beginners guide to running long distance

I have been a runner now for the better part of four years, and in those four years I believe I have come a long way in terms of what I am able to comfortably accomplish on each run. In that short time frame, I have gone from running out of breath and collapsing to the ground on my very first attempt at a one mile jog to voluntarily running 27 miles on my 27th birthday this past October.

Because of all this, from time to time I will receive requests to write about my particular running experiences and share what I have learned throughout my journey to help others reach their own running goals. The intent of this article is mainly to tackle the basics of what it takes to start running mixed with a sort of how-to guide to help an average runner go from shorter distances to ultimately achieving marathon distances and beyond!

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I know I am going to enjoy writing it!

Step 1 | Start out slowly

If you're anything like me when I started running, you may find yourself feeling compelled to run much farther than you are initially capable of running and inadvertently run the risk of either burning out too soon or getting injured.

What's especially important for beginners to understand is that you need to give your body adequate time to adjust to your new running lifestyle. For those of you reading this who are true beginners, I would highly recommend sitting down with a calendar and start off by setting a goal to run a specific number of miles every day (maybe one or two) for about two-three weeks. What this will do is help to create a solid foundation that you can then build upon. It also will help to prepare your body for the dozens and dozens of training runs to come.

Step 2 | Nutrition will always be your key to success

Like I said before, getting your running foundation poured and giving it proper time to harden is a crucial step in your journey toward becoming a long distance runner. After you have that solid foundation in place we must then discuss what you can do from there to ensure your new running lifestyle remains strong enough to last a lifetime.

Now in my opinion, it really all begins and ends with proper nutrition. Without it, I believe you would only be putting yourself in a dangerous situation that can easily be avoided by sticking with the fundamentals I'm about to teach.

So far in my lifetime, I have ran about six full marathons and countless dozen half marathons. The difference between what I experience during and after my runs today compared to when I was first started out are truly remarkable. I believe I owe these improvements in my performance to what I have learned about nutrition and the food I choose to put in my body.

If you know anything about me, I know what you're probably thinking right now... but no, I'm not going to be preaching about veganism or vegetarianism or anything like that today. Why not? Because as I've matured, I have learned that whatever you choose to put into your body is your own business. All I am going to be doing today is giving you the best advice I can in regard to what I believe a runner's diet should primarily consist of if they truly want to perform at their best, avoid injury and also feel great after each and every run – especially the long ones!

That being said, it doesn't really matter at this point whether you consider yourself a vegetarian, a vegan or an omnivore. Why not? Because if you are truly serious about becoming a successful long distance runner, I know from experience that you would be doing yourself a huge disservice if you did not seriously consider adding more plant-based, unprocessed foods to each and every meal that you eat.

I know that may sound like an overly simplified answer to what appears to be a complicated question. But based on my experience having run a marathon while at one point being an omnivore, a vegetarian, and now a vegan... I can tell you with confidence that I got faster and recovered much more quickly on a plant-based diet than I ever had before on a meat and processed foods diet.

What's truly great about this simple piece of advice is that there is never any need to feel guilty or ashamed of what you are currently eating because all you have to worry about is focusing on adding more fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, rice and legumes to each and every meal regardless of whatever else you eat.

Step 3 | "Know thyself..."

One of the more important things you can do to help yourself during this transition into becoming a long distance runner is taking some time out between runs to really get to know yourself and figure out what kind of runner you are, and what kind of runner you ultimately want to become.

During those first weeks when you are running shorter distances every day, I would recommend that you keep a journal or a log detailing each run so that you can go back later and use that information to help you figure out where you are at with your training and to also help you decide what you can do to improve in the future.

As you go along, you might also find it helpful to write down not just how many miles you ran or how long each mile took, but also how you felt afterward and the unique experiences you had. Try asking yourself different questions like, "Did I feel great or exhausted after that run?" If you felt great then write down as many details as you can about why you felt so good, then be sure to intentionally incorporate more of that good stuff into every subsequent run.

I can tell you from personal experience that throughout those first six weeks you are likely going to learn things about yourself that you might never have known before. If you're anything like me, perhaps you'll learn that unlike the majority of runners out there you actually prefer to run by yourself as opposed to running with a group or a friend. Or maybe you'll discover that rather than running the exact same route every time, you would rather experience a variety of different sceneries when you run.

Either way, just try your hardest to figure out for yourself what works best for you and what you enjoy most about your own unique running experience. Then take that valuable information along with you as you slowly but surely progress toward longer and more challenging runs.

Trust me, in the end you'll be glad you did!

Step 4 | Sign up for different races as your endurance improves

Depending on your current level of fitness and how far you are able to run without having to stop, I would suggest that after you are finished with your daily one-two mile runs that you then get on board with an official 5K training plan like the one found here.

Once you have successfully completed a few 5K races it'll be up to you to decide whether or not you are ready for the next step – a 10K. Then after a few of those, as you get better and better at going farther and farther, you're likely going to want to sign up and train for your first 1/2 Marathon. After successfully completing that it will only be a matter of time before you are finally ready to begin training for your very first marathon!

What all these races are going to do is provide you with a stepping-stone approach to reaching your goal of running longer distances. They will also help to make sure that you are staying within your range of capabilities so that you do not overstep your own limits just to wind up getting discouraged and giving up.

This doesn't mean that if you are feeling particularly healthy and motivated that you absolutely have to follow this exact path that I've laid out. All I intend to provide in this article are general guidelines to help ensure that you reach your final goal as efficiently, effectively and as safely as humanly possible.

Outside of that, it's completely up to you.

Step 5 | Learn to live with (and love) everything Mother Nature is inevitably going to throw your way

When I first started running, I'll admit, it took me a while before I finally got used to running outdoors regardless of what the weather was like. But as I have said before, everything begins with baby steps. I started out by doing one mile loops around my neighborhood during hard rain storms. Gradually I grew more and more comfortable with the idea of running farther away from home during inclement weather until I finally got to the point where I would actually look forward to bad weather and the challenges it might bring.

You see, after a while – even though it's always nice to run in nice weather – you'll tend to get bored with the routine of it all. That is why when nature inevitably throws you that curve ball and you do get a rain storm or a blizzard, you'll tend to get excited because you know that it will bring along with it something unique and unforgettable that those nice weather runs just cannot provide.

Truthfully when I look back on all the amazing runs I've had these past few years, the very best were the ones where I knew that running was going to be the least of my worries. For instance, in February of 2011 (here in Michigan) I vividly recall getting absolutely dumped on by a snow storm so harsh that everything in the entire city had to shut down. People were told to stay indoors unless it was an absolutely emergency. So what did I do when I awoke to this news? I got bundled up and decided to run right through it.

Was it tough? You bet. But after a while you come to realize that the hardest parts of being a runner actually have very little to do with running, and a lot more to do with your ability to overcome obstacles and rise to new challenges that force you outside of your comfort zone.

Running to me will always be fun – but I believe running in nature is what makes it all worthwhile.

Last Step | Get on board with Hal Higdon's Training Guides

It does not matter your age, sex, height, weight or whether you're a running newbie or a veteran – without a training plan you likely will not succeed in your endeavor to become long distance runner. Why? It's really just one of those simple fact of life that I have grown to better understand the more I run; Fact 1: Everything that gets measured, gets managed, and Fact 2: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

I would be lying if I told you that my success with running – especially long distance running – could have ever been achievable without some sort of training plan to help hold me accountable. When I first started out, even before I knew what the heck I was doing, I had already created in my mind a pseudo-schedule dictating how many miles I wanted to get in during a given week. As I got more involved in running and as my interests shifted more and more toward longer distances, I would naturally seek out these types of resources to help me stay on track. Deep down I just knew that there was simply no way I could do it all on my own.

Just as I'm sure you will see the more you run, it only makes sense to seek out information from people who have already mastered what you are only beginning to comprehend. That may be the very reason you are here today, reading this blog post. Maybe deep down you understand that the best way to get where you want to go is to learn from those who have already achieved that which you are trying to achieve.

As time goes on, you likely will grow to depend on your training guide the way you would an honest running partner. It will be there for you when you have an off week, and it will also be there to encourage you and keep you on track whenever you start to feel like you're falling behind. It will hold you accountable to the promises you make to yourself and if you follow it... it will take you wherever you choose to go.

Final Thoughts

I think that above all what this process does is it helps you understand in a simple yet profound way that there is absolutely NOTHING you cannot do once you put your mind to it and put the time and effort in. Anything in your life that you have ever looked upon as an impeding obstacle or problem is going to simply become just another challenge that you can choose to overcome.

After completing her first marathon, Oprah Winfrey said that running is the best metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it... I couldn't have said it better myself...

Good luck and best wishes future distance runners!!

-Corey Barton


P.S. - Thanks to my friend Josh for encouraging me to write this!


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