The definition of "long-distance running" means something different to various runners. For someone used to running a couple of miles every other day, upping your mileage to 5 or 6 miles can be considered "long distance."
However, generally speaking, long-distance running is considered to be 10 miles or longer, or any run that lasts for more than 90 minutes. This type of running requires a different sort of endurance, fuel and training plan than shorter distances.
If you're training for a marathon or just have the goal of increasing your weekly mileage, your weekly long run is one of the most important components of training. It teaches your body how to handle the challenge of being on the road (or the treadmill), both mentally and physically, for a lengthy period of time.
Once you've trained properly, though, you'll find that your cardio endurance is much stronger and your overall fitness level has improved. Ignore proper training methods, and you might sideline yourself with an injury.
Read More: How to Train for a Marathon in Five Months
Running coach Hal Higdon in his novice marathon training plan recommends doing one long run every week, usually on the weekend — though you can adjust the schedule to whatever works best for you. The long runs start in the first week at a relatively short distance of 6 miles and gradually builds over multiple weeks to 20 miles and more each week.
However, long runs aren't the only training component in a long-distance training plan. This particular routine also recommends three additional run, ranging from 2 to 8 miles, along with two rest days and one day of cross-training. You could swim, walk, use the elliptical or strength-train on this day.
While you might be tempted to skip a rest day, it's vital for your body to take some time off each week so your muscles can recover from the stress you're putting on them.
Prepare for Long Runs
It's not a smart idea to simply wake up and decide that you're going for a long-distance run one morning. Instead, take the couple of days leading up to your long run to prepare properly.
If your long run occurs on a Sunday, make sure you drink plenty of water starting on Saturday, so you're properly hydrated during your long-distance run. For dinner on Saturday night, eat a meal high in carbohydrates so your muscles have a solid store of glycogen to fuel you.
On the morning of your long-distance run, drink approximately 8 ounces of water and eat a light snack that's low in fat, but moderately high in complex carbohydrates and lean protein.
Run at an Easy Pace
You should do your long-distance runs at a much slower pace than you would run a 5K or 10K, particularly if you're new to long-distance running. Runners Connect recommends keeping your heart rate at 70 percent of its maximum.
This is easier said than done. While you can figure out what 70 percent of your maximum is with a simple formula, not everyone uses a heart rate monitor or prefers to dive into the weeds with numbers. Instead, run at a pace that you could talk easily without a problem, or measure the effort of your run to be around a five out of 10 on the difficulty scale.
If you're having a hard time slowing down, bring a friend or a pet on your run with you. They will likely slow you down, particularly if you try to keep a conversation going with your pal.
Fueling During a Long Run
If you're running for less than 90 minutes, you probably don't need any fuel to keep your muscles going. Once you hit an hour and a half, though, have some carbohydrate-rich fuel stored on your person.
On runs between 90 minutes and 3 hours, consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. Once you go past 3 hours, increase that to 30 to 90 grams per hour, depending on what works best for your body. You can carry gels or sports beans to refuel, or foods such as raisins, applesauce squeeze packets or a small baggie of pretzels.
You must also begin to rehydrates during long-distance runs. Take in 5 to 12 ounces of fluid — whether water or an electrolyte-rich sports drink — every 20 minutes or so.
Read More: Caloric Intake During Marathon Training
Train Multiple Distances
Proper long-distance run training doesn't just focus on those 10-plus miles once a week. You want to train shorter distances, too, so you can increase your speed, muscular endurance and aerobic threshold. Only running long distances means that your VO2 max and running efficiency will never improve.
Incorporate 5K and 10K races — or just training runs of those distances — into your training plan. During these runs, increase your pace or incorporate sprints or intervals. This keeps your fitness base solid and helps improve your overall time during your long-distance runs or marathons.