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Whether it’s 5km, 10km or a half marathon, our experts have you covered.
So you’re keen to know how to run longer. First things first: you go! Deciding to take some action to improve your health, well-being or fitness is to be applauded.
Whether you’re looking to complete a 5km, 10km, half marathon or marathon, there are some common tips that will help all runners, regardless of your ability.
Note here: running isn’t always about how far or fast you can go – far from it. Running is often about headspace and mental freedom after a busy day at work. FIIT coach Gede Foster shares that there are a myriad of motives for increasing your running distance. “You may have signed up for a race, are keen to build up your cardio fitness or enjoy the mental challenge of running longer distances,” she shares.
Not to mention that running is both affordable and accessible. “It’s a great form of exercise, regardless of gender, ethnicity or age,” shares Foster. “Almost anyone can do it, which is why it can be a popular choice for people looking to improve their fitness.”
Wondering what the benefits of running are? There are plenty – according to NHS websiteit’s a great cardio booster, is good for your heart and lowers your resting heart rate too.
Don’t care about distance but want to get faster? Our expert-led guide to running faster is for you. Don’t miss our guides to strength training for running, running in the heat and running tips for beginners while you’re here.
How to run longer: 12 simple tips
1. Learn your ability
First things first: you need to know how far you can comfortably run on power. A good way to test this is to lace up and record on your phone (you can download apps like Strava for free, which will track your mileage for you).
Then, once you’ve clocked how far you can run, try to increase it by ten percent week after week. That means if you can run three miles right now, run around 3.5 miles next week. A way to make sure you don’t crash and burn? Pace yourself, advises Foster. “Slow and steady wins here,” she shares. “You build your time on foot capacity, after all.”
Please note, however: As above, it’s best to increase your distance gradually week after week, rather than drastically jumping from 5km to, say, 10km. Even easier than the ten percent rule: add 1 km each week or aim to run an extra 5 minutes per week, PT shares.
2. Break it down
Ex-professional cyclist for Team GB Joanna Rowsell advises breaking each workout into small blocks – that way it’s mentally easier to manage and won’t feel so overwhelming.
“Looking at a session as a whole can be daunting. I tell myself to just do the first block and then I’ll stop. But I’m more motivated once I’ve checked off a block, so I move on to a other things,” she explains.
For more training tips – read our guide.
3. Don’t be afraid to walk
Do you think that to improve your running distance you need to run your entire workout? Actually: wrong. After all, it’s all about time on your feet, so walking won’t hurt you if you need a breather. (read our guide to the benefits of walking, here).
“Try running a kilometer and then walking a kilometer,” advises Foster. “Build up to running 2km, then walking one, and so on. Keep a steady pace and aim to be consistent – you should slow it down right for the longer efforts.”
4. Support your training with strength training
FYI, running longer distances requires strength and endurance in the legs both to support the body and further to prevent injuries.
Foster recommends supporting your runs with some lower-body strength training at the gym or at home. “With every step, you’re putting 2.5 to three times your body weight of force through your joints, so you want to make sure your body is strong and stable enough to handle that load,” she shares. Read our guide to strength training for running or try these expert-approved leg or lower body workouts.
5. Invest in a running coach
Are you serious about your running goal? Foster recommends investing in a running coach.
Why? Because while there are great free plans available online, paying a coach to check in on you and be on hand for any questions will keep you motivated, accountable, and dedicated.
6. Buy the right kit
This one is important. You won’t be able to increase your running distance if you’re injured after the first few runs, and injury is much more likely if you’re not in the right kit.
Not sure where to start? Snow shoes and a good bra are the most important. Fun fact: most running stores film your gait and advise you on what type of shoe fits you best, shares Foster. “If you’re considering longer distances, reviewing your running technique can pay you back tenfold as it not only makes you more efficient but ensures your mechanics are good for the repetitive stress of running too.”
Also worth considering is chafing, which happens to the best of us (and most long-distance runners). “The repetitive motion and skin-to-skin rubbing combined with the salt in sweat acts like sandpaper, grinding and irritating the skin, which can lead to an uncomfortable and painful experience,” shares Foster. Read our guide to chafing creams here (Vaseline is a good choice).
Our compilations of the best running trainers, running shorts and gym leggings, as sweat-tested by our health editor, will help.
7. Carry enough water and fuel
Increase the distance? It is very important that you replenish and hydrate sufficiently. “Studies have found that athletic performance declines by up to 30% when we are dehydrated,” shares Foster.
Eat a snack an hour or so before you run, if you’re also going to run for more than an hour – the key to replacing your glycogen stores.
8. Track your training
Sounds obvious, but this is something many people actually forget to do.
“Keep a record of your training runs and similarly how you feel on training days, so you can recognize positive patterns,” says Sarah Claxtonformer Olympic hurdler and personal trainer at Embody Fitness.
“Also record how much you slept the night before, what you ate, when you exercised and what you did if you have time. It helps you keep track of what you need to do to ensure you perform well every time.”
9. Learn from your failures
In other words, take failure in your stride. A 2015 study from Rutgers University found that focusing on what we can learn from failure builds resilience and helps us persevere. So, for example, we’ll have a better chance of nailing the next job interview if we consciously evaluate why the last one didn’t quite go according to plan.
“The most important thing to remember is that failure is temporary,” says the ex-Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. “I can remember competing in the World Championships in 2007 and coming 10th. I didn’t even make the finals and was so upset. But a year later I got two gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Failure is fleeting. It hurts like hell, but you will always move on.”
10. And celebrate your wins too
If you’ve achieved a goal – no matter how small or insignificant it feels – celebrate it and your success. (Read our guide to goal setting, here).
“I always balance my workouts with rewards,” says British wheelchair user Hannah Cockroft OH WHERE. “You should always admit if a goal has been achieved, otherwise it’s as if it never happened. There has to be some joy somewhere.’”
Emotional rewards like a new book or an hour of watching Netflix work well. Read our self-care ideas here.
11. Set clear goals
Always put your goals on paper, advises the Team GB cyclist Joanna Rowsell.
She shares that she’s much more likely to stick to something if she’s written it down, and research conducted by the Dominican University of California showed she’s not alone. You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down on paper.
The same study also found that more than 70 percent of participants who sent weekly updates to a friend achieved their goals. Time to text.
12. Use visualization
And finally, if you feel anxious or paralyzed with fear about increasing your running distance, imagine doing whatever it is that scares you. “Visualization is key for me,” says Olympic middle distance runner Hannah England. “A couple of days before a race, I’ll set aside ten to 15 minutes to imagine what’s going to happen when I arrive at the stadium, – where the races are, where I’m going to pick up my number. It would be exhausting if I thought about the race all the time, so I do it in concentrated bursts.”
Dr Tracey Devonport, a sports and exercise psychologist for many top Olympic athletes from the University of Wolverhampton, agrees, adding that this can be a useful tool for all of us in tricky situations, such as asking for a raise. “The more you visualize yourself in a scary environment—imagining the sights, sounds, and feelings—the less scary it becomes,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of golfers in my house stand in my litter box, so they can get a realistic sense of what it would be like if they were in a bunker during a competition. This is called ‘functional equivalence’ – the idea that mental imagery works on the same way as physical perception.”