If you’re a serious runner, you’ll know that consistency is king. It’s easy to keep training during summer but through dark, cold winter months it’s less than appealing for even the most committed runner. But training through winter provides a strong foundation for huge wins come spring so here’s four ways to reap long run endurance gains without the time investment
You may be a lifetime runner accustomed to a weekly long run or perhaps you started running during lockdown and want to maintain your good new habit through winter. Either way, these tips will help you maximise the strength and endurance benefits of a long run in a shorter time frame.
Why ‘hack’ the winter long run?
“Why would I want to ‘hack’ my winter long run?” I hear you ask. The hardy amongst us relish nothing more than lacing up and trudging over hill and down dale, wind blowing and rain falling sideways. I appreciate where you’re coming from - I too love tackling those conditions.
Exposure to the elements is not simply great for the soul, but it also toughens us up (a bit like a regular cold shower) and the endorphins are hard to beat.
But the reality is a long winter wears many down and we sometimes need an ‘out’ when the weather is truly miserable – or time simply not on our side – but we still want to progress.
These hacks are designed for those like me who, despite a love for the outdoors, sometimes need a dry or more time-efficient alternative.
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Hack #1: Back to back
Most of us rarely run on consecutive days for good reason: running alternate days gives your body time to recover, adapt and absorb fitness between sessions, leaving you fresh the next time you lace up.
But as winter kicks in and those pesky long runs look ever less appealing, running on consecutive days can provide a similar stimulus without having to lollop around in the rain for hours on end.
By running on consecutive days, you teach your body to run on tired legs. Much like Mile 10 of a 15 mile long run when your legs are heavy and your form begins to deteriorate, running on consecutive days requires strength similar to that of a long run.
When you first start with back to back days, put Run #1 in the morning of Day 1 and Run #2 in the afternoon of Day 2. That way, you give yourself ~36 hours to recover. Gradually bring these runs closer together so you’re running in the evening and the following morning, giving only 12 hours recovery.
Utilise the back-to-back run and keep with that front group in your next marathon
Once you’ve nailed that, you’re ready to move onto Double Days…
Hack #2: Double days
Comfortable with double days? It’s time to crank things up a notch.
Completing two runs in one day is a challenge for all but the most avid of runners. Your recovery window is significantly shortened and that feeling of running on tired legs is amplified.
To begin, complete a run in the morning as session #1 but then do some cross-training as session #2 – cycling, swimming or a hike – instead of a second run. When you’re adapted to training twice in one day, introduce the second run of the day.
Like back to back days, maximise recovery by running as early as possible and again as late as possible, resting as optimally between each.
I’d only suggest completing a couple of double days each week, and only when you’ve banked years and mostly injury-free miles. When you’re in that place, feel free to add some ‘work’ – speed, hills or tempo – into one of the sessions.
So, now you’re a Double Day maestro looking for the next big thing. Well, there’s a reason Kenyans are such successful marathon runners…
When you’re accustomed to double days, hit the track for one of the sessions
Hack #3: Kenyan Day
Did we lose you on the double days? Were you thinking ‘this guy’s having a jape – I’m not running twice in one day’? Well, you may want to stop reading now…because Kenyan Day involves running three times in one day.
This is a hefty day whichever way you cut it and however experienced you are. For the uber-experienced athlete, a Kenyan day can break a plateau and for a newbie, a Kenyan day provides a super challenge a bit like setting your own virtual event.
Named after Kenyan athletes who do, on occasion, bag three runs in one day, you can use this method to replace a multi-hour long run. Here’s how to structure the day:
- Run #1: Early as possible: 20-30 minutes super-easy leg stretch
- Run #2: Pre-lunch, well-fuelled from breakfast and with a healthy, tasty snack (and perhaps caffeine) in your belly, it’s time to embark on a quality session. Include some speed, tempo or hill work and aim for 60 minutes depending on your fitness level.
- Run #3: Pre-dinner. After lunch, rest and recover hard. Get some high quality protein in, put your legs up and maybe even squeeze in a 15-minute nap. Before dinner, get your final run in. No efforts here, just run continuously for 45-60 minutes
It goes without saying, this is a big challenge and must be respected. I’d encourage you do a Kenyan day on a Saturday when you can dedicate the day to your efforts with no need to worry about work - and if you have kids, hopefully you also have an understanding partner – and then take Sunday completely off.
Don’t forget, Kenyans are such good marathon runners because their easy pace is insanely easy. World record holder Eliud Kipchoge reportedly runs his easy sessions around 08:00 minute miles. While that may sound pacey to some, consider that it’s almost 50% the speed at which he runs a marathon. Do you do your easy runs at half your marathon pace? Probably not, because for most of us that’d mean walking, but you get my point - 08:00 minute miles for the great man is probably 10:00 – 1100 minute miles for the rest of us. Slow means slow.
Hack #4: Strap a pack on
If you’re not up for running and want to challenge yourself in a different way but still reap endurance gains, strap on a pack and hike.
Walking with a pack on undulating trails utilises the same muscles as running, simply without the plyometric explosive element of running. You’ll get strong which will injury-proof your body and leave you more resistant to fatigue in the closing stages of your next marathon.
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As with all these sessions, go easy and work up: load 2kg in your pack on your first outing, and add weight incrementally up to a maximum of 10kg. Make sure your pack fits closely with the majority of the weight on your hips and not your shoulders.