Long Distance: So You Want To Run A ____?
Running long distances is all the rage these days. There are a seemingly unlimited number of options of races to challenge and enjoy yourself while running far: from charity races, fun runs, 5 and 10K's, to half marathons and marathons. If you're looking to get started running longer distances, there are some major points to keep in mind as you begin and progress through your journey.
Firstly, all of the general running and exercise guidelines apply just as much, if not more, to running long distances. Staying hydrated, and properly fueling your body before and after your runs, are imperative to maintaining your health and energy levels. To prevent injury and increase mobility, remember to keep stretching and practice myofascial release both before and after your runs. Furthermore, having the right clothing and shoes will keep you comfortable and safe during your long runs.
Walk It Out
With any running routine, a great first step is walking. If you're preparing for a 5k, or other shorter distances, a great initial fitness marker being able to walk that distance. With longer distances, you should be able to walk for the time that it would take you to run that distance. For example, if your running pace for a half marathon (13.1 miles) is a 10 minute mile, you should be able to walk for a full 2 hours and 11 minutes. If your body cannot first handle walking for that period of time, running for that long will be even tougher.
Finding your pace is another important piece to running long distances. Going slow and taking your time is more than fine, and in fact it's encouraged. In the beginning, the primary goal is getting there, not getting there fast. The first mission is completing the distance you're aiming for, and once you know you can reach that, then you can try to pick up pace and speed.
A good way to find your long distance running pace is to breathe deep and talk. Your aim is to stay around your first Ventilatory Threshold, or VT1. At this speed and exertion level, you should be able to speak in full sentences, hold a conversation, or sing a song. By staying at this level, you should be able to run for a long periods of time and distance, without getting out of breath or exhausted. The more you run and practice, the higher this threshold will be, and the faster and higher intensity you'll be able to run while still being able to speak.
Utilizing a plan to train for running long distances is a great way to make sure you stick to your new habit and progress to reach your goal. No matter what plan you choose, the key is to keep it consistent. You can have the "best" plan ever, but if you're not following through with it, it is worthless. A great trick to make sure you keep up and stick to this plan is to integrate it into systems you already use. You can write it into your daily schedule, put it into your calendar on your phone, and set reminders with alerts to make sure you follow through. Recruiting a friend to run with you and be your running buddy is a surefire way to keep you accountable.
When deciding on a training plan, it's important to take your time and not stress over the details. You can find or create a training plan for your distance of choice, based on your current level and ability. Finding an existing training plan is as easy as a quick google search, but creating your own can give you ownership over it and make you more likely to actually follow it.
If you're creating your own training plan, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind. Running safely and preventing injury is extremely important. You don't want to push too hard and hurt yourself, and ruin your plan before it even starts. You can do this by making sure that your plan follows a safe progression from week to week to keep you advancing safely. Depending on what level you're aiming for, devote time to run between 1 to 4 days a week to make the most out of your plan. Working in a mix of short and long runs each week is a great way to work your way up to the distance you want to reach, while not tiring or burning yourself out along the way.
A great way to keep your motivation up is to sign up for a race. Giving yourself stakes and a deadline to work towards can help keep your mind on your goal and make sure you stick with it. Most importantly, take your time, make it fun, and enjoy the experience with a great challenge for your body and mind.