Follow our tips to improve your running and reduce your risk of getting injured.
As a beginner to long distance running, it can feel overwhelming. You must decide what running shoes to wear, how to pace yourself, and you’re left wondering what a negative split means. Then there’s talk of personal bests, tempo runs, and fartlek sessions. What on earth is a fartlek session? (FYI: A fartlek session is an unstructured speed session).
If you want to improve, there are certain things you can do — and others you want to avoid. That’s what this article is all about.
How do I get better at long distance running?
We’ve compiled a list below to help you get better at long distance running, from learning how to pace yourself to eating on the run (yes, that’s a thing!).
If you’re new to running, it can be tempting to set off too fast — after all, you won’t know how to pace yourself properly yet. All too often, you’ll only realise you went out guns blazin’ once it’s too late.
It’s better to start slow and then increase your pace towards the end of your run if you feel up to it. This is called a negative split — you run the second half of your run faster than the first half.
And while running by feel works, you can also use a running app to monitor your pace such as Strava. Alternatively, you can buy a GPS running watch for real-time running pace (and other metrics such as distance and even cadence — your steps taken per minute).
Using a watch or your smartphone to pace yourself ensures you don’t set off too fast. As a beginner, it’s also useful to run for time, not distance — but we’ll cover that below.
Create a route and follow it
It can be tempting to get out there and run, winging it and not following a route.
Creating a route helps keep you on track — making sure you cover the right distance in the right time. Oh, and it stops you from getting lost.
Run for time
It’s better to run for time than distance as a beginner. For example, if your scheduled session was to run 6 miles, then depending on your pace, this could take anywhere from 35 minutes to upwards of 1 hour.
Instead, run for time to get the most out of your training. Running for time will prevent overtraining — it also helps you track your progress accurately. You’ll know if you improve because you’ll cover more distance.
Simple is often best at the beginning!
Walk if you need to
If you don’t quite get your pacing right, it’s more than okay to walk! Further, if you’re just beginning and can’t run for 20 minutes non-stop, then running/walking is recommended.
For example, you may run 5 minutes, walk 5 minutes and repeat 4x.
Combining running and walking is a great way to increase your time spent running when you just can’t run anymore. Overtime, reduce the amount of walking and voilà, you’ll have run for 20 + minutes non-stop.
Follow a structured training plan
A structured training plan helps you get the most out of your training — you’ll improve much quicker than without one.
Without a structured plan, you’re likely to run every few days, performing the same session. Usually, it looks something like 30 minutes easy or a loop around your town.
A structured training plan has you doing other sessions, such as tempo runs and long runs, to help build your aerobic fitness. And while running more will see improvements, performing the right sessions will help you get the most out of your training.
If you don’t want to follow a plan created by someone else, then you can create your own plan. You may not get the best results but it’s better than deciding what session to run on a whim.
When creating your own plan, be sure to add plenty of rest days. If you’re just starting, 3-4 rest days a week is recommended. Add 1 day for strength training and the other 2-3 days for running. Once you’ve built your fitness up, you can add a long run to your training — this is one of the most important training sessions for long distance running. Run no more than 1 long run a week, building up to 60 + minutes. Finally, add the occasional speed session, such as a tempo run to increase your running pace over long distances.
Wear the right gear
Once you start running, it’s essential that you invest in a pair of proper running shoes. Running without the correct footwear increases your risk of injury massively. Furthermore, running in shoes other than shoes meant for running is just uncomfortable. We do not recommend!
If possible, visit a running store that provides a gait analysis — this will tell you how your foot lands when you run so you find the right shoe for your running style.
You can also get your feet measured — width included — to find the best-fitting shoe. Comfort is everything, and as you’ll be running hundreds of miles in the months to come, you want a sturdy pair of kicks.
Other running gear you may wish to invest in includes:
- A GPS running watch
- Running shorts/tights
- A few pairs of running socks
- A ¾ zip
- Thermal layers
- A waterproof running jacket (make sure it’s breathable)
- A pair of gloves and a hat for extreme cold weather
You don’t need to buy everything to start — but do invest in a quality pair of running shoes. You can later add to your gear — whether that be a hydration pack or extra thermal layers once the cold weather hits.
Start strength training
Wait… you want to start running, and now you’re being told to strength train? Hear us out!
Many runners do not strength train — this causes weaknesses in the smaller muscles in the body. Often, the bigger muscles compensate (e.g. the quads activate more than the glutes), causing more stress to be placed on the compensating muscles, causing injury.
To reduce your risk of injury and improve your running form, we suggest strength training at least once a week. If you’re super eager, twice a week.
Perform exercises such as:
- Reverse lunges (easier on the knee than regular lunges)
- Squats (alternate with leg press)
- Lat pull-downs
- Chest press
- Calf raises
- Leg raises
You can also perform single arm or single leg variants of the above exercises to best transfer over to your running.
For new runners, your motivation to run can be a hindrance. Running too much too soon is why you end up with shin splints, pain, and other injuries. You must prioritise recovery.
Recovery is when the body adapts to the stress placed upon it when running. Your joints, tendons, muscles, and body must adapt first. Proper rest and recovery will help you improve much quicker while limiting your injury risk.
At the beginning, rest as needed but include a minimum of 2-3 rest days a week. As you become more advanced, you can slowly add more runs and less rest. But always include at least 1 full rest day each week.
Fuel correctly for your training
As you begin to run longer distances, you’ll need to pay more attention to your nutrition and hydration. Typically, you won’t need to eat during a run that lasts up to 60 minutes.
For runs upwards of 60 minutes, aim to eat 30 to 60g of carbohydrates per hour, beginning around the 30-45 minute mark. One Styrkr energy gel contains 30g of carbs, and a BAR50 contains 50g. You can also use gels that contain caffeine for a little boost.
Fuel correctly to prevent hitting the wall — that’s when you run out of energy and are so physically exhausted that you can’t run any further!
How can I run longer without getting out of breath?
Add speed sessions to your training and gradually increase the duration of your long run each week to run longer without getting out of breath.
Should I eat before a run?
For runs less than 1 hour, you typically don’t need to eat. However, a small snack, such as a few slices of toast or a banana, is optional.
How many miles should you run a week to stay in shape?
Focus less on the number of miles a week and more on time spent running. Aim for 2-3 runs of 20-30 minutes a week to get started. If you need to run and walk, that’s fine!
How can I run 30 minutes without stopping?
Slowly build up your time each week but ensure to pace yourself. Allow plenty of rest days and walk if needed.
How can I increase my long distance run?
Increase your weekly distance/time spent running by no more than 10% each week to reduce your risk of injury.