The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner

Ready to go the distance? Whether you’re new to the long run or looking for ways to improve, you came to the right place!

Sometimes, very minor changes can have the biggest impact when we run. I remember when I instantly cured foot pain with a change in shoe. Or how I immediately ran faster with less effort by leaning forward instead of backwards.

Here’s the point: sometimes running longer distances can seem light years away, but the truth is, you’re really only a few inches away. Big changes in your running come down to the little things. Little adjustments to your body and your mind.

All of these tiny little changes add up. They multiply over the days and weeks and compound as you develop from a newbie to an endurance athlete.

Also, sometimes the biggest growth opportunities do not come from a completely new change in your running. Sometimes, it’s improving on something you’re already doing well but just doing it more effectively. To start, try taking something you’re already doing well and perfect it. For example, if you have a perfect stride then you’re probably one of those people who pick up form very well. So learn more about arm position and how to use it to your advantage when running uphill. A small improvement made in a few key areas can result in exceptional growth. Remember, the little things aren’t little at all: they are everything!

Furthermore, try not to make many different changes at once. Take one technique at a time, apply it, master it, and THEN move on to the next.  It’s about making a little progress but making it EVERY DAY, no exceptions. If we can improve by 1% every day, think about the possibilities. In the beginning, a 1 % gain doesn’t seem like much but with time, these small improvements COMPOUND and you suddenly find a very big difference between runners who make slightly better changes on a daily basis and those who don’t.

So if you want to be the runner who makes better changes on a daily basis, here are 11 improvements to start making TODAY!

1. Slow It Down

Pace yourself. Remember, we are training for distance, not speed. Running too fast creates a lactic acid buildup and causes heavy breathing. Eventually, we tire out and our muscles become fatigued. When we run distance we are performing aerobic activity. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen.”  It’s when you’re not breathing too heavily, you can hold a conversation, and are primarily burning fat as fuel. When you train, especially in the beginning, just take it slow and keep the pace steady.

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

2. Run More Relaxed

When running long distance, your movement shouldn’t be forced. You want it to be efficient and effective, yet relaxed and smooth. Don’t force your stride. You’re not “pushing down” when running, you’re “lifting up.” Picture the ground and your surroundings as a rotating treadmill. All you need to do is lightly lift your feet up just enough to let the ground pass beneath you.

3. Warm Up and Cool Down

Before every run, it’s a good idea to walk for 5 minutes.  Start walking slowly; bring it to a fast walk, and ultimately transfer into a very slow jog. This benefits us in two ways.  First, it warms up our muscles to prevent injuries. I never stretch before a run and do not recommend it. Your muscles are cold and it will only result in injury. Second, the warm up engages our metabolism to burn fat more efficiently as fuel, which is essential for longer distance.

After each run be sure to cool down also. This helps to bring your heart rate back down and flushes out any lactic acid built up in your body.

One technique I picked up is to walk backwards for 5 minutes. After a long run—like a really long run—walking backwards helps. You are cooling your body down but using muscles and movements that you rarely use. Also, walking backwards puts less strain on your knee joints and helps with lower back pain.  This is a well-deserved relief for your over-worked body.

RELATED: 10 Steps To Supercharge Your Morning Long Run

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

4. Breathe Through the Abdominal

Try this: take a deep breath. Go ahead, one deep breath. Notice anything? Did you breathe directly from your chest? This is a shallow way of breathing. When you breathe from the chest you are only using part of your lung capacity. To take advantage of our lungs’ full capacity it’s critical to breathe from the diaphragm, focusing on your abdominal.  Here’s the thing: breathing provides oxygen to our moving muscles, thus creating more energy for our runs. The more we focus on our breathing, the more energy we can deliver. Try a 2:2 or 3:3 ratio to start. Improve your breathing and improve your endurance.

5. Lean Forward and Land Midfoot

Running is controlled falling. When you lean forward, you are allowing gravity to move you forward.  This way, gravity is working for you, not against you. When you lean from your ankles, your feet will land under your body. This forces your feet to swing out the back. This forward movement creates increased efficiency and a safe midfoot strike, whereas if you’re reaching with your legs and running upright or leaning back, you will be heel striking. This will not just slow you down but it will wreak havoc on your knees and leave you vulnerable for other common running injuries. So think energy efficiency and be sure your motion contributes to this, not against it.

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

6. Put Your Hands Up

You will find many techniques on how to hold your arms while running but remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Running for 2 to 3 hours is a lot different than 30 minutes to an hour. When I run 24 hours straight, my arms need to be relaxed and at a strategic position to not waste energy and avoid chaffing. Remember, every slight change adds up in the long run.

So here’s the best technique I’ve found that works. First, bend your elbow up with your wrists above your elbows. Next, press your arms slightly against your body. Did I say slightly? Yes, ever so slightly. Finally, with your hands facing each other picture as if you were holding a potato chip between your index and thumb or a handful of potato chips. They are delicious so do not hold them too tight or they will crumble. This will keep your hands engaged yet relaxed.

And sorry, potatoes chips will not make you run longer : (

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

7. Loosen Up Downhill

Runners use different techniques to run downhill. Your race day strategy may be different than your training strategy. But I found that loosening up the body works best for downhills in general. Remember: let gravity work for you, not against you.  When you are trying to increase your overall mileage you need to be sensitive to how much energy you are using up and when. If you loosen up and let gravity take you down the hill you will save energy for the many uphill battles you face. So relax and let the natural forces work for you.

8. Take Small, Quick Steps Uphill

Keeping your strides small and quick uphill changes the overall dynamic of a runner’s motion. Try this—first, while walking uphill take a few lunges. Next, make your way up the same hill but this time take small, shorter steps. Which takes less effort? It’s the latter every time. Similar to shifting a bike to a lower gear, a short step requires more revolutions but less energy per revolution. In this way, the hills begin to disappear and your experience becomes much more enjoyable.

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

9. Shoes Are Critical

It’s important to find a shoe that fits you right. I highly recommend visiting a local running store and being fitted by a professional. These stores assist new runners on a daily basis and should be able to provide a shoe that’s best for your stance, stride, and step.

Also, when running far, I personally prefer support and comfort over speed and traction. To further your comfort, make sure to go a little larger on your size. A bigger shoe provides your foot with more freedom to move and transfers energy efficiently, whereas tight shoes can disrupt the flow of energy while causing muscle fatigue and shin splints. Try one size larger than normal.

In addition, remember a shoe that fits 5 miles into a run can feel much different for say 15 or 20 miles.

I learned this lesson from my very first pair of running shoes. At first I hung around the 1-5 mile distance and my shoes worked well. But eventually, when I reached 10-20 miles, the inside of my feet began blistering and I started developing foot and knee pain. Eventually I switched to a more supportive shoe designed for over pronation and the problem was eliminated instantly. Or another time when I switched to the latest version of my current shoe. I ran a few short runs and everything was fine but once I started to run long mileage the back of the shoe began breaking the skin on my Achilles. I quickly switched back. Both times took a simple change in shoe to solve what seemed to be a complicated issue at the time.

Remember, your shoe is a part of your support system. Choose a shoe you can rely on.

RELATED: The Complete Beginners Guide To Running Gear 

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

10. The 10-Percent Rule

The key to endurance is patience. Our bodies need time to rebuild and grow. That’s why you should increase your weekly mileage by only 10 percent over the previous week. You may feel full of extra energy, especially if you’re just starting off, but be prudent and have patience. Distance will come over time but if you rush, injuries will come in no time at all. The majority of running injuries are from over training. So take you time. Try cross training or rest in between runs and start your following training session pumped and ready to run.

11. Stay In The Present

Your mind is a muscle. So you can’t expect to wake up one day and atomically have the mental stamina developed for running long distance. Training your mind to stay in the present takes time and discipline.  Focusing on the finish of a run is a natural tendency for most runners. Most pound and pound through an intense amount of stress only to reach the ultimate relief of finishing. But what if we could find relief within our run? That’s what staying the present accomplishes. It allows us to become aware of the moment. There are many techniques; however, putting in long miles at a steady pace will have the best effect. You can also try morning meditation.

If you ever feel overwhelmed with the thought of finishing, try to break up the run. Long runs can be overwhelming at times. Reasons to quit are always available, but so are reasons to finish. To help reduce the overwhelming feeling from the overall mileage ahead, try to break up the run into sections. Here’s how: choose particular landmarks as checkpoints, so each run is only as long as the next landmark. By using this strategy, each small achievement will eventually grow into one giant success. This will keep you positive and balanced while keeping your mind in the run middle of the run, not the end.

The Long Run: 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Distance Runner // Long Run Living

Final Thoughts

The long run isn’t something that’s developed overnight. It takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes patience. Sometimes, when we’re focused and things aren’t working out like we hoped, it can get pretty discouraging. Almost like nothing you do will work. But although your distance goal might seem light years away, chances are, it’s only around the corner. It’s only inches away and all it takes is a few small changes every day to get you there: a few small changes in your form, in your diet, or in your perception; in your attitude, in your stride, or in your training schedule. Just one small change in one key area per day.

Take any sport with a ball and a goal. The difference between scoring a goal versus missing the goal is only a few inches, if that. It’s a few inches between an amazing shot and a complete miss, the difference between a swish and a brick, and the difference between a good season and a championship title. The same metaphor can be applied to running. It takes a slight lean forward, one more breath, or one quick stop in a running store. It takes one different outlook, eliminating one type of food, or setting your alarm for 1 hour earlier.  Remember, the little changes we make compound. If we find a way to improve each day by inches, by 1%, by one new tip, then we will not just grow as runners, we will EXPLODE! So today, pick one tip from this article, learn it, practice it, master it, and then move on to the next. Because it comes down to one more mile, one more step, and one more inch!

REMEMBER…very minor changes can have the biggest impact when we run.  And don’t forget to check out 10 Incredibly Useful Running Tips For Beginners!

Now it’s your turn to share. We’d love to know your experience with running LONG … leave a comment below!

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