In a world where running marathons and ultras has become kind of normal, it might seem strange that in old-school athletic terms, long distance running is actually considered to be anything 3,000m and up.
But let’s face it, it’s all relative. If you’re just starting out, that 5km parkrun can feel long. For others, going long means clocking triple digit distances.
The good news: no matter where you’re at right now, with the right training you can always build a bigger endurance engine. And this guide is stacked full of long distance running tips and training advice to help you push further.
6 tips for long distance running
- Don’t trust the first miles
- Drop your pace
- Keep it conversational
- Chunk it up
- Loop near home
- Don’t be afraid to stop
Don’t trust the first miles
Runs tend to start one of two ways: you either fly out the traps feeling invincible or buckling in for a long ride on the struggle bus. The former tricks you into running too fast, the latter makes you want to return to the sofa. Neither can be trusted. Acknowledge the feelings for sure but don’t believe them.
Instead, control your pace and ease your way into the run. Don’t make judgements about how each run feels until you’ve clocked at least 15 minutes on your feet.
Building endurance and staying strong on long distance runs is all about managing intensity intelligently. Most runners push too hard, too soon. Use pace, heart rate, feel or a combination of all three to dial your effort levels down. Keep things below 70% of your maximum and you’ll be surprised how long you can last.
Keep it conversational
The simplest way to manage your effort levels is to stick to an intensity that allows you to chat. Chatting is also an effective distraction technique that makes the miles fly and another good reason to run with a friend.
Chunk it up
To win the mental game, break your long distance runs into smaller chunks. Either by distance, or – if you know your route – by landmarks. It’s easier to think of it as six 5kms rather than staring down the barrel of an 18-mile marathon long run.
Loop near home
Take the uncertainty out of running longer distances by adding those tough final extra miles as loops nearer home. Knowing you’re only ever a 15-minute walk from your front door creates a brilliant psychological safety net that allows you to relax about pushing beyond your endurance comfort zone.
Don’t be afraid to stop
A skill all ultra runners unlock is the ability to stop and start. A well-timed, short period of recovery, to reset the head and the heart rate, can be a valuable tool when working towards adding extra distance. If the first 7 miles of a 10-mile run have your heart rate hitting 170bpm, take a pause before you tackle the final three.
Run for time
It’s easy to get hung up on kilometres and miles as measures of your long distance running but it can help to switch to time rather than distance. You can add smaller, more manageable chunks to incrementally extend your efforts.
For example, shifting from 45 minutes to 50 minutes might be more manageable than adding another full 10-minute mile. Running for time also creates a definite end time to aim at.
Training for long distance running
Goals, like signing up for a race, are great for motivation. It gives you something to work towards with a target with a concrete deadline. But be realistic.
Choose goals that suit your fitness starting point, with enough time to train. They should challenge but not break you.
Alternatively, set your own smaller, incremental goals – like adding 5 more minutes to your longest run time – that you tick off frequently to create a positive feedback loop. Regular wins help build consistency which is crucial in long distance running training.
When you’re thinking about how to run long distances, working out where you’ll run can be challenging. Thankfully apps like Strava and Garmin Connect now offer heatmaps and automatic route planners that help you find popular local running routes nearby.
Mapping services like Komoot also make it easy to plan your own routes, complete with highlights from other runners. It also breaks down the terrain, how hilly it is and even gives you the street view of your course.
Think about what works for you psychologically too. Some runners also like to do longer runs on out and back routes with a turning point halfway because it makes you feel like you’re heading for home. Others prefer to tick off smaller loops, creating a sense of progress and momentum.
On longer runs where you might need to top up fluids, it helps to factor in flybys of cafes and shops where you can refill your water bottles. It doesn’t hurt to build in some bailout points too, places where you can get public transport home if needed. Not that you will.
Nutrition and hydration
Nutrition and hydration become more important when you’re running longer distances, not only to power the efforts but also to help the body recover from training.
Here are a few handy fuelling and hydration tips for running long distance:
- For runs over 90 minutes, you’ll need to top up your carbs. Aim for 30-60g carbs per hour after 60 minutes. Veloforte’s range of real-food chews, bars and gels pack all the delicious energy you need to power your runs.
- On longer, higher intensity or hotter runs, you need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent impaired performance. Drink two or three good-sized gulps of Veloforte Attivo or Vivo every 10 to 15 minutes.
- Need a boost later into a long run? A well-timed dose of caffeine (between 3-6mg/kg bodyweight) helps reduce perceived exertion. That can make an 8 min/mile feel like a 7 min/mile.
For a much deeper dive, head over to our complete guide to nutrition for long distance runners.
How to train for long distance running: A typical training week
When you’re trying to work out how to get better at running long distances, there are dozens of off-the-shelf training plans available. If you own a running watch or a tracking app, the chances are they’ll have plans to help you build distance and endurance.
But here are the simple building block training sessions you can use to improve your endurance engine:
1 x short and fast
These tend to be short-distance or time-based intervals. Think six to ten reps of 200m, 400m or 800m or 30 - 90 second bursts followed by periods of recovery. Each effort should stretch you, make you blow a bit, but not be all out. And the idea is to finish the last interval as strong as the first.
1 x middle-distance and easy
This run should be shorter than your long run, perhaps around half the distance. The effort should be similar. Over time this distance should become easy, one you know you can tick off. It’s here to keep the cardio engine ticking over, build your confidence and make you look forward to running.
1 x long and easy
The length of your long run depends on your starting point and your ultimate goal. But this is your longest weekly effort, done at a conversational pace or easier. The aim here is to extend the time or distance of this run as you begin to feel stronger.
How to prepare for long distance runs
Choose reliable kit
Running is a wonderfully minimal activity, at the basic level you don’t need much more than some good running shoes to get started.
However, there are other running kit essentials that can make things a little more comfortable when you’re pushing those longer distances. Finding gear you love wearing, removes one of the mental obstacles of getting out of the door.
Good socks – Happy feet make a happy runner and investing a little more in some technical running socks can help prevent blisters and hot spots.
A running belt or vest – There are loads of great options for belts and running vests that let you port your phone, keys, card, water and fuel without feeling weighed down.
A good sports bra – For female runners, this is a non negotiable. It’s equivalent to finding the right running shoes.
Base layer shorts / running shorts – Choosing the right undercrackers and shorts combo seriously cuts your chafe risk.
Top tip: Lay your kit out the night before your long run so that you’re ready to roll. Procrastination is the enemy of the long distance runner.
The longer you run, the more chance your delicate bits will suffer from the ill effects of friction. Prevention is the best cure. Some targeted vaseline should avoid any red-raw rubbing, though you can also get brilliant roll-on lubricants too.
Fuelling, hydration and what to eat on long distance runs
Provided you’re eating a well-balanced diet, the body has enough energy stores to power runs up to 90 minutes. Beyond that, you’ll need to top up your tanks with extra carbs. Your hydration needs increase over longer distances too.
For fuel, the aim here is to top up with 30-60g of simple to eat, easy to digest carbs every hour, ideally broken down into smaller regular feeds along the way. Your fuelling weapons of choice include gels, chews, bars, energy drinks as well as regular foods.
For help developing your own long-run fuelling strategy, head to our guide on nutrition for long distance runners.
Unless your route takes you via shops, you’ll need to be self-sufficient. A good running belt can hold gels and bars, some come with small water bottles, though largely only up to around 500ml. For anything more than that, an ultra running vest with a hydration bladder or soft flasks and plenty of stash space is great.
When it comes to hydration, when you’re running for more than an hour, it’s important to replace some of the electrolytes and calories you’re losing during that session, to avoid the effects of dehydration and fatigue.
Aim to drink two or three good-sized gulps every 10 to 15 minutes, to balance your energy and hydration.
If you want more help, we put together this handy guide on how to perfect your running hydration.
Stock up for your long runs
For everything you need to fuel and hydrate on your runs, we don’t think you’ll need to look further than Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, gels, electrolyte powders and chews. We provide carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options for every runners’ needs.