It's easy to look at the likes of Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge and think that running long distance is easy, because of the grace and ease that they run with, but have you ever gone outside, gone for a good run, got a good sweat on and realised you've only been out there for 5 minutes? If you have, we're here to help you learn how to run with the grace of the professionals, so that even if you can get the speed and get to the finish line.
6 Tips to Improve Your Distance Running
1. The Mental Game.
Seeing a long run coming up on your schedule can be daunting, especially if it is your first time going that distance. You never really know how it's gonna go. I had a great long run one week and the next, I couldn't get halfway without stopping and walking and this inconsitency that we all face can make the run seem like an even bigger monster.
It's important to remember that achievement all starts with what's going on in your head. You can look at so many top tier athletes who are consistent throughout the season, but can't get it together at the most important time of the season; Just look at the 100m final - plenty of professionals can't handle the pressure of what they've been training their whole life for. So don't feel bad if you feel under pressure or nervous or anxious. It's normal. But it's about overcoming the pressure is necessary.
So how do we overcome that fear that holds us back?
You need to imagine yourself on the route, running well at a good consistent pace from start to finish. You need to see yourself finishing strong. Your mindset will take you further than you could imagine, so make sure it is a positive one. Your perspective is so important because as you tell yourself the run will be easier, you'll find it really is, but if you tell yourself it's gonna be difficult and you keep projecting negativity over the whole situation, you'll find that it'll be tougher than it should be. So think positively, and see how your run becomes more fun and easier.
If you're gonna go on a long run, you need energy. There's no two ways about it. And the only way to top up your energy stores is to eat and eat well. I'm talking about carbo-loading. You need to do this because carbs release energy overtime so you'll be able to run well and not tire yourself out quickly, which is obviously important if you want to be out on the road for an hour, plus.
Eat oatmeal, or pasta. These are great sources of carbs, and if you don't know how much to eat, studies show that around 8 g/kg of body weight is a good proportion (taking into account whether your run is 30 minutes or 3 hours). You can also go by feel - if your stomach feels good throughout your run, and you feel energised enough to complete the run, then you've probably eaten enough carbs. If not, then adjust your pre-run meal accordingly. You don't want to get to race day and run on a full or empty stomach. Whilst we're on the topic of race day, it's important that what you eat throughout training is the same as what you eat on race day. You don't want any surprises when it matters most so never try anything new on race day.
3. Pace yourself
If you're going on a long run, don't empty the tank! We just spoke about how important your energy is, well it's equally as important to use it well.
Long runs are not races. They're there to help you increase your capacity for distance running so that when you go for a race, you can either run faster or run in longer events. If you go too fast, you won't be able to go the distance because you'll be too tired and when it comes to race day, you'll be under prepared.
Long runs should be run at a conversational pace. If you can't string a sentence together, let alone hold down a conversation, then you're going too fast. You might think that it's too slow, but this is the beauty of long runs. You need to run for a long time to get the most out of it and you need to be consistent in your pace. Be the tortoise, not the hare. Look at the scenery, listen to music, enjoy it; you'll be out there for ages, so you might as well!
4. Break it down into sections
Linked to what we were saying earlier about the mental aspect of a run, if the length of the run looks scary, break it down, in your mind, into sections.
10K doesn't have to be 10K, it can be 3 slow 3K's and an extra one to finish it off. 15K can become 3 very slow 5K's. Although the distance is the same, breaking it down can make the run seem more achievable. This is a good strategy because it makes things seem very possible, but when you just look at the mountain in front of you, it seems impossible.
So break it down!
When you've been out there for an hour, you'll start getting a bit tired, a bit lethargic and weak. That's why it's important to carry something to refuel you midrun.
Things like gels are so helpful and one could argue essential. They're easy to carry in your bag, belt or pockets and they're so energising. Right after taking a gel (of any flavour choice, might I add,) you'll be feeling like you can go all over again! If gels aren't your thing, then try smaller healthy snacks, like nuts and chews.
And although these energy providing foods are great, they all mean nothing if you're not taking on any water.
You need to drink throughout a long run to stay safely hydrated. You're going to sweat so it is imperative that you replace that lost fluid to keep your body in a happy state of homeostasis. Now, don't drink too little, but also don't drink too much, otherwise you'll get an upset stomach. Take a large gulp or two every 40 minutes to stay hydrated as a rough guide, during your long run. Do the above and you'll feel like you just started your run.
Finally, never skip recovery.
Post-run recovery comes in a few different forms: the cool down, stretching and your post-run meal.
Your cool down will consist of a shorter even slower jog into a walk. Do this to reduce the inevitable soreness you'll feel the following day. Slowly cooling your muscles down, is the essence of recovery. Stopping too soon can lead to injury, so although cool downs can seem unnecessary and a waste of time, you'll find them very beneficial short and especially long-term.
Stretching post-run will help speed up the recovery process whilst getting you ready for your next run. You want to stretch so you can improve your flexibility and reduce muscle soreness post-run. So after the cool down, give yourself 10-30 minutes to perform static stretching.
If this isn't necessary, I don't know what is. Please eat after you've done a long run. You'll be knackered and out of energy and you need to replenish that with more food. Protein for muscle recovery, carbs for energy and vegetables for fibre and vitamins.
Electrolytes are important too. They're pretty much salt and sugar and you lose a lot of them when you go running because you sweat a lot. You need them to keep your muscles fresh and stop them from cramping up, so a good way to replenish them back is by eating or drinking something sweet like fruit or juice.
All of the above is important and it's important to practice what we've discussed here, if you really want to increase your capacity for distance running. Whether it's to lose weight or run a marathon, please incorporate and follow this as a basic guide.