Distance Running For Health And Fitness

by RG

August 3, 2019

Distance running is a rewarding and fulfilling sport that benefits both your overall performance as an athlete and your life in general. As a lifelong distance runner, I am well rehearsed in the challenges and rewards of taking on this sport. I picked up running at primary school and now, at 27 years old, I am yet to fall out of love with distance running. It has become an enjoyable and essential part of my daily life – something that lifts my mood after a bad day at work and calms me down when I’m feeling stressed. I love the time alone to think that running allows me, and the way my body feels after being given a vigorous workout. I credit my distance running routine with my good muscle tone, high energy levels and healthy weight, and I simply couldn’t go a week without having a running fix – I love it.

But for many, particularly those who have never considered themselves a ‘runner’, or who have always been running-averse, distance running is a daunting prospect. However, if you can get over the initial mental challenges of committing yourself to a regular running routine, the pay-offs far outweigh the pitfalls. Distance running can become your chosen sport or a form of exercise you do on the side to increase your performance in whatever you chosen sport is. Whether you are a soccer player, volleyballer, rock-climber or couch-potato, the stamina and agility you gain through running will become invaluable to you as an athlete, and you might even grow to love it. So whether you have dabbled in running before, or are a total newbie, follow these tips on how to get started and make the most out of the many benefits that distance running can bring.

Getting Started

If you are new to running or are getting back into it after a long hiatus, don’t start with a strenuous running plan. Set a regime that is realistic and easy to stick to. Begin by doing half-hour jogs every second day, and gradually increase the length of time according to what you can mentally and physically cope with. Choose a running course that won’t present too many challenges early on, and will keep you interested. Avoid the treadmill to prevent boredom – choose a landscape that you enjoy looking at. If you live near the beach, run along the waterfront and enjoy watching the sunrise or sunset as you go. Stick to a flat landscape in the early stages of your running routine, as if your course is too much of a challenge, you are more likely to give up or suffer an injury. The key is to ease yourself into your running routine – this should be something you introduce into your life to help yourself, not hurt yourself. If distance running becomes something you dread doing or feels like a punishment, you are guaranteed to throw in the towel before you even get started.

Nutrition and Self-Care

If you find yourself struggling to finish your jogs and feel as though you are pushing yourself too hard, you probably are. When you start to feel this way it is easy to give up, which is where most people go wrong. Instead, reduce the length of time and pace at which you run. Be kind to yourself in the early stages, and focus more on familiarizing yourself with your body and its limits, rather than breaking any personal records or keeping up with everyone else. Distance running is a great way to learn about your body and what your strengths and weaknesses are. The more you run, the more your body will tell you what areas of your health need attention. Muscle pain and tears are indicative of muscle weakness, so when you notice this, work on strengthening those areas of your body. If you feel low in energy and depleted after running, rather than rejuvenated, this can be your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Look to your diet and make sure you are giving yourself adequate nutrition and hydration. Distance running is intensive and stressful for the body, so processed foods and sugary drinks need to go! A nutrient-rich diet is essential for replacing the minerals you lose when running. Lastly, invest in a good pair of running shoes – nothing ruins a run faster than blistered heels or blackened toenails (ouch!).

Goal Setting

Once you have adjusted to running regularly, it is a good idea to set a goal. This works as an incentive for you to keep running and makes the process incredibly rewarding. If you are a beginner, a realistic goal might be to finish your jog without stopping to catch your breath or tackling a particularly steep hill. For intermediate or advanced runners, an exciting goal is to work towards your first half marathon or marathon. Goals like this are an example of how distance running can bring more than just physical benefits to your life. A marathon is a major feat of human perseverance and strength of mind and if you can achieve this goal, you will most likely be to able to tackle many other challenges in life outside of sport. To make it even more interesting and boost your motivation, combine your love of running with a trip overseas and run the New York Marathon! Whatever level you are, don’t compare yourself to others during the goal-setting process. If you aren’t keeping up with other runners or haven’t achieved the same things, this is sure to discourage you. Focus instead on yourself and the enjoyment you get out of running, not competing with everyone else.

Staying Motivated

If you find yourself tiring of your running routine, it is important to find things to keep you motivated. A good way to do this is to track your progress. Make note of how far you have come, and reward yourself. Also, be aware of how your increased stamina and agility have improved your overall performance as an athlete and your performance in any other sports your play. Soccer players: can you outrun your teammates, has your footwork improved? Basketballers: are you jumping higher and lasting longer on the court? If you aren’t involved in other sports, notice how your energy levels have improved. Are you less lethargic, do you notice a bounce in your step when you wake up in the morning, or can you hop up a flight of stairs with ease? When you start to feel great, running won’t be something you have to make yourself do, it will simply become a part of your life because it makes you feel good. Another source of motivation for a long-term running plan is to run with a partner. Running can be a lonely journey, but if you have someone by your side it makes things much easier. A partner can encourage you to keep going on those days when you’d rather stay in bed, and vice-versa. If you don’t have a friend who runs, consider joining a running club.

The Pay-offs

Distance running has immense rewards if you commit to it and incorporate it into your life as a regular form of exercise. Even when the going gets tough, I encourage you to stick with it. It takes time to notice how your health, wellbeing and personal life have benefited from this sport, but if you persevere, here are some of the things you can look forward to:

  • Increased stamina (obviously), improved agility
  • Increased energy levels in daily life
  • Better performance in other sports
  • Weight loss/weight control
  • Decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Mental clarity
  • Developments of traits such as perseverance and patience
  • Social networking through joining a club or running with friends
  • Improved understanding of yourself and your body

Good Luck!

If you are giving distance running a ‘test-run’, follow this guide and you will be well on your way to becoming a better athlete and enjoying a better quality of life. Remember to look after yourself, set realistic goals and be patient with your body. Happy running!

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