The benefits of exercise are manifold and extensive, not only improving your physical health but – to some extent – your mental well-being as well. There is a reason why so many people become fitness junkies and health buffs: the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment after a good workout is virtually unmatched.
Unfortunately, a good number of people have yet to implement a strong and well-rounded exercise routine into their daily lives. There are many reasons for this, psychological or otherwise, but it comes down to time and money for most people, specifically a lack of both.
The simple fact is that many people do not have the extra money to join a gym and those who do not have the time to attend regularly. The high price of admission is usually enough to dissuade many people from actively working out. After all, is there any hope for improving your physical health without access to the right equipment?
Yes, there is.
The main selling point of any gym is the equipment and facilities they provide. Due to their heavy-handed marketing and promotion, it is easy – even preferable – to believe that joining a gym is the only way to improve your fitness levels. However, the truth is that your body is equipped with all the tools you need to get a good workout.
And if you have never exercised before, the easiest way to start is by running. All that you will need is a good pair of legs, comfortable sneakers, and a good attitude and approach to exercise. Sounds easy? That is because it is.
Long-Distance Running – The Right Approach
Running is one of the easiest ways to improve your aerobic endurance, stamina, and overall physical health. However, for some people, running is the last thing that they want to do.
This is most likely due to the painful memories of high-school gym class. For the physically underprepared – the out-of-shape and unfit – it was bad enough to be forced to play dodgeball, but being forced to run a mile as fast as you can was, for many, arguably far worse.
The simple fact is that nobody can run a mile at breakneck speeds if they have not already trained to do so. Gym classes often miss that part, and to this day, students are still forced to run as fast as they can without being prepared to do so.
Fortunately, there is no such pressure to outperform yourself and others in the real world. Running – especially long-distance running – is as much about pacing yourself as it is about reaching your target as quickly as you can.
You cannot be expected to run 5 miles at the same speed that you would run half a mile. Instead, you can focus on keeping a steady, even pace to match your physical aptitude, and while you should always strive to improve, you should never push yourself too far beyond your limits.
As we mentioned in our introduction, long-distance running requires the right mentality going in. Forget about those grueling gym classes that forced participation – you are doing this for yourself and no one else.
Long-Distance Running – What You Need to Wear
If you feel ready to give long-distance running a try, you will need to make sure that you come prepared. For starters, double-check to see that both of your legs are in good working condition. If they are, you are already almost good to go.
You will also need to ensure that you are well-equipped for the run ahead. That means wearing the right pair of shoes and the right clothes to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible before heading out.
This will vary somewhat depending on the weather, but you will generally need a well-fitting pair of sneakers (dedicated running shoes work best) and some shorts and a top.
A headband could also be an excellent investment to prevent sweat from your forehead from running down into your eyes, but it is not a necessity, and you should not feel pressured to spend extra money on one.
In cold weather, dressing warmly is crucial to preventing discomfort and injury. We recommend tights and woolen headwear that will work to retain your body heat and keep the chill at bay.
Once you feel adequately equipped, you are almost ready to start running, but there is one more bit of preparation that you will need before you can get moving.
Long-Distance Running – What You Need to Eat
Before you attempt your first long-distance run, it is crucial to ensure that you adhere to a healthy diet. Carbohydrates are essential just before a run, as they provide your body with energy.
A good source of carbohydrates is oatmeal. It is a simple dish that is easy to eat, and the portion sizes may be incrementally increased based upon your specific needs. We recommend starting with a full bowl of oatmeal before your first run to gauge how much you can handle while still feeling well while you exercise.
Other foods are also high in carbohydrates and great for running. These include bananas, potatoes, whole-grain pasta, and even dark chocolate if you are craving something sweeter. Just remember to eat in moderation – start with small portions and see how it affects you while you run, then increase or decrease them afterward.
Long-Distance Running – What You Need to Do
Once you have eaten and gotten dressed, you are ready to start running. But while it may seem as simple as putting one foot in front of the other at a moderately brisk pace, there are a few things to consider and keep in mind while you run.
The most common mistakes that beginners make when running are overworking themselves, trying to reach their destination as fast as possible, and burning out within a few minutes.
Long-distance running is not about running as fast as possible across a vast distance – it is about actually reaching your destination within a reasonable time frame and with energy to spare.
To this end, rather than trying to outrun a cheetah, focus instead on keeping up with it. You should run at a consistent pace throughout without ever feeling the need to speed up or slow down. If you feel burnt out halfway through your run, decrease your speed on the next one.
A good rule of thumb is to run at a pace where you can still maintain a conversation. After a while, you will improve to the point where you can increase your speed. Do so incrementally and never push yourself too far.
You could use a GPS running watch to track your pacing to ensure you don’t go too hard, or too soft.
The “long-distance” part of long-distance running is entirely relative to the runner. A 15 km run may seem impossible for some and too easy for others.
As a beginner, you should never overextend yourself. Rather than trying to run an impossible distance, choose a far more achievable goal.
Over time, your fitness levels will improve, and you will find that running 5 km – for example – simply does not do it for you anymore. You can now increase that distance to 7, 8, then 10 km, then work at it until that too becomes too easy and unchallenging.
If you attempt a longer distance than you are used to, it is useful to break that distance up into more manageable chunks. For example, you can easily divide a 15km run into three 5km runs completed in succession. This helps to ensure a feeling of accomplishment even after small bursts and also serves to detract somewhat from the daunting nature of such a long run.
The route you run will determine how well you manage the distance. Some people prefer to run a long, winding trail that leads far away from home, while others run a shorter route in a looping succession. Choose what works best for you, and alter your route only when you are ready to increase the distance you run.
Long-distance running is – by its very nature – an incredibly taxing endeavor physically, and even the most experienced runners can feel the burn after a long run. Preparation is key to long-distance running, but so is recovery.
You should always eat after a long run. Your meal should consist of a healthy balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to restore energy to your body. Also, take as much time as you need to give your body a good rest to prevent any post-workout injuries or strains.
The Run Experience did a great video on getting started with long distance running and to avoid getting tired too fast:
Long-distance running is one of the easiest ways to get in shape and improve your stamina.
While it can be daunting to newcomers, it is essential to remember that the speed at which you run is not important, only that you get where you are going. You are doing this for yourself, so you should never feel pressured to push your body past its limits.
With all that being said, we hope that you will give long-distance running a try and reap the rewards of a good, healthy workout. If you’re looking for ways to improve, check out these long distance running shoes we’ve reviewed.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.