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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether your long run is leading you to a race day or just another training week, keep these long-distance running tips in mind for success. Share your runs with the TRE community in the app and check out new workouts from our running coaches while you’re there!