Every single run is a gateway drug to running longer distances.
Through a series of small running commitments, you eventually begin to see what your body is truly capable of.
It starts with one mile, then two, then six, then twelve…and so on.
Before you know it, you’re crushing marathons easier than you were crushing your first half mile.
While running longer distances gave me a passion for the sport I never knew I had, there are quite a few facts I wish I would have known beforehand.
I started running with the goal that a year later I would run my first marathon.
So longer distances were intended for me from the beginning.
While I’m so happy I decided to achieve this goal in my first year of running, there was definitely a lack of preparation and experience on my part.
In this article, I’m going to answer a few common questions and then give you the 11 most useful tips you need to start incorporating longer distances into your running routine!
…so you won’t be as clueless as I was.
Here’s how long distance running allegedly got started.
Some chap in Ancient Greece named Pheidippides (pronunciation unclear) was a running messenger who delivered important documents to kings and other people way more important than him.
According to the legend, he ran approximately 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Greeks were victorious over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.
Turns out, he collapsed and died as he delivered the message.
To commemorate the legend, the first marathon was conducted at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Sometime after that, the race varied in distance between 24-26 miles, until the London Olympics in 1908 where the laid out course was exactly 26 miles. To ensure the finish line was located outside the royal family’s viewing box, an extra 385 yards (approx. 0.2 miles) was added. (1)
Thus, the 26.2-mile marathon running event we all know and love today was born.
Now we know why everyone thinks runners are insane…
Why would we want to do something so crazy you ask?
Running long distances isn’t just insanely gratifying but it actually has a number of killer health benefits (when done properly).
I can personally say this has worked for me, but you’ll have to try it out for yourself.
There have been many studies indicating that regular running can reduce the symptoms of clinical depression.
One study was conducted where running was found to be as effective as psychotherapy for alleviating symptoms! (2)
It’s no secret that long distance running is an excellent means of burning calories.
Which comes in handy when you need to fuel for those long runs!
Which, yes, means lots of pasta.
It’s also an easy, passive way to keep weight off in the future!
It goes without saying that by building a long distance running habit you’ll develop KILLER endurance over time.
As your body gets stronger it won’t have to work as hard to do physical activity.
For me, this has translated to other sports that require endurance such as swimming, biking, etc.
As your body goes through the motions of long distance running, it will develop an increase in bone strength.
This is extremely beneficial as we age, as it will prevent degenerative bone diseases like osteoporosis.
There’s no better way to find yourself than at the 20-mile mark of a marathon when your body feels like it’s crumbling beneath you.
Okay, in your case it might not be quite as dramatic, but it’s important to note that runners don’t engage in long-distance running to have a zen-like experience.
It’s to prove to ourselves that we have the grit and resilience to push past our mental and physical boundaries.
One of my favorite quotes by Bill Bowerman states…
…”The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart”.
Running long distances will give you a mental toughness and stability that you didn’t previously have.
Here’s the skinny on why sometimes things go wrong in the long distance running world.
There are specific reasons as to how + why serious injuries occur.
They are almost always due to the following reasons:
Really, it’s simple.
Always, always, always consult with your medical doctor before attempting any rigorous sport; however, your body will let you know when it needs a break.
A smart runner knows the risks associated with running long distances (or any sport for that matter) and then plans for those risks accordingly.
Because running is an individual sport with no strict rules or regulations, people tend to do a lot of stupid things.
Don’t do stupid things.
Listen to your body.
If you’re running longer distances with the sole purpose of losing weight, I want to completely honest with you.
Runners rarely lose a bunch of weight when training for a longer race.
This is because responsible long distance runners know they must increase their caloric intake to compensate for the rigorous training schedule.
They call it “carb-loading” for a reason!
Over time, running longer distances WILL cause you to become fitter and leaner; however, it definitely should not be seen as a weight loss regimen.
If you want to lose weight, running can work for you, but start small and start slow. ?
Don’t force a longer distance with the desperation mindset that it’ll get the weight off quicker.
I hope the previous questions shed light as to whether long-distance running is right for you.
If you’re still not sure, I’m going to share the top 11 tips that a runner should know before attempting longer distances!
If you know me, you’ll know I’m adamant about using personal development work to set our fitness habits up for success.
Well, this especially applies to long distance running.
It’s one of the most mentally-dependent activities there is.
Here’s what you’ll want to do to ensure your mind’s in the right place pre-run.
First, make sure you’re planning your runs properly.
Don’t shoot for 8-miles when you’ve only ever run 4-miles.
A long distance run for you at the moment might be 5-miles and that’s okay!
Second, know where + when you’ll be running and plan accordingly.
Dress appropriately, pack the essentials and prepare yourself.
Third, use a long-distance run as a way to enjoy the time with yourself and to practice your mindset tactics.
I like to practice reciting mantras during my runs.
My favorite to use lately is “Action over discomfort”.
If you do this, your brain will become trained alongside your body.
A good rule of thumb is to run long distances at an easy, conversational pace.
This is because, at first, you’ll want to get your body adapted to the endurance aspects of distance running.
Which means that you should be doing your long runs at least 2-3 minutes per mile slower than your average 5K pace.
This is actually where many find their true love for running.
When you run longer distances, you don’t feel as much pressure to be fast.
You eventually allow yourself to take your time and enjoy the process.
There are a number of must-have items you’ll need for your long run.
Look, I know when you pictured yourself crushing longer distances you didn’t have walk breaks in mind.
But, they are perfectly acceptable (and sometimes necessary) for getting started.
If my body tells me to take a walk break — I listen to it!
Some even permanently use the run-walk method for longer distances.
Whatever works for you, do it.
[Sidenote: I should mention that while I do take walk breaks when my body tells me to, it’s important to differentiate between when the break is necessary versus when your body is giving you an excuse. Learn the difference.]
Every time I lace up for a trail run I imagine hearing a hallelujah chorus playing in the background.
It’s amazing, insanely underrated, and there’s no better way to experience long distances.
Just be mindful that trail running has extra factors to it that you’ll need to prepare for.
You’ll need to be more mindful of your running form now more than ever.
Having poor running form over long distances will be detrimental to your body over time, so make sure you’re getting a handle on it from the very beginning.
My absolute favorite thing about long distance running is the time I get for myself.
At first, it’ll feel a tad difficult.
But once you find your rhythm, it feels like optimal YOU time!
Really brainstorm ways you can make the experience super customized to what you would find relaxing.
Listen to an audiobook, create a new playlist, or just experience the sounds of nature.
My favorite is listening to running podcasts!
Whatever you need to do to make it well-deserved time for yourself.
This is something I’ve failed at on numerous occasions, so I can really fill you in on what NOT to do. ?
First, make sure you’re getting enough water.
3-5 cups per hour is ideal, but this will also vary based on personal needs and running conditions.
Second, make sure you’re fueling properly pre-run.
A good rule of thumb is to have a pre-run meal with a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
It is also recommended to avoid a ton of fiber since this can cause digestive issues during a run that you won’t be fond of.
Also, keep in mind to not make the mistake of thinking you need more fuel than you do!
Start small, and if that doesn’t feel like enough, add more fuel next time.
Some of my favorite light fuel options to try out are:
You’ll be able to figure out within a few runs what works best for you!
I highly recommend signing up for a race as motivation to up your distance.
There’s no better way to accomplish distance goals with hundreds of other people who are doing the same thing!
If you’re interested in registering for a race (do it!) then you can search for events using the resources below:
You’ll have to learn to prioritize recovery once you start long distance running regularly.
First, you’ll want to eat a balanced, carb-loaded meal within the first hour after finishing your run to restore your glucose energy levels.
Second, give yourself a leg massage or invest in a foam roller to enhance recovery.
It should also be noted that long distance running is cool now, okay?
Maybe in the 80’s people would envision the lame guy in high school wearing his short shorts and neon headbands.
Now, runners are seen as total badasses who run long distances till their toenails fall off (really, though).
Races such as Tough Mudder, The Color Run, and the Warrior Dash are becoming insanely popular — with people who had never previously thought about running!
I mean…beer is now being served at finish lines.
It’s a great time to decide to become a long distance runner.
To sum things up, I truly believe you’re missing out on the true magic of the sport if you skip long distance running.
I highly recommend giving it a try.
And don’t worry! You can build up your miles as slow as you want!
Remember, it’s only a race against yourself.
I can’t wait to hear all about your journey with long distances!
Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified eating psychology coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right place. You can read my full story here.