Running can be a wonderful contribution to your health and fitness, yet even the most seasoned athlete may sometimes dread a long distance run. Particularly for those who aren’t accustomed to it, running can be difficult and downright painful. Fear not, there are plenty of ways to capture the heart healthy benefits of running without the discomfort you may have experienced in the past. The endurance required for long distance running comes from a combination of proper nutrition, conditioning, and a little patience. These five tips will help you better fuel your workouts, improve your form, and stay motivated as you build your running capacity.
Fuel Up and Stay Hydrated
Consuming adequate amounts of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates from whole foods ensures that your body has enough stored energy to fuel your workouts. Low intensity, long duration aerobic exercise utilizes more stored fatty acids for fuel than carbohydrates. Prior to your run, a meal with a higher fat and protein content will provide you with an abundant energy source, while a high carbohydrate meal post-workout will replenish tired muscles. Adequate fluid intake during and after exercise is necessary to replenish valuable nutrients lost through respiration and sweat. For longer runs, you might consider purchasing a sports drink mix containing 30 - 40 grams of carbohydrates and electrolytes that can be added to 16 oz. of water to rapidly restore your body to a hydrated state (Millard-Stafford, et al. 1992).
Clean Up Your Technique
Running with proper form will reduce stress on your joints and prevent many common running injuries. Long runs are about logging time and distance; speed is less important. As you become a better runner, your speed will naturally increase, but in the beginning, slow down and focus on correct form. Keep your head evenly aligned over your torso, and lean slightly forward as you run while maintaining a neutral spine. Keep your chin tucked in, and let your gaze fall naturally on the horizon in front of you. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and slightly bend your elbows, allowing your arms to swing forward and back in sync with your stride. Practicing a strong knee lift while maintaining a neutral spine will improve your foot striking patterns and help you keep a forward lean.
Control Your Breathing
During a long run, the endurance of your respiratory muscles, not just your leg muscles, can limit the intensity and duration of your workout. The good news is that the more you participate in any form of aerobic activity, the more efficient your body becomes at utilizing oxygen. This allows you to better maintain a steady heartbeat and respiratory rate during training. Condition your body to breathe deeply and rhythmically, making use of your diaphragm and abdominal muscles as you inhale through your nose and mouth. One study found that a 2:1 pattern, taking two strides per breath, took the most stress off of respiratory muscles, reduced fatigue and promoted greater stamina in endurance runs compared to other breathing patterns.
Take Shorter Strides
A majority of runners strike the ground with their heel as they land, which has the potential to cause a jarring impact on the body that can decrease your momentum and ability to run for long periods of time. Taking longer strides can increase the likelihood of this happening, while taking shorter, quicker steps wastes less energy, allowing your body to run faster and longer. In order to be able to run long distances, you have to develop a running style that is comfortable for you. A good way to develop your own style is by running on a treadmill and experimenting with different stride lengths and striking patterns. Set the treadmill to a manageable speed of 5 - 7 mph while you find what running style feels most natural, and replicate this on the road.
Compile Your Soundtrack
Good music can make all things in life more bearable, including long distance running. Upbeat, high tempo music is the perfect way to stay motivated during your run. One study found that listening to music while running sprints motivated exercisers to run further and reduced their rate of perceived exertion, meaning that the right music has the ability to make a long run seem easy. Make a habit of compiling a soundtrack for your workouts that you can listen to using your phone or other portable device. Select enough songs to get you through an entire workout, and update your playlist regularly to keep things interesting.
Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.