Becoming a Long-Distance Runner

I was a sprinter when I began running 20 years ago. Now, I run marathons; as of today, I’ve run eight of them. It’s a years-long endeavor that requires discipline and self-awareness.

Becoming a long-distance runner is more a mental journey than a physical one, and it means learning new habits and adopting new ways of thinking.

RUNNING HABITS

  • Challenge yourself to run further and longer than usual. It doesn’t matter how much longer—one more mile, five more minutes. Just run more.
  • Over any distance or time, run at such a pace that you don’t walk.  Run at whatever pace you need in order to finish. If you intend to run a mile longer than usual, make sure that your pace is slower than usual. That’s why I recommend the Nike+ Running app: you can set it to tell you your pace, distance and total time at your choice of interval.
  • Get used to discomfort. Challenging your body is uncomfortable. Get used to it, but know that it’ll feel easier the more you keep it up.
  • That said, listen to your body. If anything feels wrong, stop. If a muscle feels funny, a pain won’t go away, your lungs feel rough and dry, don’t run. If you wake up one morning and cannot muster the wherewithal to move, sleep for 20 minutes more and then see if you feel like working out.
  • If you can’t run longer, you’re running too fast. Everyone can become a long-distance runner. Some runners will take longer than others, but everyone can train. If you find that it’s too painful to run one more mile, slow down or stop—don’t push it, you’re done. Slow your pace on your next run, and keeping slowing your pace until you can finish that last mile without feeling the same amount of pain.

OTHER WORKOUT HABITS

Cross-training is still a mystery to some, but here’s why it’s vital: you must train the other large muscles to support carrying your body that much longer. This means alternating running with a variety of weighted exercises.

  • Strengthen your back, abs and shoulders to help maintain a good running posture, prevent upper-body aches and keep your chest open to breathe.
  • Strengthen your butt, quads and calves to run uphill and protect your joints going downhill.
  • Strengthen your ankles to stay agile on uneven terrain.

DIET HABITS

  • Keep a food journal so you cultivate an awareness of what you put in your body, how regularly you eat, the general amount of food you consume, the amount of junk food and alcohol you consume, and your feeling of well-being afterward.
  • Switch to foods with high nutritional content. Substitute yogurt for ice cream; fresh fruit for candy; vinaigrettes for creamy dressings; oats or brown rice for bread; etc.
  • Drink water. Then drink some more. Chug a glass of water upon waking up. Start each meal with a glass of water. Chase every serving of coffee and alcohol with a glass of plain water.
  • Do NOT eliminate carbs! Your body needs them to function. Keep healthy carbs (fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains) in your diet to help repair muscles and power you through the day.
  • Don’t forgo your favorite treats! Just make sure you have one cupcake instead of two, or a handful of chips instead of the whole bag.

ADVANCED TIPS

  • Make sure your carbs are worth it. Love butter crackers or water crackers? Slap on Justin’s peanut or almond butter for the extra protein. Eat corn tortillas instead of wheat tortillas. Choose honey over plain sugar.
  • Save coffee for emergencies or a very challenging run. Train your body to function without the caffeine so that when you run your first 10K, half-marathon or full marathon, it will actually provide an effective kick!

PSYCHOLOGICAL HABITS

  • Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. It is not easy to extend yourself and your body and mind will fight each other. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Run to the next street lamp, then the next fire hydrant, then the tree until you make it home. Do whatever you have to do, tell yourself whatever you need to, in order to make progress, however small.
  • Forgive yourself easily. Do not mistake this for being weak-willed or not being serious about reaching a goal. You will have bad days, long nights, full schedules, too many drinks—they happen. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a workout or not running as long as you want. Forgive yourself and move on to the next workout.

Good luck and leave questions in the comments!

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