Tips for taking on the big challenge of a long run.
After ending his career as a professional rugby league player, Ben Lucas (below) tackled 35 marathons and five ultra marathons in the space of five years. That’s more than 1700km on the bitumen — the equivalent of Melbourne to Brisbane, or London to Budapest — so when he talks about preparing for endurance runs, we listen.
Lucas’ Sydney studio Flow Athletic has tailored an exercise program, Sofa2Surf, specifically to couch potatoes who want to transform into distance runners — and these are the five secrets behind their preparation.
1. Fuel your body with proper nutrition
“The fastest way to a burn out is by not keeping tabs on nourishing and rehydrating your body,” Ben says. “Food is like fuel, if you don’t have enough nutrition-dense calories, you cannot expect your body to perform.
“Make sure you are eating lots of antioxidant rich foods such as fruit and vegetables as well as good fats, proteins and carbs. Remain consistent with your meal plan over the course of your entire training period. And keep hydrated in the week leading up to the event because the last thing you need is to feel dehydrated on race day. Also make sure you hydrate during and after every training session!”
2. Schedule recovery days
Talking of burn-out, daily punishment without a break or variety is a recipe for injury.
“What you take from your body you need to give back to your body and this is in the form of nutrition, sleep, stretching and massage,” Ben says. “On the days you take off running, try light exercise such as swimming, yoga and extended stretching. You can also get massages, but avoid getting them the week of the event incase it leaves you sore!
“If you don’t have time for formal recovery tool, try using a roller or even something more sturdy such as the Waveblade which is specifically designed for athletes to release the fascia, improve performance and reduce injury.
3. Invest in compression garments
Lucas accepts that compression tights are controversial, but he reckons they accelerate recovery and support the muscles while in action.
“There have been hundreds of studies done on compression and its many benefits when it comes to performance and recovery,” he explains. “In fact a recent study on 11 subjects using a MRI to demonstrate the muscle changes during recovery found significant improvements in enzymes involved in muscle membrane restoration after only one-hour of properly sized compression tights. I like to wear compression when I’m training as I find that it helps reduce my soreness post-workout. My go-to is by BodyScience.”
4. Incorporate fartlek or sprint training
Don’t let the fancy Swedish name put you off — fartlek training just refers to periods of fast running blended with periods of slow running.
“Fartlek training is a very simple form of a long distance run,” Ben continues. “However, sprint training is where you do a quick sprint — say 80 or 100 metres — then you rest briefly before sprinting again. Both of these training methods stimulate neuromuscular changes that will ultimately help you boost your speed and improve your stride. The intensity and effectiveness of the sessions is down to the athlete’s discipline to push themselves.”
5. Try yoga for recovery
Yoga has given Ben two great gifts: the ability to recover quickly enough to complete those 35 marathons in five years, and a business partner — Kate Kendall — to open Flow Athletic. And while he can’t promise you’ll walk out of the studio with a new business venture, he can guarantee improved flexibility and reduced risk of injury.
“Because yoga involves holding poses for an extended period of time, building strength is embedded in the experience. Depending on the class, you are constantly flowing into the next movement, so yoga is also great for balance, flexibility, mobility and mental endurance. All of which are needed if you were to be participating in any endurance event or having to lift a very heavy weight.”