Whether you’re training for an upcoming marathon or race or are just trying to reach a personal goal, running for long distances can be as challenging as it is rewarding.
Training for a long-distance run is a serious commitment no matter your fitness level or current experience and should be a gradual process. We’ve provided some important considerations, exercises, and examples to help you train at your best!
Proper Running Form
There are entire blog entries dedicated to the do’s and don’ts of running, but the basics are pretty simple.
When running, you’ll want to perform a full-body check-in, starting from the top. Your head should be level at all times, with your gaze cast directly in front of you. It’s OK to look around with your eyes, but your head should be upright and facing straight ahead. You should definitely avoid looking down at your feet, which creates poor neck alignment.
You should also make sure that your shoulders aren’t hunched or slouched inward. Keep your shoulders open and allow them to move opposite from your feet: When your right foot comes forward, your left shoulder should come forward in turn. If you’re feeling tight in the shoulders, take a moment to shake out your arms and remember to relax.
Keep your arms close to your body with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, moving in a chin-to-hip motion. Your arms should move smoothly back and forth at the shoulder as opposed to across your body, which can actually slow you down. You should also keep your hands relaxed, rather than balled into a fist.
Always remember that your core is the center of your power. You should be mindful of keeping your abs engaged and your spine lengthened, which is reinforced by keeping your head straight and your shoulders open.
There should be a slight bend at your hips, as if you’re leaning into your run. This will help engage your glutes for maximum efficiency.
Aim to keep your knees low without shuffling to reduce the amount of energy you’re using and reduce the impact when you come back down. Your stride should be shorter rather than longer to work with the natural flex of your body and avoid injuries. It’s important to land on the balls of your feet, while keeping them underneath your knees, then use the ball of your foot to push back off.
Mentally checking your form while running can help maximize your energy output while avoiding injuries, especially toward the end of your run when a tired body is prone to losing form.
Training for a Long-Distance Run
As with any exercise, you should begin your training with a warmup and end with a cooldown. To start, you can gently swing your arms and legs one at a time, both back and forth and side to side. Shaking out your body and wiggling and swaying all of your limbs is also a good way to get the blood flowing and release tension.
You should end your cooldown with some light stretches to help avoid injury and keep your body loose for the next run. This should include not just your legs but your arms and back as well. Some good stretches to try are standing hamstring stretch, tricep stretch, cross-body shoulder stretch, side bend stretch, standing quad stretch, and hamstring/calf stretch.
When it comes to any kind of training, it’s best to mirror the actual activity that you’re training for. In this case, the best way to train for long-distance running is by running for long distances. Of course, part of a proper training routine is focusing on your areas of weakness to help bridge any fitness gaps.
If you’re a beginner runner, it’s important to be realistic with your goals. You won’t be ready to complete a 10K marathon in a matter of weeks. Even if you’re an advanced runner, it’s important to allow enough time to work up to your goal to avoid injuries and gradually increase your running length and duration.
If you’re a beginner runner, the walk-run method can be a good way to get you settled into a routine. All you need to do is separate your time between running and walking in intervals.
You’ll want to start with shorter bursts of running buffered by longer periods of walking. A good set is to walk for one to two minutes, then run for 10 to 30 seconds. Keep this up for the duration of your run.
If this starting point is too intense for you, play with durations that work best for you while still providing a challenge. Inversely, if it’s not challenging enough, increase your running time to one to two minutes.
Interspersing your running with walking can reduce the likelihood of injuries while not being too overwhelming in intensity.
A 5K race (a little over three miles) is a good goal for beginner runners. You’ll want to take at least seven weeks to prepare for this type of race as a beginner.
You should be training three days a week with at least one day of rest in between training days to give your body ample recovery time. A good example is to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, aim to do the run/walk method for 30 minutes, making sure to track your time and distance on an app like MapMyWalk. This will help you mark your progress and ensure that you’re advancing toward your goal on schedule.
On Sundays, you’ll want to focus on distance rather than time. On the first Sunday, you should run/walk for one mile, then increase the distance by half a mile for each week until you are going 3.5 miles. While noting your times on Sundays can help track progress, the biggest emphasis here is on the ability to complete the distance.
Training as an advanced runner or for a longer race, such as a 10K, works about the same way, but with longer times and distances. If you’re used to running on a near-daily basis, your main goal should be to add half a mile every week. You should also give your body a day of rest after these long-distance days to ensure that you don’t injure yourself.
Strength Training for Long-Distance Running
Running for long distances is a coordinated effort of both your cardiovascular and muscular systems. As such, strength training can be an important component in increasing the distance you’re able to run.
You’ll want to put an emphasis on exercises that target your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calf muscles to power your runs. Exercises such as squats (and its many variations), leg presses, and calf raises are good options for most fitness levels.
While a focus on the legs is obvious for running, it’s important to remember that running relies on the body as a whole. Not only is a stronger body more effective at running, but it also uses your oxygen and energy more efficiently.
Core workouts that target your abs and obliques, such as standard situps and their numerous variations, can help keep your foundation solid as you’re running.
You should also include arm, shoulder, chest, and back workouts, such as pushups, pullups, and bench presses.
Training with free weights can be a great way to power your workout, but you should never bring them along while you run. The added weight can cause increased stress on your joints and lead to injuries.
Instead, if you want to mix strength training in with your cardio, you can utilize resistance bands, which weigh next to nothing but require more effort for your movements. Some good examples are using the band around your thighs to increase leg resistance or attaching your resistance band to a stable surface, such as a fence, then wrapping it around your hip area and running in place against it.
Just make sure that your form isn’t compromised if you’re using resistance bands while running or walking.
Fueling Your Long-Distance Run
Your diet is also an important part of running. Providing your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs will go a long way in helping you achieve a longer running distance. A small snack of carbohydrates and a little bit of protein consumed 15 to 60 minutes before a long run will help sustain your energy levels.
You’ll also want to refuel with carbohydrates and proteins about 30 to 60 minutes after you return from your run. These are vital nutrients for muscle repair and recovery.
You’ll also want to maintain your hydration before, during, and after your run. Avoid sugary drinks or snacks and just stick with water.
Whether you’re a beginner or have been running for years, there’s always room to increase your running distance. Be realistic with your expectations and set timeframes that support your goals in gradual increments. With proper training and a good diet, you’ll be able to run farther than you think, whether it’s one mile or a 10K.