end of your run you will be thinking one of two things:

A. This was awesome! I finished my run and feel strong.

B. Holy crap I am in pain.  Every part of my body hurts, this sucks but I am going to finish anyway.

If the answer is A, this is great. After I finished my run I walked for a 1/4 mile and then stretched. I left the gym and bought a few things at the local running store and then went to the supermarket.

If the answer was B, you ran too fast.  Your knees, back, hamstrings, feet or shins will be hurting.  You’ll finish and want to just lay down. If you feel that way you’ve just officially overtrained. And while you can still celebrate with a lot of food later, the damage has been done. You’ll be icing yourself, popping ibuprofen, and walking around like an old lady/man for the rest of the day. You will be in pain, literally all over. This means you raced instead of trained.  Save racing for race day.

Post Run Care: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
About 20 minutes after my run I ate a Powerbar.  If I were at home I would have had one of my super-powered sports drinks but either way I knew I’d need protein and carbs about a 1/2 hour after my run even though I wasn’t hungry. I needed to give my body some much-needed fuel as I burned over 800 calories on the treadmill and had no gu or other nutrients while I trained today.

There are a few things runners should be in the habit of when they complete a run. I call this PERFECT.

P – Protein – get some protein in you. Chocolate soy or regular milk is perfect. Protein bars, bagels with peanut butter, and protein-enriched sports drinks are just a few highly recommended post run foods.

E – Epsom salt – Epsom salts cleanse the body of toxins. CVS, Walgreens and other drug stores carry Epsom salts. Throw a cup or two in your bath and soak!

R – Rest – after a long run going out for a basketball rematch with your neighbors is not recommended. Any long distance run causes microtears in your muscles. It’s fine to walk around the house and play with the kids, but really, concentrate on relaxing and let your body rest.

F – Fish Oil – oddly, this nutrient is good for mind and body and aids in reducing inflammation in the body. I pop one of these bad boys after I’ve eaten and whether it’s psychosomatic or not, I doesn’t hurt. Please read the article on fish oil provided with the link in this section.

E – Vitamin E is also found in many sports drinks these days because of its work in muscle repair. Vitamin E is highly recommended especially for marathoners but also for those of us running long distances.

C – Calcium – a vitamin that is often overlooked but is important for:

  • Maintaining healthy nerve impulses necessary for strong muscular contractions
  • Helping to prevent or reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps
  • While the B vitamins help reduce stress in the nervous system, calcium helps reduce stress in the skeletal system. Calcium packets are now available in Whole Foods. I just started using calcium – given my age and despite the fact that I am a runner I don’t eat a lot of dairy.

    T – Tell everyone you just ran and for how long. It will only increase your resolve and committment.

    Alix Shutello is a RRCA certified running coach



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