By Darren Croft
Once you’ve got the running bug, it’s hard to shake it. Going out for a morning jog or a Saturday morning Parkrun can be like an addiction, but one that’s good for your health and wellbeing.
You’ve managed a 5K; now how about a 10K, half-marathon or even the big one?
Unlike shorter speed distances, long-distance running involves long, slow efforts to increase your endurance and aerobic efficiency. Runs of five miles or more can be considered long-distance, and how far you go will depend on your fitness, endurance level, and time you have to spare.
If you’re looking to step it up several notches and run longer distances, that’s great. But there are a few tried-and-tested pieces of advice that you should adhere to avoid going off-track.
Firstly, let’s explore exactly what long-distance running will do for us.
Related article: Sprints vs long-distance running: which is better for weight loss?
Three big reasons why you should start running longer distances
There are more way more than three reasons to take up long-distance running, but these are the biggies that might just convince you to commit to a life of training.
1- It’s excellent for your heart
Long-distance runs will help improve your blood flow as endurance runs increase your VO2 max. It helps your body pump oxygen to the muscles more efficiently as you learn to run further and faster for longer. Distance running can also help reduce your blood pressure, which means that runners tend to be in the low-risk group for developing cardiovascular disease.
2- It makes you mentally stronger
Running long distances can be a form of meditation and is a great way to clear your head. It’s brilliant for reducing general stress, anxiety, and depression. Running helps to release hormones that improve your overall mood, often described as the “runner’s high”. Even better news, the more you run, the more efficient your body becomes at producing these hormone highs.
3- It boosts your metabolism
Your metabolism begins to change when you start running for longer as you increase muscle and decrease excess fat, which means your body burns more calories even at rest. This causes an improvement in your metabolic burn and overall health, which will, in turn, have a knock-on effect in your everyday life. You’ll start to crave fresher and healthier foods and feel more energized.
Where to start with long-distance running
If you haven’t already done so, investing in some quality running shoes is a good idea. Most decent, top-brand shoes tend to be lightweight, which is perfect: the less weight you’re carrying around, the better. Make sure you have the weather-appropriate gear to wear too. Many a wannabe runner has been put off by encountering lousy weather along the route that they weren’t prepared for. A lightweight, sleeveless top for warm days, a long sleeve for cooler days and a waterproof top and cap for the days when the rain comes is coming down should suffice for the basics. Speaking of water, make sure you’re properly hydrated during the run by taking a water bottle with you on long runs. Especially important during hot weather, and don’t forget the sunscreen too.
If you’re running first thing in the morning, check weather forecast the night before, and lay the appropriate running clothes out in preparation. That way, you won’t be rushing about the next day and inadvertently wear the wrong thing. Hydrating and eating a good quality carb source like a banana pre-run will help to ensure your energy levels are topped up to power you through a challenging distance.
Progress at a sensible pace
You may be keen to see how far you can run on your first attempt past your usual distance but proceed cautiously. A safe rule of thumb is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% on a week-by-week basis. This will reduce the shock and stress of the extra workload you’re asking your body to undertake. A gradual progression is what you’re looking for. If you increase too much too early, you’ll risk a severe injury.
How fast should I run a long-distance?
Always listen to your body. If you need to, slow down or stop. It’s not about running the distance without taking a break. The aim is to cover the distance. Breathing is key; it should be controlled at all times, and you should never feel out of breath. Endurance running is about the ability to sustain a pace over a long distance and being in control of your body at all times.
How to stay motivated when long-distance running
One of the best ways to stay motivated is to reinforce your goals. You can write these on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you’ll notice it daily. These can be anything from “Lose seven pounds” to “Run a Marathon”. Another good idea is to set a personal best target. Shy away from a time initially as you don’t want to go all-out to beat the clock every time you run. A controlled run over a certain distance is a better idea. Then try to run slightly further each time.
How to recover from long-distance running
Long-distance runs take longer to recover from than short, intense runs, so make sure you give your body adequate time to rest in-between sessions, especially when you’re starting out. For distances up to ten miles, rest for a few days between your first few week’s efforts and drop that down to a day or two once you feel comfortable. Four or five days for distances of ten miles or more will provide enough stimulus to become a seasoned pro in no time.
With long distance training, “slow and steady wins the race” has never been more apt. You’ll reap all the benefits if you build up your distance by running slowly and gradually.