When I embarked on this fitness challenge I couldn’t run many paces before my breathing became heavy, as for running up hills, forget it!
But the slow, stealth-like training programme I have been following, which started with walk-runs, has delivered the GetRunning clinic’s promise.
A few weeks ago I was told I’d graduated to Saturday runs – the longest run of the week. I was chuffed, nervous and excited. It was a big achievement. Then I realised that meant another early morning start and on the weekend too. Oh well.
After several weeks of doing longer runs on Saturday mornings, however, I can honestly say that I now look forward to them. Even the weekend just gone when it was pouring with rain. Feeling the rain on my skin made me feel alive, and afterwards the hot coffee followed by a hot shower was extra rewarding.
The Saturday run is the key session of the week. Traditionally known as LSD (long slow distance). These runs are the base component of GetRunning’s training programme, where you get the miles in the legs and build up endurance.
Thankfully GetRunning makes things easier by mapping out runs complete with drink stations and helpful chalk arrows on the pavement.
We’re also placed into pace groups based on our current fitness and ability level. This ensures that all the runners are running at the pace that is specific to them, and also for the correct amount of time. We run at a comfortable and conversational pace, which is generally a little slower than race pace – 15-30 seconds per kilometre slower (around 65-80 per cent of their maximum heart rate).
There are always two different courses on a Saturday – a shorter one for half marathon runners (that’s me) and a longer one for the marathoners. At the moment I’m running for one hour and twenty minutes non-stop (which for me equates to 10km). However, it’s the time on my feet, not the distance or speed, that I’m concerned with right now.
It’s about accumulating miles in the legs, says GetRunning running coach Kiri Price. And she should know. An avid marathoner Kiri has completed 75 marathons to date and is working towards goal of 100.
“Physiologically the long runs will increase your ability to take in, transport, process, and use oxygen and fuel more efficiently as well – and your capacity for fat burning increases. Another benefit is that you are improving the endurance capabilities of your muscle cells, fibers and connective tissues which means you’re conditioning your body to go for longer and further before fatigue sets in,” Kiri says.
“Your leg muscles increase in strength and endurance, your VO2 max increases. Long runs improve your performance when you’re running shorter distances as well such as 5km, 10km and half marathons.
“We base our runs on a ‘time on feet’ method as this works really well when working with large groups of people and it means that we can also ensure that people aren’t doing too much too soon, which is a common mistake with runners. Many of our runners are beginner runners, so a ‘time on feet’ structure works really well with them as well.”
The long runs teach you to slow down and to pace wisely, just like you have to in a marathon. They are also great confidence boosters. Kiri knows from her personal experiences of pacing and running with clients that marathons over 4 hours 30 are a lot harder physically and mentally, and this is where all the long sessions come in.
“They get you used to being out there for hours at a time, running on tired legs, of keeping going when the body is saying it’s had enough, and digging deep so that you can get to the next drink stop, or to the next lamp post,” she says.
“Come marathon day our runners will be out there for anything from 3 hours through to 6 hours plus – so they need to be fit enough and strong enough to be able to do this. It’s the accumulated fitness that they have acquired over the 12 week period from the long runs, the shorter faster runs, the hilly runs and also the strength and flexibility work – that gets them there on the day – not just that one 3 hour run.”