The Benefits of Long Distance Running

This is the second in the series of the long distance running blogs I wrote with gympluscoffee. This piece focuses on the benefits of long distance running and how they come about.

Improved cardiovascular health

Your ticker will thank you for it! Long-distance running is the gold standard activity for improving your cardio health. Cardio training or aerobic activity is the repetitive contraction of muscle groups in your body, and that’s long-distance running basically by definition! Aerobic activity is the best form of training for your heart as it pushes your entire vascular (circulatory) system getting more oxygen into your bloodstream.

Greater lower body strength

Running is one of the most effective forms of strength training you can ever do. Different physical activities allow for different types of muscle fibres to be produced in the body. Running in particular, leads to the gain of lightweight and durable muscle fibres which means lean, flexible muscle mass. Lean, adaptable muscles are stronger and better able for endurance-based activity.

Increased stamina

Running, and long-distance running in particular, also helps to improve stamina. Stamina refers to our ability to perform at or close to full capacity and differs to strength or cardiovascular fitness. We increase stamina by training our back-up energy tank. That back-up tank, the ‘second wind’ that you get when you think you might be at the end of your endurance but somehow you manage to keep going; that’s stamina! The only way to train yourself to keep going is by getting your body accustomed to the demands of a specific type of activity, and then gently but consistently pushing a little harder. Long-distance running gives you this opportunity in spades.  

Running for Mental Health

In addition to all the physical health benefits you’ll get from your long-distance running programme, there’s now plenty of research pointing to all the mental health benefits that running can bring. Intense physical exercise like running long distances has been shown to improve sleeping habits as well as the quality of sleep you get. It aids in stress relief and release, and in some cases has proven to be as effective as certain therapy in addressing symptoms of depression

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How to Prepare for the Demands of Long-Distance Running

Below is the blog I made with gym plus coffee earlier in the year regarding how to prepare for long distance running events. Hopefully it will help those preparing for upcoming events now that marathon and long distance running season is well underway.

The Exchange: Long Distance Running

So many of our community members are runners – long and short distance – and we know A LOT of you have set yourself goals for 2019 that involve upping the stakes a bit and going a little further and a little longer.

We thought it apt to do our research and find out more about the training involved in long-distance running, the benefits to your body and also some of the things to be aware of from an injury perspective.

The Expert: Owen Feeney, BSc, C.A.T,

We spoke with Owen Feeney, an Athletic Rehabilitation Therapist based in Dublin, who ran us through the trials and tribulations of long distance running. Owen specialises in injury prevention, assessment, diagnosis & treatment, provides on-field emergency care and works specifically with athletes requiring rehabilitation and reconditioning. He also works providing pitch and trackside care for games and events including the Dublin Ironman, Dublin Marathon, GAA & Rugby teams.

Owen kindly gave us his top tips for safe, enjoyable long distance running and we’ve broken them down into three categories. First up: what long-distance running demands from your body and the things you can do to minimise training troubles.

Long Distance Running: Preparation + Demands;

Give yourself adequate time to prepare. Owen finds that many runners-in-training don’t allow themselves enough proper time between starting training and their first race. Consider giving yourself at least 3-4 months of consistent prep time (potentially more depending on your level of fitness and experience!) and make the most of local events like park runs to give your body a breadth of training experience.

Allow your body to adapt;

If you’re training for something like an organised marathon, your body needs time to adjust to running long distances on a hard surface. Owen recommends starting to train on softer surfaces and then gradually introducing hard surface training to your programme through road runs and treadmill exercise. This gives your body the time it needs to adapt to things like ground reaction forces and to minimise the potential for injury.

One foot in front of the other, and then some;

Preparing for a long-distance run or race involves, well, long-distance running. But that shouldn’t be where your training begins and ends. Variety is key to ensuring your body is up to the task and incorporating strength training including bodyweight exercises, free weights & machines to your programme will help with injury prevention and facilitates more rounded fitness. Adding muscle strength to your legs, hips & lower back assists with maintaining stamina and will address issues relating to ground reaction forces too.

Mobility and stretch work is essential.

Maintaining joint and muscle mobility and stretching effectively after training or races is paramount for both comfort and health reasons. There’s no doubt that the harder you train, the more soreness you’ll experience and this is part and parcel of intense activity. But it’s how you address that soreness that is vital: repetitive action (e.g. running on a hard surface) causes a large amount of force to be absorbed by your body and cause contraction of muscles and loading of bones over time. Stress builds up, puts undue pressure on your muscles & joints and will more than likely result in short or sometimes long term injury. Stretching properly, consistently and effectively after all training sessions and events will aid your body’s recovery and minimise long term injury and damage.

If you’re looking at getting more serious about long-distance running then Owen recommends you have a chat with a professional (think sports therapist or specialised personal trainer) to see what things specific to you, your body and your experience should be considered.

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