Moving Into New Mileage Horizons

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Knowing Your Limits…And When to Push Them

I’ve never met a runner who hasn’t acknowledged their limits and wanted to go past them, in one way or another. What’s it like to run faster than I’ve ever run? What’s it like to run farther than I’m used to? Or, what’s it like to run more effortlessly than I am now? Or, how about, what’s it like to run without getting out of breath? In my running career all of these same wonderings have come up.

Today, I’m talking about going beyond your distance limits. No matter what distance event you’ve ever trained for, as your event distance increases, there always comes a day when you’re scheduled to do a practice session that is farther than you’ve ever gone. Don’t feel alone. It happens to every runner, without exception; and hopefully many times in their running career.

So, what is the best way to increase your distance without increasing the stress on your mind or the strain on your body? First, be very clear that we’re not talking about adding the element of speed here. That’s another subject altogether. It’s just not a good idea to increase both in the same workout. That would be risky, at best, and would count as two upgrades, not one.

In the ChiRunning and ChiWalking books you’ll find our training formula, called FDS, which stands for Form… Distance… and Speed. In order to gradually, and safely, increase in your conditioning and performance it’s important to follow this order. It is always best to start any training program by practicing good running and walking technique. That is what will allow you to eventually run farther and faster – both economically and with less chance of injury. If your technique is less than optimal, inefficient or harmful, every step you take will cost you, either in energy expenditure or in impact to your body. In short, good running and walking technique will make any distance easier.

As you begin to feel more comfortable with your technique, the next thing is to learn to maintain that good technique for longer and longer periods of time (or distance). This builds your level of aerobic conditioning; your body’s ability to uptake oxygen and transport it to your muscles. And, the best way to accomplish this is to do a long workout once a week. We call it the LSD workout (Long Slow Distance), and it involves running or walking at a comfortable, conversational pace for increasing periods of time. Your body is very adaptable and as your aerobic conditioning increases, you’ll be able to gradually spend more time on your feet and cover more distance.

Here’s an easy and foolproof way to tell when it’s time to increase your distance. Whenever you do an LSD workout, you should have in mind what your previous limit has been, either in minutes or in miles. Then, whether you’re walking or running, start off with the intention of possibly going past your limit. Don’t say, “I’m going to break my limit today.” Be respectful of your body and just ask yourself, “I wonder if I can go farther today?” Then, take off with no expectations of doing anything but matching your previous best. Remove any performance pressure by not setting any speed goals, except to maybe do it at a pace that feels relaxing.

As you begin your workout, pay particular attention to whichever ChiRunning or ChiWalking focuses help you to stay relaxed and efficient. Set your countdown timer to go off every ten minutes and reset your focuses every time you hear the beeper go off. Watch your timer or your GPS so you know when you’re getting close to your limit, and when you get there, do a body scan to see how you feel. Are you wiped out? Are you a little tired but still relaxed? Take some time to feel how your body feels in that moment. Then, talk to your body and ask it, “Do you feel you could go for more?” to which it will give you one of the following replies:

A. “Forget about it. Not today. NO way.” In which case you either drop to a walk and finish… or catch a cab home. (Another option to this response is, if you’re running, to drop to a walk until you recover some energy, and then ask the above question again, and see if a different response comes up.)
B. “Welllllllll, I could maybe go a bit farther.” In which case you ask your body, “How about 5 more minutes, or 10 minutes?”  … or whatever amount sounds doable but doesn’t bring on a major whine.
C. “Hey, I’m there! Let’s do this!” in which case you add on no more than 10% of the distance you’ve just covered, and call it a day. Done.

The bottom line is that you don’t want to push your body to a new limit if it’s not ready for it. It is also completely OK to take walk breaks if you’re running and need to recover some energy before moving on. And, don’t forget, if you want to go farther, you can almost guarantee success if you are constantly hitting the “reset button” for your technique at regular intervals throughout your workout.

By going about it this way, you’ll never risk over-doing it when increasing mileage. And, hopefully, your mileage upgrades will never be accompanied by any sense of fear, doubt, or dread – and you’ll always move into the next “frontier” with a sense of confidence and ease.

Posted in Beginners

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