A friend recently asked me ‘have you got any tips for running longer distances?’ Having just completed a marathon training run for an ultra-marathon I have coming up, I started to think about what helped me up my distance. From only being able to manage 2 miles when I first started to running a marathon as training, I have learnt (sometimes the hard way) works well for upping distance. In this article I’ll share my top 11 tips with you. Enjoy!
We’re all guilty of neglecting to warm up from time to time. Warming up is essential for avoiding injury as it prepares the body for the intense period of physical arousal which is about to happen.
A gentle warm up before a long run gradually revs up the cardiovascular system, raising the temperature and increasing the blood flow to the body, so you’re primed for running.
Great pre-long run workouts are walking briskly, marching on the spot, jogging (very) slowly, using a skipping rope or cycling on a stationary bike. The key is to start the warm up gentle and gradually increase intensity. Doing a warm-up before running means you’re body is ready for exercise and is less likely to experience injury. Setting the perfect scene for a long run.
2. Drink a glass of water before starting and bring some drinks
Ever attempted running slightly further than usual only to find your gasping for a drink a mere few miles in? I have. It’s not the best sensation in the world. This problem of dehydrated can be solved simply by always drinking a tall glass of water before starting your run.
Something I’ve learned the hard way is to always ensure you’re properly hydrated before running any distance. Especially for longer distances where more demands are placed on the body. Water is essential for the body. It fuels the muscles and helps blood to circulate properly.
For longer distances, I’d recommend bringing a running backpack to bring a bottle or two of water. It’s always a good idea to bring some cash with you too just in case you’re in desperate need for an extra drink.
It may sound a bit excessive but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Trust me! The last thing you’d want is to be 13 miles from your home, gagging for a drink with no drink left nor any money to buy one.
For more information check out the following posts:
3. Start Slow
Something I’ve learnt through many miserable long runs is to not peak to soon. If you’re going to be running a further distance than usual, don’t rush out of the starting pen with the enthusiasm of a 100 metre sprinter.
Sure, running fast feels great for the first 10 minutes but you’ll soon tire and the remainder of the run will become a nightmare.
In my experience, it’s always best to start off slow and gradually build up to a speed you’re body is comfortable with.
Starting the long run slowly means you can more evenly distribute your energy over the course of the workout rather than concentrating it all into the first 2 miles, with barely any energy left for the remaining miles.
4. Remember sunscreen
The longer the run, the longer the time you will be outside and exposed to the elements. If you’re lucky enough to live in a sunny country, or it’s just sunny out, remember to put sunscreen on. Otherwise, you may return from you’re run resembling a lobster. In short, with a nasty sun burn!
You’re going to sweat a lot over the course of your long run so make sure you apply a water resistant sunscreen. These can be picked up relatively cheaply and ensure that the sunscreen won’t leave your skin exposed to the sun’s UV rays because of your sweat.
For more tips for running in heat check out the following post:
5. Listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly
Part of the art to improving your ability to run for longer distances is to listen to what you’re body is saying and respond appropriately.
For example, if you’re literally gasping for air and you can feel your heart beating like you’ve just drunk 10 cups of coffee then you’re body is saying the current pace is too high. Therefore, you should take it down a notch and reduce to a gentle jog.
On the contrary, you may be able to plod at a steady pace without any discomfort whatsoever. In this scenario, you can experiment and try upping your cadence to see what pace you can comfortably maintain.
To train the body effectively for maintaining a higher pace over a longer distance, the key is to hover at a pace just above what feels comfortable. Hopefully, this won’t feel too strenuous and you will be able to maintain it over the course of the long run.
Over time, your body will adapt to this ‘new normal’ and you’ll find yourself covering longer distances in shorter time. This makes for effective training.
6. Always eat a decent pre-long run meal
Ever been in the middle of a long run, enjoying yourself, to suddenly find hunger pangs kicking from the walls of your stomach? This happens far too often for runners who don’t fuel up properly before starting their workout.
Running long distances requires lots of energy, mandating the need for a decent meal 30-60 minutes before starting the long run. Without fuelling up properly before a long run it’s more or less guaranteed that your energy stores will deplete rapidly and hit zero quickly.
Once your energy fuel tank hits zero, it’s very hard to fill it back up quickly whilst on the run. Therefore, it’s always best to take care of filling up your fuel tank with decent food before the run.
According to Run Fast Eat Slow ‘Before going on a morning long run, you want to top off your glycogen stores with easy-to-digest carbs combined with a little bit of protein, fat and fiber for sustained energy. We opt for carbs that have a low-glycemic index, meaning instead of spiking your blood sugar, they slowly release glucose for steady energy that won’t make you crash.’
Some good examples of easy to digest carbohydrates before a long run are sweet potatoes, oats, toast, bananas, and smoothies.
There are options for a range of tastes. Pick one pre-long run food that you like and make sure you fuel up every time to ensure you have the energy to sustain yourself over the course of the long run.
7. Don’t run too far from home
If anything unexpected happens whilst you’re trying to up the distance, you will benefit from staying local to your home so you can quickly return.
Trying to run longer than normal means going out of your comfort zone and pushing beyond what you’re currently capable of.
Whilst the best mindset is to stay positive through the longer run, there is a chance that this extra effort could end in an undesirable consequence. For example, an injury or running out of water with no shops nearby to buy more.
If either of these were to happen, being near your home will help you out massively as you will be able to return much quicker than if you had run say 13 miles away. From experience, I can attest that it’s not fun walking 13 miles back from a long run after pulling a hamstring; it would have been much more painless if I had stayed relatively close by.
As a rule of thumb, stay within a 5 mile radius of your home when experimenting with longer runs for the first time. Sticking within this distance will provide a comfortable safety net as you train your body and become familiar with what you’re capable of.
When your body adapts to longer running and you feel more confidence, then think about increasing the radius by a couple of miles and so on.
8. Listen to a podcast, music or audio book
As it says on the tin, long runs are ‘long.’ You don’t have to be a PhD to work that one out!
Upping your distance means you’ll spend considerably more time running than normal, more than often by a few extra hours a few if you maintain consistency. For example, I’m currently averaging 6.5 hours a week in running time. That’s quite a lot.
Personally, I think the extra time associated with long runs is a fantastic opportunity to listen to something beneficial. Whilst on my long runs I listen to music, audio books and podcasts, depending on what mood I’m in and what my current goals are.
Music is fun, audio books teach you something new or immerse you in a fictional world, and podcasts can be absolutely intriguing. Listening to one of these whilst running is an excellent way to make the most out of the extra running time.
For example, I’m currently in my 4th month of learning French and I’m spending a lot of running time listening to French music and podcasts to improve my comprehension. If I can improve my French at the same time as running, it’s a double whammy of benefits.
Some prefer to run without any earphones in and that’s absolutely fine. If that works for you then please ignore this tip.
If you’re interested to learn more about listening to content whilst running, check out the following posts:
- Why You Should Run With Podcasts
- 11 Best Headphones For Running
- Should You Run With Music?
- Top 16 Audiobooks to Listen to Whilst Running
9. Diversify your running route
There’s a huge difference in the motivation, concentration and willpower required to run for say 3.5 hours for a marathon distance compared to a 4-mile distance in 30 minutes.
Consequently, longer runs can increase the risk that you will become bored and disenchanted with running. To avoid this happening, it’s vital you run through inspiring and powerful scenery.
When running longer distances, make sure you diversify your route. Don’t do laps of the same 3 mile loop in your local park over and over again. If you do, there’s a chance you’ll become bored and go into autopilot without necessarily thinking about the running at hand.
Instead, try mixing up your route by testing out variations. Explore local neighbourhoods, plan routes on Strava’s route builder, run through woods and forests, go down streets you’ve never been down before.
A recent personal example of this was during my marathon distance long run yesterday. I had a habit of running along the same stretch of the local river Medway and turning off at East Farleigh, back onto the main road.
Wanting to mix things up a bit, instead of turning off I carried on along the river and was pleasantly surprised to find another 0.75 of a mile along the river remaining. It was a beautiful, previously undiscovered stretch. I mixed up the route and enjoyed the long run more as a result.
Mixing up you’re route will keep things fresh and subsequently will keep you engaged as you start to run longer more time-consuming distances. Give it a try, you never know what you might find.
For more information check out the following posts:
10. Have a tangible distance goal
The main reason for setting a tangible distance goal is so you can measure whether you have been successful or not. It’s no use saying ‘I want to run further than usual.’ This is not specific enough. Further than usual might be half a mile longer than you’d normally go. Hardly beneficial.
Before you think about getting out there and putting in more miles than usual, make sure you have a tangible distance goal. Set a figure in your mind of what distance you want to achieve for long run you do.
If you normally run 4 miles, your long run target might be 8 miles. Whatever the case, pick a number for the distance you desire and make that the objective of the long run.
Ideally, you should be following some kind of a training plan which has the overarching vision of you being able to run a considerable distance with all the runs before that building your endurance up to reach it. For example, my current goal is to train enough to be able to run 65 miles in one go for an ultra-marathon I am doing in August.
My long run plan up to this point will consist of incremental mileage totals. For example, one weekend I will run 15 miles in one go, the next 20 miles, then 25 miles and so on. Having the fixed mileage goals in mind allows me to focus my efforts on achieving the distance and it allows me to measure whether or not I’ve been successful or not.
Whatever your overarching objective is for your long runs, be sure to fix a set goal in your mind. This will guide you along the path to long running success.
For more information on setting goals for running check out the following post:
11. Book an event to train for
Personally, I think this is one of the most important tips on the list. Having an actual event to train for serves as an excellent source of motivation. With the event in mind you’re training for, it’s much easier to feel inspired to keep putting in more miles into training.
Think back to your school days and all the studying you did. Having a tangible exam to study was probably the main reason for your motivation. Imagine if a teacher told you to study a mathematics textbook with no tangible outcome for using the knowledge. Chances are, you’d have felt pretty uninspired to continue studying. Upping distance for long runs is the same.
This even relates to running events you may have already done. For those who have completed a half-marathon or a marathon, you probably remember being motivated to train because you had the event in mind. After all, who wants to run 26.2 miles out of shape and in pain the whole way around the course?
Having a tangible event in the pipeline to train for is brilliant to keep you going when things get touch. For instance, there are some weekend mornings when I really don’t feel like running 20 miles in one go and I’d rather be playing guitar or reading a cool book. However, I think about the 65 mile ultra-marathon I have booked and I know that if I don’t put the time into running my race day performance won’t be as good.
If you’re hesitating about upping the distance and doing longer runs, my top tip is to find an event and book it now. Committing yourself to an actual event removes any uncertainty in your mind and will enable you to take the plunge into longer runs.
You can get a taste for what it’s like to commit to upping your regular distance for a while. If, after race day, you find it’s not for you that’s absolutely fine. At least you gave it a try.
There we go. 11 tips for running longer distances. I wish you all the best and hope that you stay motivated to continue on your running journey. Good luck and good running!