Distance running: How to get started

Pro tips on how to get in shape for an endurance run

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Benita Adesuyan talks to Urban Energy Fitness for some top training tips to get you up and running.

Dubai has a love affair with endurance sports, and the sporting calendar is full of events for runners to limber up for. For some, the long distance season is also a chance to improve on last season’s personal best, for other’s it’s a chance to take on a new challenge. But running long distances isn’t easy – no matter how graceful olympians look on the track – and getting fit and prepared is key.

We chatted with Stefanos Philippou, long distance specialist and training instructor, and Laurence Arca Bathe, director of Urban Energy Fitness, about how new runners can make sure they last the distance.

Getting started
‘The most common difficulty I see is that people get hung up on the numbers – 10km, 21km, 41km,’ says Stefano. ‘You have to break it down to what’s achievable.’ Stefano suggests having a plan. Sites such as Premier Online (www.premieronline.com) list all the major races that you can register for. Laurence says, ‘Pick an event you want to do and work backwards from there. Give yourself at least 12 weeks. It’s all very personal, but 12 weeks is optimal to give yourself a chance to improve your distance, pace and also gives you time in case you get injured.’

The pair also advise joining a running club or getting a group of friends and colleagues to sign up for the same event so you can encourage each other around the course and through the weeks of training.

Get kitted out
Having the right running shoes and clothes is key to your preparation – it’s not so much about looking the part but ensuring that you’re comfortable and that your clothes don’t interfere with your training. ‘Take yourself down to any good sports shop and try on the running shoes, don’t just pick a pair that look nice,’ says Laurence. ‘Any good store will help you and let you run, walk and jump in them. Be sure to get comfortable clothing too. Ladies will need sufficient support wear, a comfy T-shirt or vest. Just think about what works for you – if you like to run in shorts, make sure they’re not too tight or that they chafe.’

Get your diet right
As you train you need to feed your body. Laurence and Stefano suggest cutting out dense carbohydrates, sugars and starches that your body will burn quicker, replacing them with more wholegrain food, a good protein source such as lean chicken as well as healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil. Work out what your body responds well to in the early stages of training to avoid any complications near the race.

12 weeks to go
So you’ve registered for an event and have 12 weeks to go before you’re on the line. Stefano recommends training at least three times a week, four if you can fit it in, and dividing your training sessions into distance building, speed building and conditioning. ‘Start with a distance building session, try running just two or three kilometres to start with.’ Laurence recommends not focusing on running the whole distance – you can walk or jog part of the way. ‘See how your legs feel and how your breathing is, and really get a feel for how your body responds to the effort of running. Walk it, run it and alternate – there’s no need to run the full distance now, you’ll get there over time. If you do too much too soon it opens the door to injury.’

When working on speed, the pair recommend interval training, using inclines and getting out of your comfort zone. ‘Try some sand running,’ says Laurence. ‘It’s good for speed and for strengthening your legs. Speed training is as much about recovery as it is speed.’ She adds, ‘Speed and long distance building are non-negotiable – people who fail at longer distance running are the people who do the same distance every training session and don’t challenge their bodies and get out of the comfort zone.’

The third session is strength and conditioning, which is as important as building up the distance. ‘This is not a running session as such but exercise that helps your body manage the effort of running. It could be circuits, body pump or something that uses your muscles in a different way,’ says Laurence.

Four weeks to go
Increase your intensity, working at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum speed instead of 60 to 70 percent. ‘If you’re planning to run a 10km, then by the eight-week mark you want to start reaching a running distance of 8km,’ says Stefano. Laurence advises that as you intensify your training, you should build in a rest day. ‘Some people will say, “I’m not ready for my 10km, I need to do more running and train six days a week” – this is when you burn out mentally and physically, so take appropriate rest days. It’s equally important as a training day.’

On the day
Do exactly what you did before. Now is not the time to try new things and jeopardise all your weeks of training. If you were doing stretches in training, then do them on the day of the race, and be sure to warm up. You don’t need to have run the full distance in training as on the day the excitement and adrenalin will carry you through. And, most importantly of all, enjoy it.
For more info on the Reebok Running Club at Urban Energy Fitness, visit www.urbanenergyfitness.com (055 886 9158).

More running clubs in Dubai

ABRaS AC
The running club focuses on endurance running. They are a group of enthusiastic runners who enjoy training hard and racing on the road and other surfaces.
Dhs400 annual membership fees for adults, Dhs350 for under 18s. Training on Mon, Wed and Fri in various locations across Dubai. www.abrasac.org

Mirdif Milers
A community running club serving the Mirdif area. This group runs weekly around this part of town and hosts social events.
Free membership, Dhs5 towards refreshments on Mondays, Dhs100 for club vest. Times vary, Mon, Wed, Sat, various locations including Mushrif Park. www.mirdifmilers.info (no number).

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