Long distance running is a great exercise for improving endurance. It allows your body to run a faster pace at longer distances, it also increases your cardiovascular capacity. But, long distance running can be challenging. Learning to train not just your body, but also your mind during long distance runs will help you keep going for longer even when you become tired. If you’re training for a long race such as a full or half marathon, getting your head into the right mindset takes some practice. Here are some ways to make your long run more effective and enjoyable.
Build your base miles
It takes time for your body to adapt to running more miles, therefore you need to build your base miles first. For example, if you're used to running 2-3 times per week, it wouldn't be the best idea to suddenly start running every day. Increasing running mileage from say 20km per week to 40km can also bring its challenges. Increasing running mileage too quickly in a short space of time is a key factor in running injuries. And running related injuries are our bodies way of telling us we've pushed it too far. Make sure that any increase in mileage is gradual. Keep a training plan and diary to record your sessions each week.
Start slow. Don’t set out at a fast pace when increasing your miles. Remember to build the base first. Increasing too many specifics at the same time can bring a risk of injury. And you'll find if you run at the same speed as a 5km or 10km run, you’ll tire much quicker. To begin increasing your miles, run at a slower pace to allow yourself to adapt and build up the capacity to run for a longer distance.
Run to music
Music can offer the perfect escape when on a long run. It can also boost your energy and help get you in the mood for exercise. However, just be careful to stay aware of your surroundings.
Find a running partner
Having a running buddy on a long run can actually help take your mind off the distance. And it’s often good having somebody there to help keep the pace with, as well as for encouragement. You could also check out local running groups in your area.
Break up the distance
Cut your long run down into smaller manageable runs. For example, with 21km you could break this down in your head into 2 or 3 shorter distances, so it becomes 3x7km, and 7km doesn’t sound so bad.
Find a scenic running route
Try and find a long scenic route that you look forward to running. Whether you prefer running on the road, on forest trails or up in the mountains, if it's a route you enjoy it will help to mentally motivate you.
Fuel yourself for running
It can be tough to maintain fuel levels when increasing your running miles, that's why it's necessary to consider what you're eating and when. Your body needs to sustain the demand of running further. Carbohydrates are a known source of energy for our bodies. And many runners will often take energy gels or an electrolyte drink. The only way to find out what works best for you is to try out different methods during training. Remember that in hot weather we sweat more, it’s important to replace these fluids that we lose during longer duration exercise. After your long run, and ideally within 2 hours, you'll need to think about refueling for repair and adaption, protein intake is particularly important at this time for helping to repair muscle damage.
Get enough sleep
Running more miles means your body will generally need more time to recover. Anything less than 8 hours sleep a night could be detrimental to your training. And running after very little sleep can add more stress to the body.
Reward yourself after the run
Knowing you have something to look forward to after your run will give you extra motivation. Something small like your favourite chocolate, or simply a hot bath. A little treat goes a long way and I never see a reason to deprive ourselves.
To become a long distance runner takes time, effort and dedication. It can be hard work to build up and it isn't something that happens overnight. It can take months for your body to adapt and become used to long distance running, but by increasing your mileage gradually, it will help to avoid injuries.