I’ve been asked this a number of times; “how do you manage to go and do long runs/run marathons/ do ultra marathons, and still do strength training/compete? Surely the two don’t work together?”. Now, firstly I want to make clear, I haven’t entirely figured out the answer myself yet. It’s all about experimentation, and figuring out what is best for you, but along the way I have picked up more than a few tips to help you in your own journey.
I’m sure you’ve all heard it before “you can’t build strength whilst doing long runs / endurance events”. Yes, there is some logic in that – long endurance events will burn a lot of energy, and this can lead to muscle atrophy, and it definitely is harder to build muscle and strength whilst keeping up with endurance training. That said, it is not impossible. It’s all in training smart, eating well (and a lot!), and being clear on your goals. I’ve listed below some top tips for anyone looking to try and balance the two.
- Firstly be really clear on your goals. Do you want to compete? Do you want to run your first marathon? Do you want to get stronger and hit a PB on a lift? What is your number 1 priority? I always find this hard (I tend to have many things I want to achieve!) but I make sure I have an “A” goal. This is your absolute must. You might also have some complimentary ones, but having that number 1 helps to focus your mind. For instance, when I have been in prep, the competition is my “A” goal, so I’ve sacrificed running / taken it out / reduced it. After comps I’ve focused more on running, so have had my “A” goal as an ultra. This means my running training will be the priority for that ‘season’ and if any session were to drop, it would be a strength one – I’d plan my running sessions in first.
- If you are looking to compete, listen to your coach! You may find running works fine on prep, or you may find you need to reduce it or take it out. It can work well if you get the nutrition right, but it’s so individual
- If you are looking to get stronger/leaner, than endurance training is absolutely possible as well, and can even help compliment it. The priority here is making sure you eat enough – this way you’re giving your body a calorie surplus so that you don’t burn muscle in the endurance training.
- Strength training will make you a better endurance athlete. Fact. I have had significantly less injuries thanks to getting stronger, and it’s significantly improved my running
- If you’re looking to train for a marathon /ultra, play around with doing some short runs after weights. I trained for a 100km off only 3 or 4 runs a week – I always had a weekly long run, and then during the week I put in a few shorter runs, some of which immediately followed leg day. This is a great way to practice running on tired legs – you only need a short run after legs to get that feeling, and its something you will feel during the race, so a very good way to practice it! These sessions helped me immensely – knowing I could run and keep going on tired legs means you won’t suddenly freak out if you hit a wall in a race, as you’ve been there already!
- Always weight train first and then run if you’re looking to double up.
- Fuel, fuel, fuel! On long runs make sure you are fuelling right. Ties in with overall getting your nutrition on point, but especially on the long runs you want to make sure your body is using stored carbs (and some fat) as it’s energy source, and doesn’t turn to muscle atrophy. Practice eating on the run and your body will use those carbs and stored fats instead of protein.
- Make sure you have at least 1 full rest day a week. No excuses.
Above all else, make sure you listen to your body; rest when you need to, eat well, spend time recovering properly, and work with a coach where possible.
You really can achieve anything you want to with the right mindset and the right plan. What are you waiting for!?