How to Run Longer Distances

Woman running outside

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

One of the biggest challenges that new runners face is learning how to run farther. Beginners often get injured, bored, or burned out before they meet their mileage goals for long-distance running. Once you hit a plateau, it can be tough to dig deeper and push past it.

As you try to push your limits, you are likely to face both physical and mental obstacles. This is a normal part of the training process. Runners sometimes hesitate to push their mileage up because they fear the potential pain or boredom that comes with running long distances.

The key is to take it slow. Running longer distances takes time and patience, so it's best to approach it gradually in order to avoid overuse injuries. Try some of these strategies to make your long-distance runs not only longer but also more enjoyable.

Train Your Body to Run Longer

Becoming a long-distance runner begins with a commitment to regular physical training. In addition to pacing yourself and being patient with your progress, there are a few key components of a training schedule that aspiring long-distance runners can adhere to.

Always Warm-Up

A good warm-up before running can prevent problems like side stitches and muscle tightness that can sabotage your run or make you more susceptible to injury. Begin with a brisk walk or slow jog to increase your body temperature and get your joints ready for more vigorous activity. Then do a few dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles for the miles ahead.

Along those same lines—don't forget to cool down for at least five minutes of an easy pace at the end of your run. This will help reduce some of the buildup of lactic acid to prevent soreness in your muscles.

Go Slow

If you are used to running two or three miles at a time, you aren't going to suddenly be able to start tackling marathon distances. Adding too much, too fast is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you more likely to get sore or burned out, but you also face the very real risk of an injury that might leave you sidelined.

The key is to add miles very gradually. As a rule of thumb, you should not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week to prevent injuries. It may take a while to reach your mileage goal, but you'll eventually be able to safely tackle those longer distances thanks to this training strategy.

Prevent Side Stiches

While you may think that side stitches are an inevitable part of running, you can actually avoid them. Follow steps to prevent side stitches, so they don't force you to cut your runs short. Providing pressure on the area and changing your breathing pattern are two top strategies for getting rid of those annoying cramps.

Adding just a mile or two each week is the best approach when you are trying to run longer distances.

Just as you add distance slowly, you should also consider dropping your pace. If you are going to be running long distances, you are also going to need to conserve some of your energy so that you can make it to the end of your run. As you lengthen your distance, slow your pace incrementally to ensure that you are not putting too much strain or stress on your body.

Check Your Form

Do a total body check, starting with your head. Make sure you’re looking up, not down at your feet. Relax your shoulders, keep your back straight, and don’t hold any tension in your arms, wrists, and hands. Make sure that your footfalls are straight and that you’re breathing deep.

Running with proper running form is important for avoiding injury. It can also help you stave off the fatigue that might prevent you from running longer.

Run and Walk

If you can't keep up the pace for the entire distance on your run, don't worry. You shouldn't put pressure on yourself to jog or run the entire length. Instead, do a run/walk combination to cover more distance.

This interval workout provides several benefits. You'll still get a great workout and burn mega calories. But you'll also increase your fitness level, endurance, and confidence so that you can eventually run longer distances.

Intervals are a great way to build your fitness and aerobic capacity but watch your intensity. Make sure that you are comfortable at a slower pace before you start (gradually) adding bursts of increased speed or effort.

Prevent Treadmill Boredom

The treadmill offers convenience on the days when you're not able to run outside and many runners find that it's less impact on the joints compared to concrete.

But don't just jump on the treadmill and start running. Have a plan for beating boredom and making treadmill running more engaging. You might increase the pace and incline in short intervals. Or you could try slowly climbing a hill while decreasing your pace. These boredom-busting treadmill workouts are one way to keep your running program on track regardless of your schedule or weather conditions.

Stop and Stretch

Tightness in various muscles is a common reason why beginner runners (as well as more experienced ones) end long runs early. If you're feeling tightness in a muscle, some mid-run stretching can help.

If you start to feel tight on a run, try stretching the affected body part for about 30 seconds. Then continue your run.

If you're feeling a pain that doesn't get better you may need to stop running. Knowing when it's OK to run through pain and when to stop is important.

Pace Yourself

Are you checking your pace on your runs? You should. One of the most common reasons that beginner runners quit before they reach their goal distance is that they are running too fast.

When you first start running, you should run at a conversational pace. That means that you can talk comfortably in complete sentences while running. If you're gasping for air, you're definitely running too fast.

Add Strength Training

On the days when you're not running, cross-training that includes strength training helps your body to manage the physical stress of running. Your muscles will be able to perform longer before getting fatigued, which means you can run more miles.

An adequate strength training program doesn't necessarily require hours at the gym. You can get the same benefits from bodyweight exercises that don't require any equipment, or exercises that use dumbbells or resistance bands that can be performed at home. All it takes is two or three 15–20 minute strengthening workouts a week to build more muscle mass.

Train Your Mind to Run Longer

Long-distance running is as much a mental sport as it is physical. In addition to a physical training regimen, you want to be sure you're training your mind to go the distance as well.

Run Outside

Running on the treadmill can get boring. Although treadmill running may be a little easier physically, it can be a much more difficult mental challenge. If weather and safety permits, go outside for your runs. The fresh air, scenery, and new routes may distract you so much that you'll run longer than you normally would on the treadmill.

Run With Other People

If you find that the voice in your head isn’t enough to push you through a tough workout, consider getting a buddy or two to do it with you so you can push each other to run longer or harder.

Many beginner runners say that they never would be able to run long distances without running partners. Whether it's because of peer pressure, the distraction of conversation, the motivational support, or maybe a combination of all three, runners who buddy up usually find that they can run longer.

If you usually run alone, ask a friend or family member to join you or find a running group near you. You'll find groups by searching online or by visiting a local running shop.

Fight the Mental Battle

Some beginner runners are physically fit enough to run a certain distance, but they don't have the confidence or mental strength to push themselves farther. So how do you build mental endurance?

In many cases, it's simply "mind over matter." While you could run with others to distract yourself, you could also get creative and play mind games or simply lose yourself to the thrill of running. Tracking performance metrics is another great motivator for many runners, as is an energizing playlist. If you'd prefer to stay fully engaged with your mind and body during a run, the practice of mindful running can help keep your focus on the present moment.

Although there are pros and cons to using headphones during a long run, one of the pros is that it can help make the miles go by faster. But there are benefits to running without music, too.

Change Your Route

Do you run the same path every time you go out for a jog? If so, you're likely to get bored and burned out.

Try new running routes to distract yourself so you won't be tempted to stop because of boredom. If you typically run at your local track, try running on streets in your neighborhood or a nearby path or trail. Explore new neighborhoods. Or search online for popular routes for runners.

Dig Deep

Beginner runners often lack the confidence they need to run through the discomfort that every runner experiences during long-distance training. But you do have it within you. You just need to tap into that potential.

Try different ways to dig deeper during runs. To push yourself, it may hurt a little and you may find yourself desperate for more strength and stamina, but mental stamina is a muscle just like the ones that carry your body through the miles. Exercise your mental muscle and you will eventually find long runs easier to navigate.

Set Small Goals

Having specific short-term goals to work toward can help with the mental challenges of running longer. Your goals can be as simple as, "Run to the next stop sign" (and then the next stop sign, and the one after that). It doesn't matter how small your goal is as long as it keeps you moving.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.