At the London Marathon this weekend many amateur runners will be covering 26.2 miles for the first time – a hugely impressive feat, but a drop in the ocean compared to the 100 miles or more that professional ultrarunners complete.
To help you run further and faster, elite ultrarunners Jez Bragg, Fernanda Maciel and Seb Chaigneau here share their secrets for superhuman stamina.
1. Stick to the 10pc rule
“If you want to increase your running distance, do so incrementally on a week by week basis,” advises British ultrarunner Jez Bragg, 36, who won the iconic 100-mile Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc race in 2010. “No more than a 10pc increase in your running distance per week is a good rule of thumb. That means what you are doing is sustainable. If you don’t recover, you won’t improve, so for long-term progress take things step by step.”
2. Surprise your muscles
“In training I run 150-200km every week but the main lesson is to surprise your body with different challenges,” suggests 45-year-old French runner Seb Chaigneau, who triumphed in the 100-mile Hardrock 100 race in 2013. “I like training to be different every time because it is more fun that way but the principal objective is to surprise the muscles. Sometimes that means a three-hour run. Other times it means a one hour and thirty minute maximal session.
"If you do different distances and speeds your muscles will adapt and improve more quickly than if you do the same thing in every session.”
3. Eat natural
“Natural food is the best choice for runners because your body understands it but it also keeps you healthy when you are training hard,” says Brazilian endurance runner Fernanda Maciel, 37, who won the 100-mile Everest Trail Race in 2013.
“When I am training, for breakfast normally I have eggs and maybe a banana but I always try to change things so maybe I will have some dried fruits, chia seeds and maca. After training I have coconut water and some broccoli and melon – that is my favourite. After lunch I have tofu and some mushrooms with fish and a lot of salad. For dinner it is more of the same, with lots of fish with Omega 3 fats for recovery and lots of rice.”
4. Running isn’t enough
“It is good to do other sports like road cycling, mountain biking or skiing because it helps the body and the mind,” suggests Chaigneau. “Sometimes I like to run in the morning and cycle in the afternoon. When you have two sports it is better for the mind as you get a sense of change and variety but it is also good for the body because it works different muscles in different ways so you can cover more distance during the week without feeling so tired.”
5. Get your diary out
“You need to fit in your training whenever you can,” says Bragg. “I do lots of early morning runs before work and some later night runs. It is good to have some flexibility about where and when you can train but I also like to have structure. I work out when I can train each week because I know that kind of planning will get me out the door.”
6. Learn to fight the pain
“Over time you learn that the bad moments all runners have is just part of the game so I wait for it to pass,” explains Maciel. “When your body hurts you have the capacity to wait and to support yourself through this bad moment and it will pass for sure. In these moments I just try to think positively and that helps me to get through the bad moment and to carry on running.”
7. Go off-road
“Tarmac can be hard going but trail running has less impact on the body which is really useful when you start upping the mileage,” advises Bragg. “It makes your training more interesting too. When you run uphill your heart rate goes up and when you run downhill you work hard to stabilise yourself. Running on the road is good for testing your times and monitoring your progress but trail running is a big help for distance runners. We’ve got a lot of public footpaths in the UK so it’s easy to find new and interesting routes.”
8. Lunch is the most important meal
“A lot of runners focus on the last breakfast before training or a race but really it is the lunch on the day before that is the most important for fuelling your body,” explains Chaigneau. “I like to have a lot of rice and fresh fish and after the last lunch I eat simple things. But rice for lunch the day before is the main focus for me to make sure I have energy the next day.”
9. Speed up your training
“If you want to run longer distances, you also need to do shorter, faster runs,” explains Maciel. “It is easy to focus on long-distance runs but faster runs will help you make progress for endurance more quickly. I do short speed training sessions a few times a week with lots of sprint intervals and hill intervals.”
10. Enjoy the challenge
“When you start getting bored, it’s a problem, so make your training enjoyable,” says Bragg. “I run with a local club quite a lot and training with those guys keeps me super-motivated because we all bounce off each other and inspire each other. But the choice of where you run is also a big help. I like to take in the scenery on the trail runs, even if it is just in your peripheral vision. Running is an adventure and you should always enjoy it.”