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  • Writer's pictureDean Ashby

The Secret to Successful Long Distance Running: Throw Away the Training Plan!

Dean and medal for The Lap.
The Lap is a 47-mile long distance race in Windermere.

When it comes to long distance running, my view on training is very different to most other people’s.

What I believe is that you shouldn't necessarily need to stick to a regimented, structured, marathon training plan.

Instead, you should work on your core fitness and mindset.

This blog is part one of a two part-blog. This is what you need to know about mindset and the power of your mind.

Dean Ashby.

Question: How long does it take an average person to run a marathon? Answer: Average people don’t run marathons.

What it Really Takes to Run a Marathon: It's All in The Mind

The people that can run long distances are those who can filter the messages from their mind.

When their brain says, slow down, stop, you’re overdoing it, they can halt the negativity in its tracks. After considering exactly why their brain is making them feel this way, they can understand it and channel those messages and their feelings to keep going: work harder, push further, reach new heights.

In an article in Women’s Running, How to Power Through the Pain Cave to Find Success on the Other Side, South African exercise scientist Tim Noakes says the brain is like an overprotective parent. Noakes says the brain anticipates physical and psychological harm and tries to keep you safe from it. In other words, when you’re running and you venture outside your comfort zone, your brain tells you you’re done so you will take actions to protect yourself. You’ll stop.

But what happens if you don’t stop and you go out of your comfort zone?

You enter what some people call the ‘pain cave.’ And this is not necessarily a bad thing!

Welcome to The Pain Cave

The pain cave is that place you find yourself in when you’re doing something outside what you’ve always done. As described in the article in Women’s Running, a plethora of factors influence when a runner enters the pain cave, including; your past experiences, your own unique biological makeup; what you find acceptable, and how much discomfort you can personally tolerate.

So, the pain cave is different for everybody because we all experience pain differently and have a different threshold for pain.

Ultrarunner Courtney Dewalter, winner of three 100-mile races in summer 2023, says that by going into the pain cave, you work to make yourself better. She imagines grabbing a chisel and heading to the farthest portion of her cave to work on making it bigger.

Dewalter says you should think of the pain cave as a place you want to get to; it’s a place of celebration. “This is what you were working toward with all your training. This is when you get to see what’s possible.”

The Mind and Long Distance Running

I’ve known many runners who have pulled out of marathons due to injury. And even more who think they could never run an ultra. But I say, it is possible. You can do it. Ninety percent of running is about mindset, and a positive, can-do attitude where you redirect negativity is critical for long distance running.

To help you understand the power of the mind, think about how you feel when running alone versus running with a group. When you’re on your own, your mind tells you to slow down or walk - and you do. When you’re with a group, you’re just as tired, but those messages from your mind are less likely to get through. That could be because you’re distracted or you don’t want to let your peers down. The same applies to running up that hill you hate, running faster than you like for longer, or extending your distance beyond that which you're familiar.

Remember: your mind will tell you to stop before you’re really done.

This is part one of a two-part blog on ditching regimented training plans. In part two, I'll explain what you need to work on for long distance running and give you some real-life tips to use in training.

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