An Introduction to Long Distance Running

Introduction to Long Distance Running

So you want to run long distances. Perhaps a friend talked you into signing up for a race, or you’ve decided to exercise more, and running doesn’t require a gym or special equipment beyond a good pair of shoes. Whatever the reason you’re here, David Reagan – personal trainer and avid runner from Atlanta, shares the basic principles of long-distance running that could be useful regardless of the race and your long-term running goals.

The first (and essential) step to safe training is building a base. For a beginning runner, building a base can take around three months. The good news is that it’s not complicated: you go out and run, and work your way up in mileage. Run three to four times a week, and start with whatever goal works for you. If you start at a mile, do that for a week or so before moving up to two miles.  Slowly build up to about four miles per run. These miles are often called easy miles because the only goal is to keep running, it doesn’t matter how fast. They probably won’t feel easy, though, and that’s okay! The first part of running is the hardest; once you get into shape (and the routine) it will be a lot easier.

Once you have a base built up, it’s time to make a training plan. Each plan will depend on your goals.  Training for a marathon is different than training for a half-marathon, but the basic concepts are the same. Plans will differ based on your time goals, as well. For the first big run, many people choose not to make a time goal, which can make building a plan easier as it’s about distance instead of time. There are three main components of a training plan.

The Long Run

This is your most important run and the one that makes it possible to cross that finish line. It will also likely take the most time. One day a week should be set aside for a long run, and mileage should be gained slowly to prevent injury. Your first long run might be five miles (depending on your base), and again, the goal is to finish, not to time each mile. 

For a half-marathon (13.1 miles), your longest long run should be about 12 miles. Once you reach this point, it will be possible to finish the full 13.1, because race day is exciting and is the culmination of all your training. For a marathon, the long run should cap at about 21 miles. Building up to this longest run is best done by adding a mile every two weeks, but taking it easy (say, run two fewer miles than last time) once every five weeks. 

The Tempo Run

A tempo run and a speed workout focus on increasing your speed and should be done about twice a week. Alternate between running fast and running slow, and don’t worry about the distance. While these runs can definitely be done outside, it can be helpful to use a treadmill. 

To start, you choose a speed setting, such as 6, and run for two minutes. Then you drop the speed to 5.5 for 30 seconds, and then you move the speed to 6.5 and run for one minute.  Drop it down to 6 for 30 seconds, then go to 7.  Once you reach that peak speed, work your way slowly down in the same manner. These are likely the workouts you will feel sorest after.

The Maintenance Run

Lastly, we have maintenance runs. These runs tend to be about three miles and fill in the spaces between your long runs and tempo workouts. They make sure your weekly mileage stays up and your system keeps building on the progress you’ve already made.  How you run a maintenance run should depend on how you’re feeling that day: if you feel great, go ahead and run it at “race pace,” or how you’re hoping to run on race day. If your body needs a break, consider it active recovery and take it slow. 

The most important part of your routine, however, is resting. At least one day a week must be a rest day, with no exceptions. These are absolutely necessary to building muscle and giving your body time to recover. Once you start running regularly, it may become an enjoyable experience (if it’s not already), but running on rest days causes injury and has been the downfall of many a runner.

There are a few other issues to mention. First, warming up is essential, especially for tempo workouts.  Jumping right into your workout causes injuries. Second, some training should be done on hills, especially if your race is hilly. Lastly, two weeks before race time, training should be tapered or made shorter, to make sure you are in the best possible shape for race day. Your long run should be shortened by a mile or two and only one hard workout should be scheduled these weeks. Consider adding a rest day, and keep your maintenance runs short.

At first, glance, running often seems simple, but there are lots of little things that are helpful to know. However, keep in mind not to do too much too soon and you won’t make that many mistakes. There are lots of online resources and running communities that can help you train for your specific goals and where you can ask questions and get motivated. Happy running.

About David Reagan 

David Reagan is a NASM Certified personal trainer from Atlanta, Georgia, who specializes in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition. He caters to high-end clients and executives, helping them achieve their fitness goals by accommodating their busy schedules. The client’s needs come first, and David’s fitness plan will set you up on the path to success.

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