Many people have their eye on completing a longer event early in 2016. If you’re hoping to train for a marathon, long distance triathlon, or cycle sportive, you’ll know you have to put in the hours of training and prepare yourself both mentally and physically in order to perform at your best and enjoy the day itself.
But are you planning to just hit the road and do the miles, or will you take a more structured approach? Do you know the best way to improve your endurance and speed up your times and make it to the finish? Here’s five ways to accelerate your training.
1. Increase your strength
Increasing overall strength will improve your performance and help you stay injury-free. It can be hard to find the time and motivation for gym work when you’re clocking up the miles, but you should try to do some, which will help you maintain strength and muscle mass, which in turn will keep your joints healthy.
Focus on hip-dominant - as opposed to knee dominant – exercises, single-leg variations and core strength and stability work. A good full body programme done twice a week should give you what you need.
2. Do soft-tissue work
This will help to keep your tissues healthy and means having regular massages, or using a foam roller. The foam roller is more accessible for most, and although it won’t be as good at fascia fractioning, which is the loosening of the casing around the muscles, it will still break down adhesions, improve circulation and reduce overall soreness, increasing recovery.
Hockey balls are also great for the parts that are tricky reach, such as the feet and the glutes. Simply roll the ball on the soles of your feet and around the muscles at the front and back of your hips and press your weight into any sore spots.
3. Think nutrition
Basic nutrition is arguably the most important thing you can do to improve performance and recovery. Start with a broadly Paleo diet - lots of protein and veg - which you can build on to suit your training requirements. Whether you choose to fuel yourself with carbs or a more fat-adapted approach, where you get more of your nutrition from dietary fats, getting adequate protein and a broad base of nutrients is key. Also think about your overall energy balance. The right foods, in the right amounts, will keep you healthy, lean and adequately fuelled. This is hugely individual - it takes time to work out what is best for you, and you need to pay attention to how certain foods and food combinations make you perform and feel.
4. Look after your gut
One of the biggest issues facing endurance athletes is impaired gut health – one of the most common reasons for DNFs in extreme long distance events such as Ironman triathlon events is gastrointestinal issues, things such as nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Endurance training is tough on the system, plus using gels and other supplements during races can make it worse for some people. Beyond the more obvious recovery and performance products, supplementing your diet with some probiotics, digestive enzymes and glutamine is often beneficial, as is swapping gels for more natural foods, such as dried fruit and bananas or your own variation of energy bars.
5. Include speed work
If you want to cover long distances, you need to train over long distances, so your body and mind are ready for what’s coming. Steady-state or race-pace training isn’t all you should be doing, though – you need to do some quality speed work as well. Make sure you include some interval training (shorter, more intense work periods), tempo training, otherwise known as lactate threshold training, and other approaches such as fartlek training (structured, unstructured training, including various sprints, hill sections and steady state periods), if you want to see big improvements. It also helps to keep training fresh when you’re physically and mentally tired.