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Head Coach Andy Mouncey on why and how you should 'go long'...

Part 1

Well, here’s a principle to start from:

'It's never the distance which kills you - it's always the pace.'

With ultra running I think you can add three provisos:

  1. Assuming you keep your feet intact.
  2. Assuming you keep your energy levels up.
  3. Assuming you can Manage Your Mood!

Let's assume that you can - so we can answer the question.

Theory v Reality

Another typical benchmark oft used in endurance sport is that 'if you can do half the target distance comfortably...' then you'll be able to manage the full effort.

Now that's OK except here's where we run into Real Life - 'cos on this basis even a 20 hour race means a 10 hour training outing - and for most of us with real jobs and families (and DIY!) this isn't practical.

Back To Back

A more practical option may be to do shorter long outings on two consecutive days: You will still go into them depleted and sore - and you have the additional challenge (and training benefit!) of having to drag your body out AGAIN - just like the second half of the race.

How Fast To Build?

Back to our old friend Individual Calibration - here are some indicators to help you check your rate of build up:

  1. How sore and tired you are the next day.
  2. How even tempered  - or not! - are you. 'Fun to be around?
  3. How bright is your complexion - healthy skin.
  4. How your sleep patterns compare to normal.
  5. How your heart rate compares to normal - when at rest and running.
  6. How your Perceived Effort compares to normal - does climbing the stairs feel like Everest?
  7. How productive and creative you are at work.
  8. How much of a contribution are you making at home.

Remember that this running lark is supposed to add quality to our lives and to the people closest to us - and we do it by choice for the challenge, fun and pride.

So it may be that you are progressing at 10% increase per week.

And then again you may not. Maybe more. Maybe less.

But if you are getting the results you want in the way that you want them - AND you can make 'em stick over time - then guess what:

It's a legitimate strategy for you.

Part 2

Throwing around this subject some more with a friend and coach of mine we compared notes on our own experience and the people we have worked with, and came up with the following:

Reasons Why People DNF At Ultras

  • Feet fall apart
  • Loss of motivation
  • Failure of fuelling strategy
  • Timed out at checkpoints.

There are others – and we kept coming back to these four.

Which begs this question:

Which of these factors is a function of ‘not doing the distance’ in training?

Maybe some of (1) bits of (3) and perhaps (4) – if failure to make a cut off is not due to a navigation error.

Which begs another question:

If it’s rarely the big distance on it’s own which stops people finishing – why do big distances in training?

Here’s what we came up with:

Spending Time On Feet (TOF) for extended periods - whether walking or running - is important for:

  • Developing the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen efficiently
  • Developing the body’s ability to become fuel-efficient
  • Testing shoe and sock combinations
  • Toughening the feet
  • Testing the other body part contact areas (underarm, groin, and contact points with a bumbag or rucksack) prone to friction and chafing
  • Testing fuelling strategies
  • Learning how to Manage Mood
  • Learning how to be self-sufficient.

It’s just the Big Distance which makes bigger those factors which would be insignificant and / or we would just put up with or get away with over shorter distances.

Big Distance = Bigger Cumulative Effect

…and Bigger Consequences if we get it wrong.

A Bottom Line

We get really good at what we do most of.

This is The Training Effect.

So it follows that to get really good at running we should run. Lots.

Exactly How Much seems to us to be governed by:

  • What we want to do (the race, the goals)
  • Where we are starting from (our background)
  • What we can realistically commit to (how big a stretch it is)
  • What we can practically do (the real life bit)
  • What state – physically, mentally, emotionally - we are prepared to finish in (and how long we are prepared to spend recovering).

Studies of top endurance athletes compiled by Noakes in The Lore Of Running (2001) lead him to conclude that one of the key factors for success in running is indeed to do just that: Run. Lots. Consistently.

For us mere mortals I think that translates into as often and as consistently as possible given the factors above.

So Exactly How Long Is Long?


I don’t know.

It depends on many factors – some of which are listed above.

What I do know is that there are huge benefits to going long in training – and there are also other ways in which we can prepare that will also get us across that finish line.

The right combination for you?

Is the right combination for you.

And only you can truly know that…

Tread lightly out there…


Andy is XNRG's head coach, a published author and one of the leading thinkers on high performance.

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