So, you want to become a long-distance runner? Where do you start? How should you approach training? What is considered long-distance running?
So many questions. Fortunately, we have answers.
The idea of a “long run” means something different to everyone.
Long-distance running might be the highlight of your week, or you might dread it. Oftentimes, it’s the unknown that can scare people away.
Luckily, we’ve got some tips below on how to run long distances (whether that’s a 10K or a 100K), no matter what the mileage is, which will help keep your long run something to look forward to.
What Is Considered Long-Distance Running?
It depends on who you ask. You might find some definitions floating around the internet, but it’s really a personal answer. What is considered long-distance running for one runner might be an easy workout, and for another, it might be an unreal dream (or nightmare).
Long distance means whatever you want it to me—but we just use the term to mean running further or longer than you typically go. If you’re a sprinter, a long-distance run might be a 5K or 10K. And if you’re a half marathon aficionado, an ultra distance of 50K or 50 miles might be long distance for you.
How to Run Long Distances Faster
Long-distance running isn’t a race. Well, sometimes it is—but that’s not what we mean.
Learning how to become a long-distance runner takes time, and it’s not something you want to rush. Take it easy and build up your base mileage. The speed will come later.
It’s more important to build your cardio and muscular endurance. This will help you tack on more miles without injury. The fastest way to become a long-distance runner is by avoiding injury—do that, and you’ll be the fastest of the bunch in no time.
10+ Tips for Long-Distance Running Training
There’s really no specific distance that defines a short, medium, or long run—it’s all relative. A sprinter may look at a 5K and think it’s a long-distance race, while a marathoner runner may consider a half marathon a warm up.
You’re the only one that can define what a long-distance run is to you. Essentially, every athlete is a long-distance runner—because a long-distance run is just your longest-running distance.
Below, we’ll cover our running tips in more detail, but Nate does a great job at breaking down a few key points in the video above. He covers:
- How to increase running distance
- Tricks for maintaining your running mechanics at certain paces
- Tips for finding the right footwear
- Improving your post-run mobility
1. Make a Plan to Increase Your Long Distance Running
It’s rare that a runner can successfully increase their weekly mileage without a plan. Here at TRE, we advocate for having one, no matter your fitness level. That being said, it’s especially important for new runners to understand the purpose of planning out their training.
With a plan, you can be sure to chart the progress of your runs and how to build up in distance. In general, you are aiming for steady, stairstep-style increases in your mileage, with occasional dropdowns, for maximum results in your long-distance running.
Long-Distance Running Planning Tips
- For beginning runners, your mileage can increase by 20-25% each week. So, if you’re running three or four miles on your long run, you can safely add a mile or so each week to that run.
- For more experienced runners aim to increase by no more 10-15% each week. This is especially important once your long run distance is upwards of 10 miles or so, These limits will help keep running injuries from overtraining at bay, as well as leave you time to have a life outside of training.
- The rest of your weekly mileage will happen throughout the week in the form of speed work and easy runs. You’ll also need to allot time to mobility work. Don’t be intimidated if that sounds like a lot of training to fit into one week. There are more details to come!
- Every 4th week, decrease the volume of your long run. This provides ample recovery for your body. It might seem counter-intuitive to reduce your training volume and run length, but there’s a reason for it.
That “deload” week provides not only a mental break but also a physical one. You’ll have a little more time in your schedule to get in other priorities besides training. This will be especially apparent on your long run day, where the week before you may have run 12 miles, but now you’re down to 7.
Enjoy the extra time and try not to stress that you’re losing fitness. Your muscles are busy repairing the damage of training so that you can start the following week rested and ready to tackle your goal of longer distances.
2. Keep Your Training Schedule Balanced
Ever go for an epic long run on the weekend, only to then spend 6 days recovering from it? I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this at some point. There’s even the term “weekend warrior” to describe this unbalanced way of training.
Instead, we want to balance our long runs with our shorter runs so that we’re always making progress.
In fact, your long run distance should only make up about 30% of your weekly mileage. On that long run, be sure to control the intensity. It should be a conversational pace throughout. So if you’re gasping for breath while telling your running buddy what you did after work yesterday, you’re running too fast.
Slow it down so you remain in control of your breath. It’ll pay off as you’re able to run more easily without getting tired.
A good exercise we like to use here at The Run Experience–take 10 nose breaths every 10-15 minutes while on your run. If you’re unable to do that at any point, you may want to slow your pace down a bit. No running buddy needed!
For the other 70% of your weekly mileage, here’s what it might look like:
- Try to get in one type of speed work per week, either a tempo, fartlek, or interval-style run
- An easy recovery run (think of an effort of 4-5 out of 10) is also appropriate after your speed work, or after your long run day
- Hill workouts can also be a fun way to format your run
3. Improve Your Long Distance Running Form and Technique
Form is often the first thing to go when we get tired. However, maintaining proper running form is actually going to make it easier in the long run! If you’re moving efficiently, such as picking your feet up instead of shuffling or standing tall rather than slouching over, your body can cover the same distance using less energy.
Your long-distance running form will deteriorate over the course of a long run, but the more you train, the easier it’ll be to maintain for longer distances. Long-distance running training varies from the training you might do to build your speed.
Drills are a great way to enforce your mechanics mid-run.
- Coach Holly’s favorites: the lateral shuffle, carioca, and high skips
- After every 30 minutes of your long run, throw in 2 x 30 second passes of one of those drills
Because these drills are not running, they help to wake up those muscle groups may have fallen asleep by that point in your run. These moves will also get you thinking about your feet and remind you to step lightly and quickly to prevent heavy landings.
Get everything firing again to reinforce solid running form!
4. Find The Right Shoes For Long Distance Running
When it comes to long runs, footwear is an important factor, as any flaw in your running shoe is only going to be exaggerated on the long run.
The two most important things to look for in long-distance running shoes are cushion and support. The cushioning will help reduce the effect of your body’s impact on the ground, and the stability factor will help guide your foot in a stable landing.
The surface you run on can affect which type of shoe is best for you. If you strictly run on pavement or concrete, you might prefer to have more support under your feet to reduce the impact. If you mix it up and get on trails or grass, a slimmer shoe could be more appropriate for you because of the softer surface.
You might need to experiment to find the right shoe for you, or even better, you could invest in a couple of pairs to rotate. That way your foot is challenged in different ways throughout your running week. Think of it as cross-training for your feet!
As far as support goes, find a shoe that addresses how your foot strikes the ground when you run. Do your feet pronate and roll inwards as they strike the ground, or supinate and fall toward the outside?
Find a shoe that gently corrects any natural tendencies to make sure you’re striking the ground on a balanced foot. Combine this with some ankle and foot strengthing training to help bulletproof your legs and keep your injury risk as low as possible.
5. Find the Right Long Distance Runner Gear
If you want to get better at running, you need to invest in the right gear. While you don’t need to break the bank to be comfortable and efficient on the run, you do need some basic necessities.
Here’s what to look for.
- Running clothes. You’ve got to consider the weather and your comfort level. Everyone is different. For example, I like to wear shorts if it’s over 40 F outside because I know I’m going to warm up. If it’s colder out, I layer a shirt or two and wear leggings. Pick clothes that wick away sweat like dri-fit material. Experiment with what works for you.
- Sunglasses. Wear shades that fit snugly around your head but are comfortable. Pick a pair that has UV protection to protect your eyes and the surrounding skin area.
6. Make Time For Mobility Work
Longer runs make mobility work that much more vital. While it’s preferable to mobilize right after your run, if you only have time for one or two movements and you save the rest for later, that’s better than skipping it altogether.
Mobility work is a great cool down after your run. Your heart rate has a chance to slow down, you can stretch out tight calves and shoulders, and you set yourself up for your next workout or run. And most importantly, it’s going to help you open up your hips and ankles, which can really take a beating on a hard run.
Two of our favorite post-run mobility drills are leg swings and hip circles.
- Stand on one leg, making sure to keep your hips level (no sinking down on the standing leg)
- Swing the other leg back and forth about 20 times
- Keep your swinging leg relatively straight to target your hip flexors
- After 20 swings, kick the leg back into a long lunge stretch
- Use your hands on the ground by your front foot for support
- Move your hips clockwise and counter-clockwise to rotate the hip through its full range of motion
These two moves are a great way to mobilize your lower body after your run. The hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves all get some love. Make the time for this mobility work in your training plan—your body will thank you!
For a more thorough cool-down, follow along with this great routine:
7. Make Nutrition Part of Your Strategy
The best long-distance runners don’t neglect nutrition—it’s the fuel to your aerobic engine (aka, the human body). Carbohydrates, water, glycogen, proteins, fats—they all play a part in your marathon training and overall mental strength.
- Carbs: Your body stores energy consumed through carbs as glycogen. When your body burns through its glycogen stores, that’s when you bonk and hit the wall. Make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrates before, during, and after your long-distance runs and races.
- Water: Hydration is essential to long-distance marathon training. All the tips in the world won’t help you if your water intake is inadequate. Adequate hydration will look different for everyone, but make sure you’re getting enough water for your body to go the distance.
- Proteins: Your body needs protein to recoup and recover. Remember to feed your body more than just bananas, gels, and Gatorade—your muscle fibers need protein.
Nutrition Tips to Remember
The best training regimen in the world goes to waste without proper nutrition. It’s the gas you put in your tank that fuels every run. So, if you want to get better at running, you have to treat your nutrition as important as your training runs. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Running regularly doesn’t give you permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Sure, you’re burning lots of calories, but a run that burns 500 calories is easily outdone by an 800 calorie, fat-laden cheeseburger.
- Fill your plate with green veggies, colorful fruits, and lean meats. Aim for whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and two to three servings of dairy per day.
- Everything in moderation. It’s great to eat 100% clean, but it’s also okay to indulge in sweets or nachos every once in a while. It makes it easy to stick to an overall healthy meal plan.
- Drink a LOT of water. It helps your body recover, prevents headaches, and most importantly, hydrates your entire body after a sweaty run.
8. Incorporate Strength Training
Getting in regular runs is one thing, but strength training for your entire body makes you a better runner and reduces your injury risk. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on strength training, but 10-15 minutes two to three times a week can make a big difference. Here are a few tips:
- You don’t necessarily need to do an extra workout session to incorporate strength training–you can bring it right into your run. Break up your run by stopping for 30 seconds every mile or so and firing up those muscle fibers with 10-15 lunges, squats, or high-knee skips.
- Don’t forget about your upper body. You don’t need to get into heavy weightlifting to work your arms. Do bodyweight exercises like planks and push-ups. A simple 10-15 pound medicine ball is also great for upper body exercises.
- Make strength training part of your cool down. End your run with 10 minutes of planks, stretching, push-ups, squats, and lunges. A little bit goes a long way!
9. Get in Some Cross-Training
Running can be tough on your body at times. Your lower body is taking on a lot of impact and stress with each stride, but it’s not the only cardio activity that can improve your running performance. Here are a few cross-training activities that you may enjoy:
- If you want to get in some cardio without the impact, try an elliptical training session. It replicates running without the pounding on your legs.
- Go to a spin class. It’s an excellent way to burn calories and work out your entire body without hitting the road or trail.
- Try yoga or pilates. While it’s not a high-cardio exercise, it’s great for flexibility, strength, mindfulness, and muscle toning.
10. Practice Self-Care
Living an overall healthy lifestyle is one of the most simple ways to become a stronger, happier runner. It’s not all about nutrition, training plans, and personal records. Here are some of the best ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine:
- Meditate. Meditation is proven to lower stress, increase productivity, and make us happier, Plus, it only takes about ten minutes per day. Try a meditation app like Headspace or Calm to get started.
- Get in some downtime. In our fast-paced society, it’s tempting to feel like we need to be productive ALL THe TIME. Enjoy some time yourself whether it’s going to a movie, reading a book, or even taking the occasional nap.
- Remember, you don’t have to work out EVERY day. I like to take one day per week where I don’t run, go to a spin class, or strength train. It’s up to every runner how much time you take “off”–some people thrive on once a month and some like once a week. Just don’t forget to give your mind and body a break now and then.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What’s the #1 thing you’d suggest to those searching for how to train for long-distance running?
Don’t look for a silver bullet. There’s no shortcut to taking your body farther than it’s ever gone. Take a holistic approach and focus on your training, form, nutrition, running shoes—the whole package. You won’t get there in one day—it’ll take time and commitment.
Are there any tips on how to breathe while running long distances?
Pace yourself. Long-distance races take time, so you can’t be pushing your lactate threshold and panting for the duration of your run. If it’s difficult to talk or hum a song, then you’re probably pushing too hard.
What is considered long-distance running?
Like we said before—the term “long-distance” is completely relative. Talk to a bunch of ultramarathon runners, and they’ll talk about half marathons and even 50Ks as short runs.
What are the best long-distance running shoes?
Look for any shoe with sufficient cushion and support. There’s no universal best-shoe-for-all running footwear out there. Some long-distance runners swear by high-stack HOKAs while others stick only to zero-drop Altras. Experiment and find what works best for your endurance running.
Take Your Long-Distance Running to the Next Level
Whether your long run is leading you to a race day or just another training week, keep these long-distance running tips in mind to become a long distance runner. Share your runs with the TRE community in the app and check out new workouts from our running coaches while you’re there!