Maybe you’ve been running short distances for a while but are beginning to feel the desire to accomplish something longer, like a 10k, a half marathon, or even a marathon. You may be eyeing these new-to-you distances with equal parts interest, intrigue, and terror. If you’ve never run these distances before, you don’t know what you don’t know – as is the case anytime we do something new – and chances are that one of your principle inquiries is how in the world do I run long distances while maintaining pace?
Your concern is well-founded and valid. Fortunately for you, there’s no shortage of 10k, half marathon, and marathon training plans available for you to choose that can help you finish the race both safely and effectively.
Also fortunately for you, learning to run longer distances while still maintaining pace is a laudable (and super fun!) goal. Below, we’ll talk in greater detail about how to run longer distances and we’ll also discuss some tips and strategies that’ll help your endurance reach heights that you never knew you were capable of doing before.
If you have doubts, remember: the sky’s the limit here, and you’ll be amazed by what you can train your body to do. You can probably endure much more than you ever dreamed was possible.
The Basics of Running Longer
When you’re ready to run longer distances, it naturally follows that you’ll want to add more distance to your daily and/or weekly long runs. In marathon training, we often talk about heeding the 10% rule – that is, not adding more than 10% to each week’s long run. While the parameters are a bit more nuanced than that, in general, it’s a good idea to add volume very, very slowly when you’re trying to run longer distances.
Again, add volume very, very slowly.
Consider starting in very small increments – an extra few minutes here, a ½ mile there, for example – and only add to those totals once you feel comfortable. If you’re already running a 4-mile long run each weekend, for example, perhaps your first jump will be to 4.5 miles or 4.75 miles. After increasing your distance, see how your body responds. Do you feel especially sore? If you feel okay, then on the next weekend’s run, instead of running 5 miles, try running 5.5 or 5.75, for example, and then assess accordingly afterward.
And when you add volume to your runs, be sure to give yourself some planned “down” weeks too, times when you’ll allow yourself to run less mileage than before. We can’t build and build and build each week without giving our bodies some time to “absorb” the training stressors, making it especially prudent that we plan a “down” week after 2 or 3 consecutive “build” weeks.
Add speed very, very slowly as well. Not until you have effectively begun running longer distances, and have accumulated greater mileage volume each week, should you begin incorporating speed elements to your workout. The idea here is that by focusing first on including greater volume in your training, you are allowing yourself to first strengthen your body before taking it in a new and differently-challenging way.
When you begin incorporating speed elements into your training – after you’ve upped your mileage volume – start gingerly. Don’t go from 0 to 100 all at once. Here, fartlek running can be really helpful and a nice, pressure-free way to introduce yourself to fast running. As you run, pick a landmark, and run fast to it, and then run easily afterward. Pick another landmark, run fast to it, and then run easily afterward. Breaking up your runs this way, and differentiating between easy running and fast running, is a great way to develop some speed.
If you prefer to run a more measured route, consider jumping on a regulation-size 400-meter track. After a leisurely warm-up, give yourself a workout that includes elements of faster interval running, such as running at 5k speed for 1 minute and then at recovery speed for the subsequent minute. As your endurance increases, you can expand your speed sets to longer distances, such as to 400-1,000 meter intervals, interspersed with some recovery intervals in between. Like we said before, the sky is the limit as to what you can do when you’re on a track and are trying to get faster while running longer distances.
Use other, shorter races as tune-ups.
Finally, when you’re learning how to run longer distances and maintain pace, it can be advantageous to use shorter races as tune-ups to give yourself a good assessment of how things are going. If you know, for example, that you’re trying to target an 8-minute average for a 10k, pop into a local 5k to see how you feel when you try to hold that pace for that distance. Similarly, if you’re training for a marathon, consider running a half marathon at your desired marathon pace to see how it feels.
It’s true that you can always do this type of workout on your own, but sometimes it’s more beneficial mentally to do this type of running in a race environment. There’s something special about pinning on a bib and running around hundreds of other people – the motivation factor alone is well worth it.
Check out the video below for some more (extremely) helpful tips (particularly if you’re a beginner).
Final Thoughts on How to Run Longer
Ultimately, when you’re training, it boils down to the principle of specificity. In other words, you’ll want to tailor your training to that exact distance that you’re going to be racing so that your workouts can incorporate the appropriate amounts of speed and/or distance. If you’re training for a marathon, for example, it doesn’t make sense to include a ton of faster running at, say, goal mile pace, simply because your event won’t call for that. (Is it helpful to include some faster-than-goal-race paces in your training? Absolutely. However, it shouldn’t be your focus).
One more thing: if you have specific goals in mind as you jump from one race distance to the next, do consider to train under the tutelage of a professional coach if you can afford to do so. By and large, coaches are experienced, knowledgeable individuals who carry with them years of expertise in the sport, and they can help guide your workouts accordingly. Someone training you for a marathon, for instance, isn’t going to give you workouts that would be (wittingly or not) detrimental to your marathon success. Again, coaches are incredible sources of knowledge and can help ensure that you arrive at the starting line fit, healthy, and ready to crush your goals, and they’re well worth the investment.
And finally, as you learn how to run longer distances and maintain pace, remember to enjoy the journey. It will likely be riddled with ups and downs, victories and setbacks, but stick with it.
You may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.