How to Run Longer
For years now, long runs have been my go-to method for losing weight (and for keeping it off). I’ve tried dieting. I’ve tried a mix of dieting and short workouts. I’ve done CrossFit. None of it does for me what long runs do. But not everyone who wants to get in shape knows how to run longer.
I know I sure didn’t. There was a time in my life when I’d never run farther than 2 miles. Then I signed up for a half marathon, intent on dropping 15 pounds. I was clueless in so many areas.
But, now that I’ve done half and full marathons, and now that I’ve got dozens (if not hundreds) of long runs under my belt, I wanted to share the things I know now that I wish I’d known then. Follow these tips and you won’t have to worry about how to run longer — your body will just do it.
1. Build Up Base Miles
If you’re anything like me, you really excited when you decide you’re going to do something new. If you decide you want to get in shape and that long runs are the way to do it, you may be tempted to hit the track, trail or road to find out how far you can go.
But that’s not a good starting point. You need to build up “base” miles. Start running as much as possible — not as far as possible. Run 2 miles a day for a week, take a Sunday off, then see if you can run 2.5 miles a day for a week. Every time you go for a run, you’re banking base miles. These base miles prepare your legs and even the rest of your body for the rigors of long runs — going 10, 15 or even 20 miles as you build up.
You may be able to tough it out and run 10 miles right out of the gate. But recovery is going to be difficult. You’re most likely going to go incredibly slow. And you’re greatly enhancing the risk of injury.
Build up base miles early, and then your body will be fully prepared once it’s time to run longer. How do you know when it’s time? Build up slowly. Run 2 miles a day for a week. Then build up to 3, 4 and 5 miles a day for a week. And once you get to 5, take a day off and see if you can run 7 or 8. If you can, congratulations, you’re just finished your first long run.
After that, continue running base miles most of the week, and then run long on the weekends or whenever’s convenient for you. For example, you might run 4 miles Monday, 3 miles Tuesday, 5 miles Wednesday, 3 miles Thursday, 0 miles Friday, and then 10 miles Saturday. That’s a nice 25-mile week that’s going to spark weight loss. Take Sunday off, then start again on Monday — this time aiming to reach 30 miles in a week.
2. Eat Before
Your body needs fuel for a long run. But it also needs the right type of fuel. I always do my long runs in the mornings, and here’s how I do my food the night before and the morning of.
I have a reasonable dinner the night before, regular dinner time of 7 or so. And then I have a snack that’s high in protein and carbs before bed. Cheese and crackers are my go-to night-before snack. Get in bed early, as sleep is of the utmost importance for successful long runs. Then, after you wake up and at least 30 minutes before you start your run, hit your stomach with more carbs and a little protein. My go-to in the morning before a long run is wheat toast slathered in peanut butter.
You don’t want to eat the wrong things or eat at the wrong time. If you do, you run the risk of the food just sitting on your stomach rather than converting into fuel for your body.
Water is essential both before and during your long run. But don’t just drink and drink and drink and drink. You’ll want to make sure you’re fully hydrated the day before. Most of us don’t drink enough water on a regular basis, so up your consumption a bit to make sure you’re fully hydrated.
The morning of your run, drink enough water so that you’re not thirsty. But then decrease your water consumption 30 to 45 minutes before you start. You don’t want that water just sitting in your bladder to haul around.
You’ll get thirsty as you start to run, and you have a few options for hydration. I typically run a long trail that has water fountains along the way. I’ve also run in more remote places where I’ve looped my runs so that I can stop by my car every 3 miles or so to get a drink. If you’re really in a pinch, you can run with water on you — either carrying a water bottle or using a bladder device that straps on your back.
I really don’t recommend carrying water with you. It’s just extra weight, and you can find other ways of hydrating along the way.
4. Have the Right Equipment
This is SO important. If you don’t have the right equipment, it’s going to be hard to execute a challenging long run. Here are my essentials:
I put Bodyglide anywhere that I think there’s even a possibility of chaffing. It goes on just like deodorant, and it works like magic in preventing chaffing. Nothing thwarts a long run quite like raw skin. Your legs may feel great, but if you’re chaffing anywhere on your body it’s going to be hard to finish a long run.
Make sure you have properly sized shoes. You’ll want plenty of space in the toe box, or else your toes are going to feel cramped and are eventually going to blister. Also, make sure your shoes haven’t reached their expiration date. Look at the bottoms of them, and check for significant wearing. If they’ve worn enough to change the surface, it’s time for a new pair.
You want cool clothing for summer and just-warm-enough clothing for winter. It’s essential that you have sweat-wicking material. You can’t run in cotton. That goes for your socks, your shorts and your shirts. Cold weather is tricky. If you’re warm at the start line, you’re going to be too hot when you hit your stride. But if you’re cold at the start line, you’re going to be miserable for the first few miles. Here’s my trick: I wear a 55-gallon garbage bag at the start. Poke holes for your arms and head, and you’ll be warm as can be. When you start getting hot, simply rip off the garbage bag and toss it in a nearby trashcan.
I recommend a watch that tracks your time and speed. My favorite is and has always been the Garmin Forerunner, of which I now have the Garmin Forerunner 230. It connects with satellites to track your progress, and it helps you prevent going too fast or too slow. It also allows you to run in beautiful places that don’t have mile markers.
5. Supplement Along the Way
When you run, you burn tons of calories and glycogen. Gel supplements help you replenish those calories and glycogen. My favorite product is Gu, which offers a variety pack that I love. You can change it up and try different flavors, which helps keep things interesting during monotonous long runs.
I’ve told friends about Gu before, and they say something like: “I’m running to burn calories, not consume them!”
Well, that makes sense, but think of it this way: Consuming more calories with Gu allow you to run longer and burn more calories in the long run. One Gu includes about 100 calories. A woman weighing 150 pounds and running 10-minute miles is going to burn just a little more than 100 calories a mile. So, assume for a second that you want to run 15 miles. I could recommend taking along 2 Gu packet, one for mile 5 and one for mile 10. You’ve consumed 200 calories, but the value of those two Gu packets may make the difference between you bonking at mile 12 rather than reaching mile 15. They’ve essentially “paid” for themselves.
So, all that to say, thinking of taking Gu as an investment. You consume more calories now so that you can burn more calories in the long run.
6. Run in Cooler Weather
If you’re new to long-running, July and August are not the months to start. It’s hot and it’s humid, even first thing in the morning in many places. That heat just saps the body and makes it hard to go fast and hard to go long.
When the weather turns and the mornings start to get chilly, it’s exponentially easier to run long. There’s a reason why most marathons in the U.S. take place November through February. It’s just too hot to run that distance during other months of the year.
7. Lose Weight
The more weight you can drop, the easier it’s going to be to run long. This can be infuriating to hear (trust me, I’ve been there), because you want to run long to lose weight, right?
But think about it this way. If you start with base miles and you stick to a reasonable diet, you’re going to start losing weight. Your legs are going to be stronger. Your lungs are going to be more comfortable with running for distance.
Then, as you start running longer, up to 7 and 8 miles, you’re really going to start seeing some weight loss. Your body is going to be strong enough to reach 10 miles, and you’re going to lose weight which will make it easier to reach 10 miles. (A 150-pound woman running 10 miles at 10-minute-mile pace is going to burn more than 1,100 calories — more than half the daily recommended intake.) And then the same for your next step: Running 10 miles will help you drop even more weight, which will help you get to 15 miles and beyond.
Success breeds success in long-running. The longer you run, the more weight you’ll lose, and the longer you’ll be able to run all over again.
8. Take it Slow
The slower you go, the longer you’ll go. That’s one tough thing to internalize about distance running. It’s tempting to want to run hard and to see how far you go, but you don’t want to burn out too fast.
So set a goal for yourself. Pick a pace that’s reasonable, and then see if you can hover around the pace for the entirety of your long run. For example, if you’re running 9 miles, see if you can do it in 90 minutes, nailing each mile at 10 minutes or just a bit under.
Then, as you get more advanced, you can shoot for the holy grail of distance running: the negative split. A negative split is when you run the second half of a race of training run faster than you ran the first half. It sounds crazy at first, but it’s a great long-running strategy. Spend the first half of the run getting into a groove, hydrating, running at a comfortable pace. Then, during the second half, start pushing yourself to ensure you don’t leave any energy unused. If you’re running 10 miles, see if you can push the pace a bit for mile 6, then a bit more for mile 7, so on and so forth. In an ideal world, you’d be able to cut loose in mile 10, sprint to the finish and leave it all out on the trail.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk
When you start running, walking any portion feels like a failure. But walking can actually be a useful tool that helps you run longer. If you’re pushing yourself to run 6 miles or 8 miles or 10 miles, taking a break and walking just a portion can be the difference between reaching your goal and falling just short.
Now, I know some people who simply can’t start running again after they stop for a moment. If that’s you, that’s fine. Walking won’t be your strategy. But, for others, walking can be a useful break in an otherwise arduous long run — and walking can be a steppingstone to building on one long run with an even better next long run.
10. Get Ready for the Next One
When do you start getting ready for the next long run? The minute your last long run ends.
You definitely want to do some light stretching to help your muscles bounce back. Many distance runners swear by the ice bath, too, which is perhaps the best thing you can do for your muscles after a long run.
You’ll also want to eat something, though you don’t want to gorge. And drink, drink, drink, and then drink some more. Now is the time to drink far beyond your thirst. Drink water, and consider a Gatorade or a similar sports drink to give your body a jolt in replenishing what it’s lost.
Take a day off after a long run, or ease back into things with a slow, easy jog. You can go back to regularly training in a day or two, and then your body will be ready for another long run in a week’s time.
Running is hard on the body, and you’ll need full days for recovery here and there. If you’re training for a race, consider taking a week off from long-running once or twice during your training schedule. And get plenty of sleep. Your body repairs itself when it sleeps.
Final Thoughts on How to Run Longer
Every single time I’ve training for a race, I’ve had at least one super discouraging long run. There’s at least one run during which completely fall apart or fail to get even half as far as I wanted. Don’t quit after your discouraging long run! I’ve come welcome the bad long run, because I know that it always happens once and I’m glad to have gotten it out of the way.
Do you have questions about long-running? Ask in the comments section below, or send us your question via our contact form.
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