Some people jog for fun and fitness for years before eventually deciding to up the ante with a long-distance challenge. Others have a marathon on their bucket list. Whatever motivates you to add distance running to your routine, there are a few things you should know before you get started.
In order to avoid injuries and make the most of long-distance running, newbies should observe a few simple guidelines. Here are some tips to help you put your best foot forward.
1. Stay Hydrated
This is rule number one. Running is going to make you sweat, so you need to take pains to stay hydrated during the course of your activity.
Proper hydration requires that you begin adding water before you even start running; pre-fueling, in a sense. You should then sip water throughout the course of your activity, and make sure to drink extra water throughout the day after you've finished your run to replenish.
If you start to feel dry and thirsty, you've waited too long to take a drink. Since dehydration can seriously derail your run with dizziness, headache, nausea, and other symptoms, adding plenty of fluids is essential.
As a caveat, be careful about sugar intake. Sports drinks can help runners to rehydrate, replenish electrolytes, and gain a boost of energy, but too much sugar during a long run (piling gels or bars on top of sports drinks, for example) can make you feel ill.
If you're participating in a race, take advantage of water stations located along the course. As for practice sessions, you'll have to bring your own water.
2. Get the Right Gear
If you're serious about distance running, having the right gear can make a world of difference when it comes to your comfort, health, and safety. Shoes are the place to start, and you really can't skimp on this essential item of jogging apparel. Your best bet is to visit a running or athletic apparel shop that can help you to find the perfect pair of shoes for your anatomy and your gait.
In most cases, it's best to go up a half size in running shoes to allow your feet plenty of room to flex. Don't be afraid to splurge; the wrong pair of shoes can cause blisters, heel pain, shin splints, and all kinds of discomfort. You're going to get a lot of use value out of shoes during long-distance runs, so prepare to spend a little more money.
As for clothing, look for wick-away fabrics that pull heat and moisture away from your body. You can even find underwear that fit the bill. For ladies, a maximum support sports bra is also a good idea.
Don't forget peripherals like water bottles. Those that come with belts or wrist straps can help you to carry plenty of water without having to hold on to something while running. Of course if you run in low light situations, make sure cars can see you with light up or reflective gear. As a final bit of advice, test different sport sunblock products to find one you like - you should always protect exposed skin from UVA/UVB rays when you run.
3. Warm Up
Stretching really isn't enough to prepare you for long-distance running. You need to warm up or you increase the risk injuring yourself.
Active warm-ups will include a reduced level of activity, so try walking or jogging slowly to warm up. You might also try active stretching (stretching with movement) to loosen muscles. Jumping jacks are a good option.
4. Train Appropriately
Distance running isn't something you can just jump into. You have to work your way up to it. It's not like you can sign up for a marathon a week from now if you haven't jogged in years.
You need to train your body to handle this stressful activity with a regimen that starts small, say 1-3 miles a couple days a week paired with cross-training, and slowly works up to a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon, and finally, a marathon (if that's your ultimate goal).
This type of training schedule will help you to avoid illness and injury as you prepare for a race or simply work your way up to longer distances.
5. Practice Pacing
This is one of the hardest skills for any runner to master, but it's important that you work on your pacing. Trying to keep up with other runners or match the tempo of music can help you to push your limits, but finding your pace requires you to listen to your body.
You'll find that over time you start to fall into a natural rhythm while running. Shoot for a pace where you feel like you could comfortably carry on a conversation. This will help to reduce the risk of exhaustion and potential injury.