From casual jogger to endurance runner

My last post, “How to prepare for a long run,” has triggered a bunch of requests to write about how a casual jogger can up his game to become an endurance runner.

After three seconds of pondering, I concluded it was a good idea and so, without further due, here is how I would go from being a casual jogger to transforming into a full-fledged endurance runner.

So you want to be an endurance runner? Great! A note of caution. This article does not help you become an endurance runner aiming at winning races. This post’s objective is to help you develop your endurance running for the pleasure of running long distances, increasing your fitness, strengthening your mental fortitude, and appreciating nature’s beauty and remote places.

Consult a healthcare professional

I recommend you check your health status by consulting competent healthcare professionals. By that, I don’t mean your jogger brother-in-law!

Build your base

I recommend you build your base first. What I mean by “base” is the running volume you can sustain week after week without injury. For example, my base is 100 km per week if preparing for a running event. If I am not, my base is 75 km per week. In preparation for a major running event, I will gradually add to that weekly base to reach the fitness level required to accomplish my objective. When I prepared for running two marathons per day for sixty consecutive days, I ramped up my training to 42 km to 50 km per day for a couple of months. This regimen got me ready for the gruelling run ahead. But your objective may not be that extreme. Therefore you must first decide what distance you want to cover successfully, then begin training. Many want to prepare for a marathon as an item on their “things to accomplish before I die” bucket list. For those just aiming at that objective, I suggest they google “how to prepare for a marathon.” For those who want to run a full marathon or farther as a weekly long run, this article is for you.

If you want to run a marathon per week, you must beforehand be able to cover the marathon distance at least once. If you are a casual 5K jogger, you can be ready to run a marathon in about 12 to 18 weeks. Here is an easy training program (you must be able to run 3x5K per week and have completed once a 10K):

Marathon Training Program

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Total
Week 01 REST 5 km 5 km 5 km REST 10 km Cross-Train 25 km
Week 02 REST 5 km 5 km 5 km REST 12 km Cross-Train 27 km
Week 03 REST 5 km 7 km 5 km REST 8 km Cross-Train 25 km
Week 04 REST 5 km 7 km 5 km REST 15 km Cross-Train 32 km
Week 05 REST 5 km 8 km 5 km REST 16 km Cross-Train 34 km
Week 06 REST 5 km 8 km 5 km REST 12 km Cross-Train 30 km
Week 07 REST 5 km 10 km 5 km REST 20 km Cross-Train 40 km
Week 08 REST 5 km 10 km 5 km REST 21 km Cross-Train 41 km
Week 09 REST 5 km 12 km 7 km REST 16 km Cross-Train 40 km
Week 10 REST 5 km 12 km 7 km REST 24 km Cross-Train 48 km
Week 11 REST 7 km 13 km 7 km REST 26 km Cross-Train 53 km
Week 12 REST 7 km 13 km 8 km REST 20 km Cross-Train 48 km
Week 13 REST 7 km 15 km 8 km REST 29 km Cross-Train 59 km
Week 14 REST 8 km 15 km 8 km REST 23 km Cross-Train 54 km
Week 15 REST 8 km 16 km 8 km REST 32 km Cross-Train 64 km
Week 16 REST 8 km 13 km 7 km REST 20 km Cross-Train 48 km
Week 17 REST 7 km 10 km 5 km REST 13 km Cross-Train 35 km
Week 18 REST 5 km 7 km 4 km REST REST 42 km 59 km
Total 762 km

I did not design this program to turn you into a medal-winning racing machine. Its objective is to make you finish a marathon on your feet, not crawl on your knees to the finish line or quit.

Once you have reached the marathon milestone, you can aim for more ambitious objectives, like running a marathon each week on your long run, undertaking a 100 km or a 100-mile run, or even executing a multi-stage event. However, I recommend gradually increasing your running prowess to avoid burning out from overtraining. At the risk of repeating myself, you must increase your mileage G-R-A-D-U-A-L-L-Y!

Becoming a tough endurance runner requires time and time. The first “time” is related to how many weeks you will need to reach the required level. And you will ONLY achieve it by training diligently and focusing on the process, not the objective.

The second “time” is the time to prepare. If you do not have the time required for this activity to invest in your preparation, you will fail, period.

Sleep

I should have added a third “time.” Time to sleep. Sleeping and resting are crucial components of endurance running. This item is almost impossible for me, as I cannot sleep more than 6 hours per night. If I even get to sleep six hours! However, I get to rest reasonably. I had to structure my life around my running passion, which demanded many costly sacrifices. You may not be able to do the same. You may have to figure out how to accommodate your newfound passion in your own capacity. There will be sacrifices. I guarantee it!

Nutrition and hydration

By necessity, your nutrition will have to change. Your drinking habits as well. I will not get into the nutrition and hydration debate in this article. I will cover these complex topics in a few later other posts.

Sacrifices

Your immediate entourage may not agree with your running aspirations. Accept that your dream is a selfish one. Nevertheless, if the people immediately around you are meaningful to you, you will need to reach some form of compromise. You will have to work out a schedule in which you will have to allocate (more) time for family, social events, work, and other unavoidable items. Reduce Netflix, Apple TV and useless social media browsing time. This task may be in itself a more formidable challenge than endurance running. “Been there, (not) done that!” It is a difficult choice to make. But once you decide, you must go through the process to its conclusion: being able to run with confidence any distance.

Endurance running, the way I envision it, is not just a sport; it is a genuine lifestyle. This lifestyle is not for everyone. But that is for you to decide BEFORE you begin to invest in your precious time and life.

Beyond the standard marathon

Once you have achieved the marathon milestone, you will probably ask: “what’s next?” Perhaps you would aim for an 84 km run (2 marathons back to back). That would put you at a marathon and a half, a respectful distance for a newbie. How would you go about it? Here is what I would do:

Double Marathon Training Program

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 01 0 5 6 11 0 26 11
Week 02 0 6 6 12 0 29 12
Week 03 0 6 7 13 0 31 13
Week 04 0 7 7 14 0 35 14
Week 05 0 7 8 15 0 38 15
Week 06 0 8 9 17 0 42 17
Week 07 0 9 10 19 0 46 19
Week 08 0 10 11 20 0 51 20
Week 09 0 11 12 23 0 56 23
Week 10 0 12 13 25 0 61 25
Week 11 0 10 10 10 0 84 0

Note that I could have run the whole thing sooner. I chose not to. The idea is to avoid injuries that would reduce you to a couch potato for a few weeks or prevent you from moving on to the next milestone and therefore frustrate you. So, again “gradually” is the name of the game.

Failure

Endurance running is also about handling failure. Indeed, you will fail at a distance. An endurance runner unavoidably fails, but he must bounce back, conquer the targeted objective and put it behind him. So far in my running “career,” I have only DNFed (Did Not Finish) six times. Of these six failures, three were due to injuries that would have most certainly damaged me permanently. The other three were due to complete mental meltdowns. I lost my mind and could not take one extra step. I get it, it is hard to imagine, but you must experience the feeling to understand how mental exhaustion can be debilitating. As an endurance runner, you will inevitably experience various failures, but if you embrace them, they will be valuable lessons that will help you progress. As the Japanese say, “fall ten times, get up eleven.”

Patience

No matter how you look at it, many of your challenges, in the beginning, will come from rushing to prepare, to pack your gear, rushing out before handling your “business,” rushing, rushing, always rushing. Endurance running is about patience. You must slow down your mind and take the required time to do everything you need to do. Running long distances is a sort of “Zen” activity. You will eventually run so fluidly that you will enter a meditative state. In other words, you will enter a flow state. Everything will feel easy, and the pieces of the running puzzle will automatically fall into place. Be patient, be present in the moment, and be like water. You must be patient in your progress as a runner as well.

One last thing about patience. You will find it difficult, in the beginning, to fight boredom. Everyone is different on that topic. I love a 30 km straight road with nothing around but fields and forests. I switch to autopilot and just run without a thought in my mind. But that’s me. When you are bored on a long run, you must find ways to cope (a topic for another post). It will get easier with time. A long run is not just a long distance to cover. It is also a tedious mind exercise. One you cannot rush.

On ADHD

If you have ADHD, I recommend endurance running. It will force you to practice patience. It will help you burn that extra energy that plagues you. The activity will sharpen your focus, you will not be three or four steps ahead of what you are doing, and it will quiet the noise in your mind.

Planning

To be a good endurance runner, you must become a good planner. Everything requires preparation. If you run the same route all the time, you will eventually get ready and go on autopilot. But I always recommend checking the weather conditions. Nothing can mess up a run as much as the weather, over which you have no control. But you have control over what you will wear! Check if there is construction on your route (if you live in Québec, that’s a must!) because you may have to make a detour that may considerably increase your planned mileage. Correctly evaluate your fluid requirements. I remember once, on a very long run on a scorching hot day. I realized I would run out of fluids with another 35 km to my destination. The idea played so much with my mind it ruined my running experience. The fear of horribly cramping from the loss of so much salt in my sweat almost made me quit. Sometimes the problem with giving up is that you still have to reach your destination! Walking the remaining distance will take even longer. You might as well bite the bullet and continue running. When things get out of hand is also what endurance running is all about. Hope for the best; plan for the worst should always be your modus operandi.

Pain

One cannot talk about endurance without talking about pain. You will never become an endurance runner if you fear pain. Handling physical and mental pain is a skill. Both can creep up on you unexpectedly. The way you handle them will depend on how you prepare. If you quit when things get tough, you will never be an endurance runner. Our sport and way of life are about overcoming. Because we ignore and override pain (note of caution about this), we overcome and get stronger. You also need to understand when you cannot override. Sometimes you must quit. Sometimes you should push through the pain. You will learn when you have to stop and when you should not consider it. You grasp this by training gradually and consistently. You will learn about your body and your mind. And soon enough, you will understand how to push on or stop. “Managing pain” will be the topic of a future article.

There are so many things that you need to handle to become an endurance runner. I can’t put it all in one post. But this article is a start.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Cheers!

P.