At this point in the running season many of you are probably starting to think about gearing up for some longer-distance races. We’ve taken on the mile, the 5K and even a 4-miler so as you start to plan your late summer and fall racing calendar you may be asking yourself, “How do I train for these longer distances like the 10K, 15K, the half and even the full marathon?”

The best approach to a training plan is to follow the guidance of an experienced coach. Working with a running coach allows you to:

  • Have someone who can hold you accountable to your daily runs and weekly goals.

  • Leave the details (workouts, mileage, pace) to someone else to figure out.

  • Trust that you are following a plan that makes sense and is tailored to your specific goals and experience level.

  • Get advice on which races to run and when to run them.

  • Have someone who is focused on injury prevention but who can also guide you through an injury if necessary.

My long distance training philosophy and approach to building mileage is based on three main training phases: base-building, strength development and a sharpening period. I believe that a good training plan should follow a gradual approach to increasing mileage and that race selection should be dependent on a runner’s progress, not the other way around.

Base-Building (The Foundation)

This should be a 6 to 8-week process (or longer) with a focus on gradually increasing your weekly mileage. Essentially, laying a mileage base that will act as a foundation upon which you can build more training. This is perhaps the most important phase in terms of injury prevention and setting yourself up to succeed. Almost all of the running done during this phase should be done at an easy pace. The weekly mileage should not increase more than 15 percent of the previous week’s total and the long run distance should not exceed 40 percent of the total weekly mileage. Every 3rd or 4th week should be a “recovery” week where the long run distance is shorter and total weekly mileage is lower.

Strength Development

This is also usually a 4 to 8-week process, with a focus on on introducing some intensity into the training plan. If the base-building phase has gone well, the transition should be a smooth one. The strength phase is when you add tempo training - tempo runs, fartleks, longer track intervals -  as well as weights and running-specific cross-training. The weekly mileage should either remain the same or decrease slightly, while maintaining a “recovery” week every 3rd or 4th week. It’s always a good idea to balance training intensity with weekly mileage volume. The length of this phase also allows you the opportunity to build in plenty of recovery time which is important because of the added intensity of the workouts.

Speed Development (Sharpening)

This phase should last for about 4 weeks with a focus on getting race-sharp. The predominant workouts should be shorter-distance track intervals and as the intervals begin to shorten, workouts become faster. The weekly mileage should also decrease gradually to compensate for the added intensity of the workouts. This phase can be longer than a month but is generally not much longer. With the added speed work, you run the risk of getting injured and not having enough time to recover before your race.

As you can see, training successfully for longer distance races requires a gradual approach, some time and some planning, in order to really set yourself up to succeed. Each of these training phases is intended to target a different developmental goal, and each phase builds upon the previous one. I recommend a 3 to 5 month training cycle for longer races, which incorporates all three phases.

For more on how to approach long-distance training, feel free to pull me aside at our next group run or contact me at

Run Better. Run Smarter. Run For Life.

Coach Mwangi

Coach MwangiComment