Long-distance runs are a staple of almost all training plans for runners, whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon. They improve your stamina and aerobic endurance, which are the building blocks for a runner who wants to learn to run faster over longer distances.
What is considered a “long-distance run”?
A “long-distance run” is relative: what one person may consider a long run may be an easy run for another. It’s usually one and a half to two times longer than your average weekly run. The distance and duration also depend on what you’re training for, so it may vary from 60–minutes to over 120–minutes when training for a marathon.
7 long-distance running tips
1. Cultivate a Long-Distance Running Mindset
Preparation for a long-distance run begins in your head. It’s ok to be anxious when you try distance you’ve never run before. You can make it easier by preparing mentally for the long distance you’re going to cover.
Visualize the route you will run and picture yourself running well and finishing strong. Trust your training: take it slow and tell yourself you can do it. A positive mindset will go a long way when the going gets tough. If you tell yourself it’s hard and you can’t do it, then you’ll only make it harder for yourself and you’ll actually find it harder.
And this works the other way around, too — the mental toughness you get from running can help you fight stress in your daily life.
2. Focus on Fueling Your Long-Distance Run
You need to carbo-load for your long run, as carbs provide your body with energy — so make sure to get enough carbs before your long run!
Oatmeal is a great choice of carbs, as it’s easy on the stomach and you can increase portion sizes as your workout demands. Check out other great foods for runners.
The carb requirements of someone running for 30 minutes will vary greatly from someone running for 3 hours. It’s best to play around here and see what works for you.
As long as your stomach feels ok during the run and you can complete it, you’re on the right track. If you feel like you can’t finish your run feeling strong, then start increasing how much you eat. If you’re struggling to perfect your “long run” meal, use 7-10 g of carbs per kg of body weight as a daily guideline and work from there. If you’re training for a race, then the nutrition and hydration on your long run should reflect what you plan to do on race day.
3. Long-Distance Runs are All About Pacing
Your long run pace should be a slow pace you can hold for the duration of the run. You should run at a pace that would allow you to hold a conversation.
Long runs are more about the effort and simply covering the distance. If you have a specific race and goal in mind for a half marathon or marathon, then this is when you can begin to think about hitting certain paces.
Aim for 1 minute to 90 seconds slower than your planned race pace. It’s easy to overdo it in training and run too hard when you’re feeling good. It’s better to arrive at the start slightly undertrained than even as little as 1% overtrained.
4. Break Long Distance Runs Into Sections
A long run can seem scary, but it can help if you break up the distance mentally.
Instead of telling yourself you have to run 15 km (for example), tell yourself it’s 3 slow 5 km runs or 2 x 7 km with 1 km more added on — go with whatever combination works best for you. It’s also ok to take a break during a long run! If you’re doing 15 km and feel the need to walk or take a couple of minutes break between 5 kilometer stretches, then go for it.
However, try to reduce breaks in your long runs as your fitness level increases. It can also help to visualize a post-long run treat to help you get through the distance, whether this is a meal you’re looking forward to, a glass of wine, or simply watching Netflix for the rest of the day on the sofa.
5. Consider Refueling Mid-Run
If you’re running over an hour, then it may be time to start taking on calories during your run in the form of gels, chews, powders you can add to water, or nuts and dried fruit if you prefer a more “real food’” approach.
Taking on food during a run isn’t easy and everyone’s stomach has different preferences, so you’ll need to experiment with different types of food. What works for one person won’t work for another. Every runner has their “go–to” foods and nutrition strategy — so start building yours!
Hydration during a long run is also necessary as you start to run longer distances. You may need to take water with you during a long run either in a bottle or in a hydration backpack, or plan your route so you pass water fountains along the way. Hydration and fueling during a long run requires a lot of experimentation, but a rough guide would be to drink roughly every 20 minutes and take on calories every 40 minutes.
Learn how to make your own sport drink alternatives!
6. Long-Distance Run Route Selection
There are two ways to approach long-distance running routes. One way is to use the opportunity to run further from where your normal routes take you. This can be great if you have an adventurous mindset and are confident you can achieve the distance (or overcome challenges when they arise).
If you are nervous about long-distance running, running multiple loops of a route you already know is a good way to give yourself a mental edge. It could be enough to get you through the long run and build your confidence!