How to Become (and Stay) a Long-Distance Runner
I remember doing cross country in high school and everybody asking my teammates and I, “How do you do it?”
Many people see long-distance running as an impossible feat. However, running is an activity that’s simple to build up over time. All of you have to do is get out there and run!
The hardest part is maintaining your long distance running after you have built up to it. Here are some tips for how to safely and successfully build up and maintain long-distance running.
Increase your food intake
The important foods you want to eat more of are carbohydrates and proteins. You should try to get these carbs and proteins from nutrient-dense foods, not from processed foods.
Some breakfast ideas include bananas, oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, and whole-grain cereals.
For lunch and dinner, you can focus on adding whole grain pasta, potatoes, eggs, black beans, vegetables, salmon, and chicken. Some easy snack foods are nuts (especially almonds), oranges, yogurt, and dark chocolate. Another important factor of food is when you eat it.
Several days before a race, you should fill up on carbs, also known as “carbo-loading.” The morning of the race or long run, you should eat a lighter meal that is still high in protein. Personally, my favorite race day breakfast is a peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread.
Eating after a long run is also important. Some beneficial post-workout snacks include oatmeal, yogurt, hummus, chocolate milk, tart cherry juice, almonds, veggies, and more. I personally like to munch on some carrots and hummus about an hour after a long run.
If you want help with sports nutrition, check out the Auburn University Nutrition Team.
Hydration is important even when you are not active. In fact, it is probably more important to hydrate when you are not working out so that you are hydrated by the time you do workout. With endurance training, it is also important to drink electrolytes. You can get electrolytes from most sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, Nuun tablets, and more.
One common mistake with long-distance running is drinking too much after your run. When I first started training, I would down several large bottles of water right after running because of how parched I felt, then almost immediately feel nauseous. Pace yourself, but make you sure get enough.
I used to be extremely skeptical of energy chews. I was always the runner who just went out and ran - no snack beforehand, no special electrolyte drink, no recovery drink or snack afterwards. This was fine until I started running 6+ miles. Needless to say, I crashed. Now, I like to take Clif Shot Bloks (small energy chews that you take during a long run) about every 45 minutes. You can find more brands of energy chews here.
Stretch, stretch, stretch
I used to be extremely lazy about stretching, and many runners are guilty of it. But that is no excuse to skip out and risk an injury. You have to be careful not to stretch on cold muscles, so a warm up run before stretching is imperative. Also, what most people do not know is how important it is to stretch AFTER a run. This is when your muscles are the most warmed up. Here are some useful stretches to try.
Have I talked about stretching yet? Maybe I am biased because my mom is a yoga instructor, but I am convinced that all runners should try yoga. Practicing yoga regularly is a convenient way to maintain your stretching and avoid injuries.
Have a reasonable schedule
Getting motivated is easy; staying motivated is another story. You do not want to get burnt out, so you need to set a reasonable schedule that you can keep up with. Also, recovery days are just as important as training days.
There are some great online sources that go into detail and help you set up a training schedule depending on your starting point.
How about after the race?
Probably the most difficult thing about long-distance running is keeping it up when you are not actively training for a race. If you want to maintain the distance, you have to keep running regularly. However, you do not have to run as often or as intensely.
It normally takes a few weeks for your body to adjust to the regular running, especially if you were not very active before. It is normal to have days that feel great and days that feel terrible. You might be much faster one day than the next. You just have to trust and take care of your body and not get discouraged. Any run, fast or slow, is progress.
Just for some motivation, here are some upcoming races near Auburn.
Share your experience becoming (or staying) a long-distance runner. Happy running!
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Grace H.