Springtime means more sunshine, longer days, flowers starting to bud, and…..runners! Seriously, if people unfamiliar with West Michigan came to visit during a beautiful spring day they would think we were in the midst of the apocalypse with all of the people running around the streets and sidewalks. There’s no shortage of road races around Michigan, but perhaps the biggest reason for the excessive running in Grand Rapids is the Riverbank Run. The Riverbank Run is the largest 25k in the country, and attracts runners from all over the world. The 15.5 miler is a beautiful course that starts and finishes in downtown Grand Rapids, but the distance is no joke. Longer than a half marathon, this road race isn’t something you can just jump into without training. Luckily, there are training guides available online to help, but continue reading for some basics on training for any long distance race.
One of the most important parts of training for a long distance race is…yep, the distance. The key here is to start slowly; don’t try to up your mileage too quickly. Depending on your ability level, you’ll want to keep your long run the same for the first few weeks, then increase by a mile every couple of weeks. Once you get a little bit higher, say 7 or 8 miles, you can increase weekly by a mile or half mile. Many training logs will have you running long distance multiple times per week, but I would argue that as long as you get a long run in once a week, you’ll be good! The remaining tips will explain why.
The best way to get in great running shape is to include speed work, or interval training into your program. So once a week you should include a workout focusing on making you faster. A great way to do this is with an interval run. This means that certain sections of your run are faster than others. Say you are running 4 miles; you could run miles 2 and 4 hard, and go easy for miles 1 and 3. Or, you could do it by time (ex. 3 minutes easy, 1 minute hard, repeat for the whole run). Speed work can also include doing repetitions on a track. While these days aren’t usually the most enjoyable, they are incredibly beneficial and will make a HUGE difference in your final time for the race.
Road races are rarely flat. So training on a track or treadmill would be doing yourself a disservice when it comes to being prepared for the terrain. You need to add hill-work into your regimen! Hill repeats are a great way to get stronger-- find a hill, run hard up the hill and walk back down. You can also build hills into your miles by finding a hilly loop. Having a strong core makes hills a lot easier. Drive your arms, and keep your shoulders tall during the uphill. Really attack the hill-just get it over with! Use the downhill to your advantage by working on your leg turnover. The downhill momentum is on your side, so let it take you-don’t fight it by leaning back and slowing down. Once you make hills your strength, you won’t dread them as much, instead they will be a perfect place to pass people :)
While most training guides will have you running almost every day, I think that quality is more important than quantity. If you don’t want to follow a training guide specifically, just make sure you get a long distance day, a speed day, and a hill day in each week. In addition to these three runs you should add in a day of cross training. This can include a different form of cardio like elliptical or bike, or it could be weight training (including core!) Also, stretching, foam rolling, and recovery cannot be underestimated when training for a long distance race!
These aforementioned training tips come from my experience with competitive racing and a short time coaching, but mostly from my mom, Pam. She was an amazing runner who earned heaps of accomplishments throughout her years, one of which included a top 3 finish at the River Bank Run. In 1987 she placed 3rd overall for women, and finished in a time of 1:33 which is a 6:00 mile pace…for 15.5 miles! So take it from her: strength, speed, and a little bit of distance are the key ingredients for finishing a long distance race. While we probably won’t be running a 6 minute pace, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a long distance race is something that everyone should experience, and the atmosphere of the River Bank is second to none. If a distance race is on your bucket list, tack on this exciting 25k.