Starting to delve into the world of higher mileage running? Way to go! These 25 tips for long distance running should help you with all the major aspects of training and racing. From nutrition to gear to running tips, you’ll find a ton of helpful info to help you get ready for anything from a half marathon to an ultra.
1. Don’t be afraid to start where you’re at.
Sometimes when people start long distance training they worry because they might only be able to do 3 miles now, so training for a marathon that’s 26.2 miles just seems so out of reach. The thing is, it isn’t out of reach at all. You just need consistency and a good chunk of time, and you’ll see your body can do amazing things!
2. Gradually increase mileage.
A good rule of thumb is to limit mileage increases to about 10% each week.
There is a small exception for the very beginning of lower-mileage training plans. For example, let’s say you’re training for a half marathon, and just started with three runs of 3 miles / 3 miles / 5 miles. That’s 11 miles for the week. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to go to 3.5 miles / 3.5 miles / 6 miles the following week. That’s 13 miles – a 2 mile increase – which is technically more than 10%.
The key is just to make any increases very manageable and avoid increasing too fast, which puts you at risk for injury (source).
3. Include drop-down weeks in your training.
You’ll notice almost all the free running training plans that we have on the site (with the exception of very short plans, like 4-week plans) contain drop-down weeks. These are built in every 2-4 weeks (depending on the type of plan) and either have less mileage or less intensity to allow your body to recover better. Utilizing these recovery weeks helps make for a more productive overall training cycle.
More advanced athletes, those with a high fitness level, and younger athletes can use longer blocks between recovery weeks (3-4 weeks) while older athletes, those with a lower fitness level, and those who are injury-prone may benefit from shorter blocks between recovery weeks (2-3 weeks).
4. Make most of your runs easy.
I like to think of the 80/20 rule when it comes to distance running. 80% of your runs should be easy, comfortable-paced runs. The other 20% can incorporate speed work or hills to challenge yourself. But too much of the later increases injury risk (source) and makes training less effective. There is a careful balance here.
5. Pace yourself on long runs.
Runners sometimes make the mistake of starting long distance training runs too fast, and then struggle on the second half of the run. Instead, practice pacing yourself on your long runs. Go out slower than you think you need to, so that you preserve some energy to maintain that pace (or dare I say even speed up a bit!) on the second half of the run.
6. Try run/walk training.
If you’re struggling to maintain consistent running throughout your long runs, you might prefer using run/walk training. You can decide on an interval that works for you. Some people like an interval of 3-5 minutes of running followed by 30-60 seconds of walking. Others prefer a shorter interval like 60 seconds running / 20-30 seconds walking. Test out a few options to see what works best for you.
Some research has even suggested that run/walk intervals may lead to similar finishing times and less muscle soreness completing a marathon compared to just running alone (source). This is not applicable to elite runners, but for those who just want to finish a long race, it’s definitely something to consider.
7. Maintain good running form.
Good form can reduce injury risk and possibly increase performance (source). Think of every aspect of your body, from your head to your toes:
- You want your head and neck to be neutral, with your gaze forward ahead.
- Avoid looking down directly at your feet. For trail running, you’ll need a slightly more downward gaze to make sure you’re not tripping over roots or rocks, but this should be a gaze with your eyes about 3-4 feet ahead, rather than a downward neck tilt.
- Keep your body upright and avoid hunching over.
- Think “fast feet”. One mistake runners sometimes make is overly long strides that put too much pressure on the feet, knees, hips, and pelvis as they go through the running motion. If you think “fast feet” while running, it does a good job naturally quickening your cadence and keeping your body aligned better.
- Use a good comfortable arm swing; avoid keeping your arms and hands stiff.
Here is an excellent video about running form if you’re looking for visuals to demonstrate these concepts:
8. Warm up and cool down.
Start every workout with about 5 to 10 minutes of walking or easy jogging (depending on your current fitness level). It helps get blood flowing and the muscles moving. Similarly, take 5 minutes to cool down after a workout to gradually allow the body to get back to it’s resting state, rather than an abrupt stop.
9. Stretch and foam roll.
While the research on stretching is pretty underwhelming, anecdotally it feels great and can help with tight muscles after a long run. Foam rolling has some evidence to support benefits for muscle stiffness and soreness after a workout, so it’s worth investing in this inexpensive tool.
10. Mix in some body weight training.
If you’re a fan of strength training at the gym, you can totally stick with that – but if you’re not, it’s wise to try to incorporate some body weight training at home. This will help strengthen the core, which is involved in maintaining running form, and also the legs, which will power your stride.
Here are some examples of exercises you can include:
- Step Ups
- Bird Dogs
- Push Ups
11. Take care when running in the heat.
If you’re running during hot weather times, give yourself time to acclimate. It takes about 2-4 weeks of running in hot weather to get used to it, so take it at a slower pace and lower intensity while you get used to it.
If you’re dealing with a heat warning, though, skip running outside during the peak of the day. Instead, you’ll want to try to run in the early morning or later at night, when it’s the coolest part of the day. Or, if you have a treadmill, take things inside! And of course, stay hydrated on your runs.
Nutrition tips for long distance running are often neglected, but are so important to your overall performance and health! Consider these tips:
12. Eat a good pre-run meal.
If you’re going to be out there for more than an hour, be sure to have a meal or snack about 1 to 4 hours beforehand (source). Focus on easily digestible carbohydrates along with a bit of protein, and avoid too much fat and fiber (especially if you’re eating close to your long run or tend to experience digestive upset).
A few ideas: a bagel with a little cream cheese or peanut butter, rice with poached eggs, or a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich.
13. Fuel during your run.
For runs lasting more than 75-90 minutes, you’ll also want to fuel during your run. The rule of thumb is to take in about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour (source), starting around 30 to 45 minutes into your run.
You can do this with gels, sports drinks, “real food” (like raisins or bananas), or any combination of products or foods that you enjoy.
14. Stay hydrated.
For runs under an hour, plain ‘ol water is just fine. For runs over an hour, use a drink that also contains electrolytes (in particular, sodium).
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much to drink during a long-distance run. The best advice is to drink to thirst. The key is that requires paying attention to your body’s signals and honoring those cues! (source)
15. Try a sweat test.
If you don’t often feel thirsty during a run or find yourself not drinking often at all, it might be worth conducting a sweat test. Certain people (particularly older athletes) may have a blunted thirst cue and might risk dehydration if they don’t hone in on drinking during a run.
The way to do a sweat test? Weight yourself before and after a run, sans clothes. Then compare to this:
- If you’ve lost around 1-2% of your body weight, you’re right on track and are hydrating properly.
- If you gained weight, you probably are drinking a bit too much.
- If you lost more than 3% of your body weight, you might want to try paying a bit more attention to hydration during your next long run.
16. Recover right (when necessary).
A strategic recovery meal is most important if you are doing two-a-day workouts – you want a strategic recovery meal after the first workout (source). There is also some benefit to having a recovery meal after a long run (>1.5-2hrs) and after a very intense mid-length workout (>1 hr).
In these cases, eating a meal with both carbohydrates and protein afterwards can help replenish energy stores and kickstart the muscle repair process. That might look like a bowl of chicken, veggies, and rice; a post-workout smoothie made with fruit and Greek yogurt; or a loaded sweet potato topped with beans and salsa.
For shorter runs though, and for most non-elite athletes training for distance races, your everyday diet does just fine helping support recovery. Don’t feel like you need any special meals or products after every single workout. Of course, if you won’t be eating for a few hours after a short run, it’s definitely OK (and a good idea) to add in a snack like some yogurt and fruit or a glass of chocolate milk.
17. Get enough carbs on an everyday basis.
If you’re a competitive endurance athlete, you’ll want to make sure you’re properly fueling each day to support your training. This includes getting enough carbohydrate on a daily basis (source). Carbs are stored as glycogen in the muscles, and this is broken down to support energy needs during a run.
Note: There’s different schools of thoughts on low-carb, fat-adapted training. Most of the research at this time shows that it does not improve performance, and may possibly lead to some performance detriments in a few cases (source).
Where this gets tricky is that some people lose weight while on such a diet, thus increasing their speed because of weight loss – not necessarily the diet itself. As a Registered Dietitian, I still recommend an overall balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, but I do think it’s helpful to know there are other approaches.
18. Troubleshoot GI upset.
Ever have your tummy start rumbling during a run? Uh oh! Here are some of the common causes of gastrointestinal upset during a run:
- Eating too much food too close to a workout (light meals or snacks are best within an hour of your run)
- High fiber / high fat meals too close to a run (save the high fiber cereal and beans for later on in the day after your run!)
- On the flip side, drinking too much water while running.
- Mental anxiety around GI upset – if it happened once before, it’s easy to psych yourself out that it might again.
If you’ve had GI upset during a run, try small light meals prior to a run, and try strategies to calm your nerves about it (deep breaths, repeating a mantra, etc).
19. Avoid cotton running clothes.
This long distance running tip is key to your personal comfort. Cotton clothing soaks up with sweat and doesn’t wick well, making your skin more likely to chafe. On short runs you can sometimes get away with it because it’s less time that the clothing is rubbing against your skin, but on long runs, skip it. Instead, aim for sweat-wicking synthetic fabrics (like nylon or polyester).
20. Invest in good sneakers.
You’re going to be doing a lot of training in them, so this is the one area where it’s really worth it to spend money for sneakers that fit well. I highly recommend visiting a running store where experienced employees can assess your foot strike and make suggestions for the types of shoes that would work best.
Some people (myself included) overpronate their feet while running, which requires a more supportive sneaker (sometimes called stability sneakers).
21. Consider a fuel belt.
These go around your waist and hold multiple flasks of water or sports drink, and also usually have a pouch for your keys or phone. They make it convenient to ensure you’ve always got a hydration source on you, which can be particularly important if you’re running on a trail or an area you’re not familiar with.
22. Sign up for a race.
One of the best ways to stay motivated with distance running is to have a race you’re training for on the horizon. It helps keep you committed and encourages you to tackle runs on days when you’re feeling less than motivated.
23. Give yourself a reward.
Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or setting up a massage appointment, rewards can be a carrot that keeps you motivated to run regularly.
24. Switch up your playlist.
Losing some of that distance mojo? Try switching up your playlist to include some new tunes to help motivate you. If that’s not your style, you can try stand-up comedy, books on audible, or podcasts.
No matter what you’re listening to, be sure to stay safe by keeping the volume low or keeping one ear bud out. This helps to be aware of your surroundings, whether it’s other people, cars, or animals.
25. Build your mental endurance.
Just like you need to build up your physical endurance, you’ll need to build mental endurance too (source). It can be easy to let your mind tell you “I’m tired, I can’t go further” on a run – but assess if this is actually physically true or not. Often, pushing past those mental blocks are what help you complete long distance runs and build your confidence.
Hopefully these 25 tips for long distance running help you as you’re out there pounding the pavement or exploring the trails! If you have other tips to share, don’t hesitate to do so in the comments below.