First and foremost, let’s understand exactly what long distance running is. Long distance running, a form of aerobic exercise, involves sustained cardiovascular effort over extended periods. Running long distances typically covers distances greater than 5 kilometres, as a general guide. A common long distance running route that most of you will be familiar with is the 42km marathon! In recent years, long distance running has gained popularity as a recreational activity, attracting enthusiasts of all ages and fitness levels participating in half marathon and marathon events all around the world.
So how is it different from short distance running? Short distance running primarily focuses on sprinting and explosive bursts of speed over shorter distances. Whilst long distance running emphasises endurance, pacing and overall cardiovascular fitness.
We know long distance running is great for your physical health, but it also brings mental and emotional benefits. Engaging in long distance running has been shown to provide immediate and significant improvements in mood and overall well-being (Dunn et al. 2005).
Now that we have an understanding of long distance running, let’s look at some long distance running tips, we’ll be sure to cover long distance running tips for beginners - so if you’re new to the sport, read on!
Having recently completed an ultra-running event, running from the northernmost point of Victoria to the southernmost point of Victoria over 7 consecutive days - there are a few things I’ve learned along the way from my longest run - so let’s get into my tips for long distance running.
1. Start with a training plan
A well-structured training plan is crucial to the success of long distance running. An effective training plan will provide you with a roadmap with gradual progression of distance and intensity whilst ensuring adequate rest periods - tailored to your fitness level and goal. Specific training for long distance running will not only help you to successfully build your endurance, but it will also minimise the risk of injuries. A personalised training plan ensures your weekly kilometres are tailored to you and you alone, and ensures you’re not running too fast, too slow, too short or too long! Don’t be disheartened if you start off with needing to alternate with run walking, we all start somewhere.
2. Prioritise high carbohydrate meals at the right time
One of the best tips for long distance running is related to nutrition. Certainly, don’t underestimate the power of your nutrition in fueling your long runs. The usual school of thought is to have a high carbohydrate dinner the night before your long run. However, eating a higher carbohydrate dinner 2 days before allows your body to effectively digest the food and expel anything not needed, to ensure you don’t experience any gastric issues on the day of your run.
Instead when it comes to the night before, have a light and fresh meal like salmon, sweet potato and broccoli which gives you a great balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat without feeling heavy in your gut. When it comes to the day of your long run, ideally you want to be consuming a high carb breakfast 60 - 90 minutes prior to the race and/or long run. I love to have 3 crumpets with honey and peanut butter - But watch how dense fibrous your selection is, something lighter will always help with gastric issues (which you certainly don’t want the day of). Steering clear of overly dense or fibre-rich foods can help ensure that your digestive system remains at ease, allowing you to fully capitalise on the energy from your chosen pre-run meal without digestive distress. Selecting options that are gentle on the stomach, yet still fueling can be a great way to set the stage for a successful long run.
And most importantly, when it comes to fueling your run during the event, ideally you want to be having your first gel at approximately the 15km mark and then one every 7 - 8km after that. Using a gel in the long run provides a quick and easily digestible source of carbohydrates and electrolytes to help maintain energy levels, delay fatigue and enhance endurance performance. As always, you need to find what works for you and you can do this by testing this during your long training runs.
3. Increase water intake
To optimise hydration levels, it’s recommended to increase your daily water intake to a minimum of 3 litres in the week preceding a long run or event, as well as on the day of the event (Casa et al., 2000; Sawka et al., 2007). This helps to maintain proper hydration, which is a crucial factor for performance on the day. During your longer runs, it’s always advised to not bypass any water stations. Instead, make it a priority to alternate between water and sports drinks to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Taking a moment to hydrate during the race won’t significantly impact your overall finish time, whereas facing dehydration or cramping can lead to a decline in performance.
4. Wake up at least 90 minutes before the race
It’s crucial to prioritise a well-rested start by waking up at least 90 minutes before the race to allow time for your pre-race ritual: a visit to the restroom. Something you certainly don’t want to have to do during your longer run (especially if it is a race). Consider fueling up with something like a banana 30 minutes before the race or a gel 15 minutes prior, complimented by sips of water. This strategy not only tops up your glycogen stores but also ensures you begin well-hydrated.
5. Protect your feet
Arguably one of the most important parts of the run: your feet! Long distance running is no easy feat. You want to ensure you’re prioritising foot care by wearing the right shoes, taping your toes if needed, and any other areas prone to blistering. When it comes to the choice of the “best” long-distance running shoes, this can be highly subjective and will often depend on individual factors such as foot type, running style and personal preferences. We recommend visiting a specialty running store where experts can analyse your gait and recommend shoes that suit your specific needs. Additionally, applying specialised chafing cream, balm or Vaseline to areas susceptible to chafing will make for a much more enjoyable run!
- Do you run on your toes for long distance running? It’s generally recommended to have a midfoot or slight heel strike for most runners to distribute impact more evenly. Some long distance runners may naturally have a forefoot strike pattern, however it is not necessary for long-distance running.
- Does long distance running build muscle? Long-distance running primarily focuses on endurance and cardiovascular fitness. While it can contribute to lean muscle development, typically it’s not the primary goal of this type of exercise.
- Does long distance running burn fat? Yes, long distance running engages the aerobic system, which relies on fat as a fuel source. Over time, regular long-distance running can lead to a decrease in body fat percentage.
- Does long distance running lower testosterone? For regular long distance running, this is not typically a concern.
- Does running long distances make you faster? Consistent training in long-distance running can improve overall running speed and endurance.
- How should your foot land when running long distance? Ideally, your foot should land under your body with a midfoot or slight heel strike. This helps absorb impact and propel you forward efficiently. You want to ensure you avoid overstriding (landing with your foot too far ahead of your body) to prevent excessive stress on your joints and potential injury.
- How to breathe when running long distance? When it comes to breathing tips for long distance running, focus on rhythmic and controlled breathing. Deep belly breathing and maintaining a relaxed upper body can help to optimise oxygen intake. Ideally, you want to be working towards a conversational pace where you can maintain a conversation and still be able to run comfortably.
- How to improve long distance running speed? We’re all looking for the magic pill when it comes to sourcing the best tips for running long distance faster. To enhance long-distance running speed - consistency, consistency and consistency!
Running longer distances can be daunting. Instead of trying to address all of these tips, pick one or two to focus on for your next event or training run and start to build from there! Keep in mind trial and error is the best way to learn - feel free to tweak them and find what suits you!
By Joshua Ralph, Vision Personal Training Surrey Hills
Joshua Ralph, is a Personal Trainer with over 7 years of experience in helping people achieve their health and wellness goals. With his Certificate III and IV in Fitness as well as extensive personal experience in long distance running, Joshua provides education on a wide range of topics including sustainable weight loss, holistic health and wellbeing, long distance running and more.
Dunn, A. L., Trivedit, M. H., et al. (2005). The Acute Effects of Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 37(12), 2032-2037.
Casa, D. J., Armstrong, L. E., et al. (2000). Intravenous versus oral rehydration during a brief period: responses to subsequent exercise in the heat. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(1), 124-133.
Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., et al. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 377-390.