Building up the miles

By Dr Lee Gregory, Wellbeing Taskforce member

If you are looking to build up distance, to increase the miles that you are running, there are a few things to consider. But first, why might you even consider increasing your distance?

My top three reasons for building distance are simple:

1. Improving your health

2. Boosting your confidence

3. A chance to develop your running ability and start to play around with different types of running

Runner lacing up a shoeThere are a range of health benefits of running and developing distance into your running will enhance these. It is good for the heart. Running will strengthen your muscles and help reduce the chance of joint pain and can help to strengthen bones. But the effects are not only physical. There are significant mental health benefits associated with running. Through running you will likely find that concentration, memory and motivation improve (although after several years I am still awful at remembering names). Running will release endorphins which can generate a feeling of euphoria caused by exercise. Now who doesn’t want to feel that!

Point three however becomes increasingly important as you seek to develop your running in new ways and to increase distance starts to engage you with this: you start to develop some training habits. To increase the distance you have two options really. Option one, design a slightly longer route, miss your usual left turn and keep running to the next one and then follow the pavement back to your usual route. This way you can gradually build up the distance. Alternatively add time. This is perhaps a bit easier. If it takes you 33 mins to run 5k, go and run for 35mins a few times, then add a bit more time. Gradually add a little more time as you will be accustom to doing through the 5k programme you started on. If you have a app on your phone or gps watch which allows you to track your runs you can still monitor the distance and see how you build up to new achievements. Before you know if you could be working towards that 10k and who knows what distances you may go on the tackle next.

This is when you start to enter the training territory and start to explore different types of running sessions: hill training (exactly what it says on the tin), Fartlek training (not what it says on the tin), temp runs, distance runs, interval training. There are a whole variety of possibilities. You don’t have to run distance every time. You can start to vary your running and it becomes varied, engaging and with a whole range of wider health benefits. It all starts with building up your distance.

Improving your running – without running

January I decided on a new years resolution (don’t laugh) of using some of the fitness classes I was already paying for thinking I’d work out which I like and stick to those. Well. I did start classes, I enjoyed them all and then had several months of trying to do it all. I’ve now settled in to a better routine so here are reflections on my experiences of classes from a running training perspective.

Spin class

Just do this. I started with a beginners class and soon realised for my existing fitness level it was too basic so moved to another class. I’ll be frank. It is tough. Your legs will curse you. Your lungs will disown you. You’ll sweat more than you have ever in your life. But for interval training I’d almost be willing to say it’s better than a running interval session.

  • Gives you speed work similar to intervals so gets that Vo2 max rate moving up
  • As its cycling it’s less pressure on the knees so reduced impact, thus a bit of bodily TLC
  • Varied effort in one session – hills, flat sprints, hill attacks, sitting, standing – and its effort which can be different each session meaning you’re always challenging the body
  • Its social as you can interact a bit more than a group interval session
  • I’m lucky I’ve had great instructors who encourage and usually play decent music
  • High calorie burn session
  • A post work out shower has never felt so good

Body pump

This was one of the first classes I tried. I’d had a go before, thinking “these are small weights, I’m use to heavier”, not realising that this has a whole different ethos. Smaller controlled movements work a range of deeper muscles whilst also giving you a bit of a cardio workout. If lifting in the gym isn’t for you then here is the solution. Strength training for runners is important and body pump offers a way of doing it without the intimidation of a gym or the muscle bound gods and goddesses that often (annoyingly) hog the squat racks.

  • Strength building
  • Full body workout
  • Good focus on legs and glutes
  • Again its social as it’s a group class
  • Moderate calorie burn


In my head I’ve always been anti yoga so decided Pilates would be a good compromise. This is one of the slowest sets of movements you’ll ever do. It requires a lot of control and stability. But you’re bit expected to be perfect. The instructor in my class changes the programme on a regular basis, offers a range of options for different abilities but also works around injuries and rehab. The sessions are core focused but also have a good amount of glute work. Once you start to get use to the sessions it quickly becomes a personal challenge to improve and push yourself. Basically, your butt will hurt, burning a good way.

  • Essential core work
  • Great variety of moves
  • Full body mobility focus – its about moving strong not having abs of steel
  • Low calorie burn
  • Low intensity in terms of cardio
  • Class is suitable for all abilities and would say you see progress quicker than other classes


Yes I have done some classes despite my reservations. I’ve not been able to do many due to timing of classes but it isn’t the quite the hippy shit I thought it would be. Very different to Pilates I’d say its fewer movements in the class but you’re holding them for longer. Sessions I’ve done have been generic whole body or focused on hamstrings. With better attendance I can see this having a range if benefits.

  • Flexibility is key and this will get you there
  • Each class is varied and different so keeps you engaged
  • Challenges your balance, core and ability to hold what seem like simple moves… seems like simple moves
  • Low calorie burn
  • Low cardio intensity
  • Still has a little bit of weird hippy shit
  • Great mindfulness moment


Yes I’m including this as it is something I’ve got back to. Fully body workout which takes a lot of pressure if the body. It is essentially its own sport so there are issues around technique and training you can get involved in but I’m mainly in it for the variety (and maybe trying an open water swim sometime). Lacks the social element of a class and like yoga could offer mindfulness if unlike me you are not too terrified of water up the nose/ in the mouth/ trying to figure out how to breathe.

  • Great post run recovery exercise
  • Pretty good all body and cardio exercise
  • Low calorie burn especially compared to running but higher than yoga and Pilates
  • Starts to get you thinking about other sporting activities…

Body Attack

I feel very attacked after doing this. High intensity aerobics for the 21st century basically. I have only ever done the 30 mins class which I found out is the most intense class of the selection… joy. If you don’t have sense of rhythm it may be best to avoid as everything happens to a beat. I’d still suggest trying it a few times as once you get the pattern it kinda falls into place but expect sweat, legs and arms to fly in all directions.

  • Great cardio workout
  • Different classes = different intensities
  • Very different type of exercise so throws the body out of the comfort zone
  • Moderate calorie burn


So this is the new class I’ve tried. I thought my core work outs were tough. I’m now reassess life choices after this class. 30 mins of core focused coreness with a core cherry on top covered in core strain with lashings of core pain. But I loved almost every moment of it. Later in the day and the following morning when my core wanted to disown me I knew it was doing the right stuff. The session is a mix of body, weight plates and tube exercises. Engages a range of different movements and works a variety of core muscles, not just the ones on the front that look nice.

  • Great for core strength
  • Probably need to build a little strength first as there were not many variations for ease.
  • Low calorie burn
  • Significant core DOMS
  • Similar shitty music which is generally blocked out by the screams of your core
  • You’ll sweat and not be sure why

Body Balance

This was not what I expected. I thought some stretching similar to yoga. Oh no. This is a mix of things which do require balance and flexibility I soon realised I didn’t really have. Only guy in the class as well. That said it was oddly fun. Trying to see if I could get into poses and hold but also flow into the next. Over time, this has become one my favourite activities to do.

  • Flexibility and perhaps more importantly balance, we often forget the importance of the latter despite always being on one leg when we run
  • Some very odd positions which could be off putting for some
  • Low calorie burn but you will unexpectedly sweat
  • You get a nap in the end of it all!!! ok it’s more a mindful moment than a nap but when else is just laying down with eyes closed part of exercise
  • Expect improved flexibility to come gradually with time
  • Much slower than body pump but you have a co-ordination and movement challenge

Using cross training

Different classes provide different benefits, obviously. Whilst some are great for strength and stability others are cardio. In a running plan the challenge is to get a balance. I know flexibility and glutes are what underpin my running injuries so these are targets. Pilates, body pump, gym, body balance, CXWorks are therefore ideal. But I need general cardio combined with interval like activity: spin, swimming and body attack. But let’s not forget I also need to run! It’s about balance across the week. As such I map out when I am free, when certain classes are held and what I can then incorporate to ensure I am hitting key areas for improvement without trying to do too much.

I then work out three types of week: low, medium and high intensity weeks. This ensures I have variety but also encourages a low intensity week which is important for recovery (and will often not involve running).

Low week may just have a few classes from any of the following Pilates, cxworks, yoga, body balance. There is a range of activities, but I keep the intensity quite low. I may have one short run to keep the legs turning over.

Medium week will include all the low week activities but add at least one spin session, a second mid distance run and a long distance run on a Saturday or Sunday. Your programme will be mainly built around this level of activity, so you do a few medium weeks to one low and one high intensity week.

High week will add the second spin session and an interval session.

A six week pattern may look like: Low, medium, medium, high, medium, high and then start again with the low. If that is too intense then go with low, medium, medium, low, medium, high. You can play around with the combinations.

Reasons to enjoy running

I don’t always enjoy running. I have yet to meet a runner who, after every run, is able to say that their run was fantastic. There will be of course many great runs. But other times it just won’t feel great. The weather was awful. You found it particularly difficult for some reason. You just weren’t into it today. Bad runs happen. It is hard to shrug them off, so accept that they will happen and that you will have more positive running experiences than negative. So as a reminder, here are some of the reasons for enjoying running.

Number one: Exploration

Running is a great way to go out and explore. Whilst we all tend to run the same tried and tested route we often find these by trying out different ideas about where to actually go. Running has been one way I have explored Birmingham since moving here and taking up running. But it is also a great way of exploring new places. Wherever I go, in the UK and beyond, a pair of trainers and my kit opens a whole new experience for me. From running around the trail routes of Sheffield to the Sitgies beach front, running provides a different insight into places you visit. It can even provide surprising discoveries in your own hometown. If not for running I would never have discovered the trail routes of Cannon Hill park, the Rea Valley and canals route to the Harbourne Highway into Edgbaston Reservoir. A green and leafy route which keeps me away from the less pleasant main junctions through the city centre.

Number two: Endorphins

Exercise releases endorphins. So through running your body is going to release this hormone and as a result you’ll feel better from doing it as a result of just doing it.

Number three: running away from things

Sounds drastic but bear with me. One of the great things about running is the stress busting benefit it offers. The chance to escape from work and life and be away in your own thoughts for a bit. Your chance to be alone with your self and your surroundings. Sometimes, lacing up your shoes is all you need to get some time out from the frustrations of work or life and come back with a new perspective. Sometimes it just gives you that break. The chance to be outdoors and running through the park, by a canal or lake, or whether your route takes you. A chance of scene, a change of pace and a chance to take your mind off life for a while. This is perhaps the biggest enjoyment I get from running.

Number four: mindful running

A fairly recent development in running discussion has been the rise of mindful running. At the broadest possible level this is referring to running whilst being mentally connected to your movement. The trick is to shrug off the external pressures on your life whilst your attention is drawn to your body, focusing on your breathing, the movement of the body. Checking in with how your body is moving, how it feels. You attune to the physical sensations of running, focusing on your movement and nothing else. It can leave you feeling refreshed when you come to the end and return back to reality.

Number five: it is social

There are several comments I will always hear from new runners on my 5k programme. One of, I suspect, the top two, is: “it is so much better when you run with others”. I don’t really need to say more. Running is a chance to be social, it doesn’t have to be about exercise alone. It is a chance to run with others, a chance to chat and to feel part of a broader community. Whether you are running with friends or as part of a running club, the social aspect of running is often overlooked but is one of the biggest enjoyments. Having shared running experiences, shared events but also, new social networks will not only enhance the health benefits of running but will bring you a new source of joy and sense of belonging.


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